The Kindness of Strangers: Why You Get Ignored Online

My guest post on Kind Over Matter got me thinking about other forms of kindness on the internet. And what I realized, is that the internet is one big ball of kindness, if you play your cards right.

Now, before you change the channel- We turn to the internet with all of our questions and we rely on the kindness of strangers for our answers. Sometimes we search Google and get a website with the answer to our question. If that doesn’t work, we wind up in a forum somewhere reading through answers to similar questions.

When that fails, we have to actually post on those forums or email someone to ask them for support. That’s why I say that getting help on the internet is really just relying on the kindness of strangers.

I have posted on this blog before about experiences where people have gone out of their way to help me solve a problem without the expectation of being paid. The truth is, there are a lot of people out there who are happy to help you, and you need to make it easy for them.

But how? If you feel like your pleas for online help consistently go unanswered, you’re probably breaking one of the following guidelines.

What to Avoid

ALL CAPS

WHEN YOU USE ALL CAPS IT MAKES IT SOUND LIKE YOU ARE YELLING. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE FOR FREE WHO ARE YELLING AT THEM, THEY LIKE TO SAVE THAT FOR THEIR DAY JOBS.

Heinous Grammar and/or Spelling Mistakes

These make it difficult for people to understand what you’re asking. Furthermore, it shows that you’ve put very little time into asking the question. If you didn’t care enough to use a full sentence, why should someone take their own time answering your question?

Making Your Problem Seem Really Important…

…by using lots of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!! Again, this falls into the “I’m entitled to your help” / yelling at the people vibe. Avoid at all costs.

What to Do

You should never make your request for help sound like a demand. Nobody has an obligation to help you. Even if you are asking a software company for help and you’re a paying customer. You’ll have a much better chance at getting an answer by being appreciative rather than demanding.

Follow Their Culture

Remember that each forum on the web has its own culture and norms. If you’re posting in a forum, there will usually be a post at the top called “Forum Rules” or “Sticky Post”. (Sticky just means that it never gets pushed down the page). This post almost always has guidelines for how to communicate in that particular forum, and if you break them, your chances of getting a response are slim.

Open With a Compliment

“Hi, First let me say how awesome your WordPress plugin is- It as totally increased my mailing list signups and I really appreciate the work you’ve put into it.”

Say Please and Thank You

“…and I’ve noticed a bug that’s causing email signups to go to the wrong Aweber list, and I was hoping someone could please help me out. Thanks again, Ethan”

Attach Screenshots

Take the extra 30 seconds and attach a screenshot to your email or forum post. This will really help your request stand out from the crowd. On a windows computer, hold down the ALT key and press PRNT SCRN. Then, open up Paint and hit edit > paste. Save your screenshot as a JPEG. If you use a mac, this is even easier. Hold down Apple (command), Shift, and the number 3. A screenshot of your whole view will appear on your desktop, ready for upload.

Give Them a Link

If this is a problem that is web-based like with your website, make sure to include links to the page that is giving you the problem. That way, kind people who help you don’t have to hunt around to figure out what you were talking about.

What Do You Need?

I’m currently offering free sessions to help you overcome your one biggest technology challenge, and I’d love to talk to you! What tips do you have for getting help online? Be sure to share them in the comments!

Photo by Dimitri N.
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11 comments
Peter Bryenton
Peter Bryenton

Thank you Ethan: some useful advice.

I believe that some writers used to call this topic area "netiquette".

I have found a couple of phrases helpful when visiting forums:

1. Hi, I am new here ...

2. I don't seem to have found my question in your FAQ ...

My granny taught me to use two magic words in life: "please" and "thankyou". For the sake of correct English grammar, that last one might be written by some scholars as "thank you".

KimThirion
KimThirion

So, so, so true! I've gotten a bit of flack from people about being a "spelling and grammar Nazi", but in my opinion it's the only way to be. If I'm trying to look intelligent, it sure isn't going to happen if I spell it "entellugint". And the exclamations are just horrible. I've unfollowed more than a few people for exclamation usage alone.

 

 Great tips, Ethan!

 

MartaSpendowska
MartaSpendowska

Definitely agree!!!!!!!! haha :)

Those types of communication are still present in many situations.

I bag my clients to remove all the scarcity and exclamation marks from their newsletters. It used to work. It used to be all about I AM HERE!!!! LISTEN TO ME!! The gentle the better. Although I admire some copywriters who have their own way of using the forbidden way of talking/writing, even with caps.

I like how you communicate, Ethan. Always helpful, always spotting the right kind of topic to write about.

Thanks for that! And — oh well — I'm Polish, self-taught in English, I will always hope for forgiveness regarding my grammar/spelling :)

:: Marta

Latest blog post: How to fast safely.

SNSellman
SNSellman

This is fantastic! And so true. I found this because I was looking for blogs about the kindness from strangers to ask for their support. Of my film. Which is about relying on the kindness of strangers. Kind of fantastic timing.

Anyhow, thanks for the insight, and please do check out the link for my doc if you have time! http://kck.st/uHYJ3s

NathLussier
NathLussier

Ooh this is so helpful, especially because when you're in a pinch and looking for an answer people don't tend to think too much about manners... especially since people on the Internet can seem like anonymous figures.

Your post is all about how we're all human and we should treat each other well even if we're interacting across the web. Love it, and you're definitely a shining example of someone who is kind online Ethan! :)

Vanessa
Vanessa

I think a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the internet get scared and try to get noticed - which results in the 'yelling'. When I first used a forum (around 2001) the idea of a reply or new thread boggled me.

Then I looked at the 'sticky' which explained the rules, flicked around for a little while, and began commenting & posting with no problems.

I think the biggest lesson to learn in the age of instant contact & information is that internet transactions (of any kind, including asking for help) will be unlikely to go wrong if you treat it the same as you would in real life.

Ethan
Ethan

Thanks for stopping by, Ann!

Ann
Ann

I like this article. It's whitty and helpful.

ethanwaldman
ethanwaldman moderator

Very cool! I love the concept for the documentary. I'm not sure if you've finished taping, but you should definitely connect with Amanda Oaks @kindovermatter - Her whole blog/website is all about Kindness! (http://kindovermatter.com)

ethanwaldman
ethanwaldman moderator

Thanks Nath! It's amazing how much support you can get online if you know how to ask :) @NathLussier

Ethan
Ethan

Vanessa, that's a great point. The Internet definitely has its own set of social rules, and each site and community has a unique culture.

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