I am writing this upon request of one of my readers who was unsure as to what the unwritten rules of etiquette are in Facebook Group Communities. Facebook as a home for communities is fairly new. My main experience of managing communities is on discussion forums. I was a senior moderator on the Handbag.com discussion forums (the biggest discussion forum for women in the UK) from 2003 to 2009. I was mainly responsible for the Fashion and the Beauty boards. I am at the moment still active on Fashionspot and The Purse Forum. In many ways this medium is better for discussions because it keeps information stored and searchable. Facebook communities are an easy and familiar platform to use to discuss things of common interest. It works pretty much the same as Facebook, so there is no steep learning curve. Many of the principles are the same as for discussion forums, but:
- Facebook groups are not easily searchable, so the same questions tend to be asked over and over, because previous questions often don’t come up on a search.
- Only one post can be pinned to the top of the page at a time.
Still, many of the rules of etiquette are the same, no matter which medium you use. I will write the ones I think of, but would really appreciate more suggestions in the comments, which I can then add to this post.
Read the Rules
If you are in a Facebook Group, there are administrators who have set it up and do quite a bit of work behind the scenes to keep it ticking over. As the group grows, there is more administration to do because the flow of posts increases. So when you join a group, read the rules (usually pinned to the top). They are there to ensure a good atmosphere for everyone and set some ground rules. Some examples:
- In the Philofaxy Facebook group, no sales are allowed, no ISO (in search of) posts are allowed, no linking to other groups is allowed without permission, no posts about stickers/washi/decorating are allowed, because there is another group for that.
- In sales groups such as Filofaxes and Pens for Sale Site, you need to have photographs, tag your posts correctly, not bump your ads up too often, mark clearly when the item is sold, and delete it when the item has been received. No chatting in the threads is allowed as there are thousands of posts and this interrupts the smooth flow of sales. Everyone needs to have an equal chance to have their advert seen.
- In groups such as Planner Peace, no talk of hauls and ‘what I bought’ and no enabling posts are allowed.
- In the Vintage Filofax Group only discussions about binders which are from the early 1990s or earlier than that are allowed.
- This is not a rule per se, but when we join a group we join a community. A place for chatting, receiving advice, helping others. Of course you can join just to ask things and receive advice. But it is nice if you can pay it forward by answering questions and joining in discussions once in a while. It is not so obvious in huge groups with a fast post flow, but in slower, smaller groups it is obvious when people only pop up to ask for help buying things in another country, or to sell things or to say yes to any freebies being offered in the groups. Don’t be like that neighbour we have all had, who you only see when they want something but who never returns the favour.
- Be nice to newbies because old hands were probably once nice to you when you started out with a new interest. Everyone is a newbie at something and it is often hard for new members to pluck up the courage to ask a question or join in when everyone seems to know everyone and have their own inside jokes and group jargon.
Thank and Like
- If you ask for help with something, it is etiquette to like the answers you receive, or to say thank you in a comment to everyone who answered. They have taken the time to help you, so it is polite to take the time to thank them. You don’t have to thank everyone individually but a thank you comment every twenty or so replies is appreciated.
Read as well as Write
- Even if you do not have time, try to take a few minutes every time you visit to scroll down the latest posts – you may find some useful information, be able to help someone, and find that someone asked the question you were going to ask just before you came in. It happens fairly often that two or three identical threads are started at the same time, because people don’t read. The chances of your thread getting answers is then that much slimmer because people suffer from fatigue at answering the same question three times in a row.
- If there is a long thread, try to read most, if not all, of it. This means that you can see what other people have said and the thread does not end up full of repetitive ‘what bag is that?’ comments. Think of it as a conversation – you would usually listen to a conversation before replying. Remember that threads collapse as they get longer and if you expand them you could find the very information you were looking for.
Naming and Shaming
- Naming and shaming is frowned upon in almost every single group. For several reasons – legally it could be libelous, but also because these things can usually be solved via PM – either between the two of you or with an admin mediating. Problems are often due to misunderstandings, internet problems, or the fact that feelings on the internet are intense and you react in the heat of the moment.
- If you are having problems with a buyer or a seller, please contact an admin – even if you do not wish to take the issue further. In many cases this is part of a repeating pattern and it helps the admin to know users who may be problematic and if they need to ban someone. Just because you should not name and shame does not mean the problem can not be dealt with behind the scenes or that you will lose your money or your item.
- People often suffer from cases of ‘internet balls’ where they feel safe and relatively anonymous in a Facebook group and can vent. But the object of their venting is often also a member. We have lifestyle bloggers, owners of companies and Etsy shops, the inventors of Life-Mapping, Chronodex and Spiraldex, Filofax and Van Der Spek owners in our groups. And they are all people. So be nice. And if you have a problem, take it to PM or be very diplomatic when you mention it in the groups. Don’t start thread to bash people in other groups because chances are that person is in the group or they are friends with someone who is.
- We also work in many time zones. Even though we attempt to have Admins in each time zone, it does happen that there is no one around when a situation explodes and things get really out of hand really quickly. Don’t be the person who pours gasoline on the fire or fans the flames. It will feel awful afterwards when you cool down.
Discussions that end up in arguments
- Interesting discussions with different points of view often end up as arguments that go round and round because no one wants to let things drop and they have to have the last word. For some reason, people on both sides often think of a different opinion as a personal attack and react very defensively. Be the better person and leave the discussion if it is turning into a flame war or getting nowhere, but going round and round in increasingly nasty circles. What happens then is that people like drama, so more and more people will jump on the bandwagon. Leave it and go and have a cup of tea. Agreeing to disagree shows maturity and wisdom. Wanting to to win an argument at any cost often shows the opposite.
- Remember that interest communities are very small and incestuous. Many people are in all the different groups. So if you start a thread to bash a member of another group, be aware that they or their friends could be in the group where you are moaning. Or screen shots of your rants will be sent all over other groups or via private message. Always write what you would say if the person were standing right next to you. Don’t be passive aggressive.
- Everyone has the right to an opinion. If someone does not agree with you that does not mean they don’t like YOU or that they are attacking you. They just disagree. Agree to disagree and move on. They have just as much right to an opinion as you do. Don’t let someone you don’t know on the internet ruin your day and get you all upset just because they disagree with your point of view.
- Posts showing charms with brand names on them will be deleted in many groups. Particularly the Keep Calm and Carry a Filofax ones. Filofax takes copyright infringement seriously and reports all Etsy sellers who make these charms. If you have one or want to buy one – keep the discussion in PMs, where no one will be forced to act.
- If you sell something, or buy something – good communication is key. If there is a problem of any kind, let the other party know. Ignoring mails and hoping the problem will go away may seem the easiest way but is not the solution and you are just creating a bigger problem for yourself in the long run. If you need help, ask an admin to step in. We have had experience with this kind of thing.
- If you have something to sell, it is often okay to cross-post in several groups (check the rules of the groups) as long as you state in your post that you have cross posted. If you have something open to offers, cross-posting is problematic as the high bidder in one group could suddenly lose the item if the bid goes higher in the other group. However, it is NOT okay to have something for sale on eBay AND in a sales group at the same time, unless your post in the sales group is just to point people to the Ebay auction. Having something for sale on eBay and for separate sale in a group means that one party is going to lose out.
- If you are asking a question, post it in one or maximum two groups. Most of us are members in all the groups and it is annoying to see the same question posted simultaneously in all the groups.
- The main thing here is that many of us are in all the groups AND on eBay all the time, so if you are selling the same thing separately in several places, people find out. They also find out things like if you are taking something which you have been given for free and selling it on (it happens more often than you think), or that you are buying very low from someone and selling it on immediately at a very high price. We know each other and the word spreads.
- Begging for freebies, pleading abject poverty, trying to make people feel sorry for you, playing the victim or bombarding people with PMs asking for things is a no-no and will get you banned. The previous sentence may sound cruel, but I have seen it literally hundreds of times, and others have too, so they become less tolerant as time goes by. Remember that thousands of people besides you in the groups are having VERY hard times but do not talk about it.
- Joining RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) groups just to receive but not to give is the height of rudeness and is not tolerated.
- One thing that English speakers often do not realize, is that there are many many people in groups who do not have English as a mother tongue. There are also cultural, age, geographic and upbringing differences which can lead to misunderstandings. Some languages are more direct than other and some language features do not translate to English. One example is that in English, quotation marks are often used to show that you do not believe someone, whereas in other countries it can be used to add emphasis. So the sentence we have received your binder and we have heard about the ‘problem‘ you have with it would be found insulting by an English speaker because we feel the seller doesn’t believe us, whereas the foreign seller was emphasizing the important part of the sentence.
- The internet allows feelings to be very intense and things can quickly get out of hand. Add 4000 members of a group to the mix and you can end up in a mob scene or a witch hunt as everyone piles in, loving the drama. If you feel you are getting too angry and you are starting to argue – step back. Leave the computer for a few hours or a few days. I know you will want to have the last word and argue back at everyone, but in the long-term you will just feel bad when you cool down. So step away from the computer and go and do something else to take your mind off it. As I mentioned above, you don’t have to win every discussion or argument. Take the high road and agree to disagree. You will feel so much better once you have cooled down.
- Remember that people cannot see your face or hear your voice, so jokes and irony don’t go down well. So be diplomatic. Instead of saying I don’t agree with you say I don’t agree with that. Instead of saying you’re wrong, say I don’t quite see it that way. Instead of saying you said, say I understood. I have written more about this type of language here. And – when in doubt, use a smiley! You may think they are cheesy but they are internationally understood.
- Do not use text-speak or capital letters as they are usually like a red rag to a bull in Facebook Groups. Even if you are typing on a phone, spell correctly and use complete sentences.
SPOTTED posts about eBay auctions
- People posting SPOTTED posts about eBay auctions is a topic which usually divides members cleanly down the middle. When it comes to vintage Filofaxes and rarities, there are members who spend hours a day searching eBay for and finding gems. For them it is very frustrating when someone posts a SPOTTED thread in a group about an auction they are watching, because in most cases it will drive the prices up. This is often fair game in the main sales groups but not liked in the Vintage groups, where the items available are so much fewer. As I said, people do not all feel the same about it but I would say that when it comes to Vintage Filofax groups, it is 80% against SPOTTED posts, and 20% for.
- A better way of doing this is via PM if you find something on eBay that you know someone will like.
- In Sales groups if you have something to sell or are looking for something, it is good etiquette to start your own thread and not piggyback someone else’s.
- Another thing that often happens is that people will post they are looking for something and then someone will post on the thread ‘I have one for sale’. Other people who are looking for it will then PM the person who has the item for sale. By the time the original poster comes back to their thread (remember we work in all time zones and the person could be asleep or at work) the item is gone.
- This tends to happen when people are always chasing The Next Big Thing at any cost, or when they feel they have to downsize their collection. They sell a binder and then, when they see the new owner oohing and aahing over it, they have an attack of seller’s remorse. They then either post about how they miss their binder and would love to have it back, or contact the new owner and ask to buy it back. This can be very upsetting for the new owner who may love the binder to bits but have a soft heart and feel bad about causing someone else pain. In many cases they do agree to sell it back, but then it does frequently happen that the original owner sells it again. Which then upsets the person who sold it back to you – especially if they feel you forced their hand or used emotional blackmail to sell it back to them. I always think of a comment on a Philofaxy article which said ‘I have been on the receiving end of seller’s remorse and let’s just say it did not end well for me’ . Please make sure you really want to sell your binder. Changing your mind and umming and aahing about something after you have put up for sale is not good etiquette and it can be frustrating, disappointing and hurtful to those who want to buy your binder, or have already bought your binder. If you do it often, you do end up with a reputation, and then I end up with people PMing me and asking me to vouch for your reliability, which I then cannot do in all good conscience.
I always tell people that an online forum is pretty much like a book club, a coffee meeting or a round of drinks at the pub. You wouldn’t walk straight in for the first time and start demanding things, borrowing money or shouting at people. You would meet everyone, get to know each other, join in on a few conversations, build up a relationship. And then you could be more direct and jokey and tease them, and you could ask for help getting something and offer to help people in return.
Leaving a group when very angry
- If things are getting you down, take a break for a few days or weeks. Everything will still be there when you come back. But if you feel like leaving the group because you are really cross, it is often best to sleep on it and then decide – often once you cool down you don’t want to leave anymore and then dramatic farewell ‘flouncing’ messages feel more embarrassing than anything else, and you cannot delete them without PMing an admin if you are not in the group anymore. People do feed on drama so lots of people will have probably read and commented on the message. I haven’t flounced for quite a few years but I did once on a discussion forum where I was senior moderator. I asked for my username, all my posts and all my messages to be deleted. I did regret it afterwards when I had taken a few weeks to cool down. Luckily I because I was a moderator I could do most of it myself so I had not written a dramatic farewell message but I had to return without a post count or reputation (which you build in discussion forums over many months). I am a firm believer in cooling down before sending any angry PM or email.
And finally –
How to contact an admin:
At the top of the group page there are two places where you can find the list of members
Click on either of them to get to the list of members, and then click the scroll arrows on ‘All Members’ to get to this drop down menu. Click on the Admin link to find who the admins are.