Lots of people are put of accessing or delivering support online because they feel uneasy about the language being used…it seems like everyone can speak it, except for those that don’t 🙂 It’s all too easy to feel left out in the cold but if you want to support people online you may have to bite the bullet and start LOLing with the rest of us, it’s not that hard…promise 🙂
Lets start by taking a look at some of the basics around online communication. Some of you may be familiar with the term “cyber speak” or maybe “text speak” or possibly “net chat”, they all relate to a very particular way that people communicate online. There are many “unwritten rules” when communicating online which I will attempt to capture for the purpose of this document. However, given the nature and richness of online language and it’s constant evolution it would not be possible to write about all of these widely understood rules here. So let’s get started 🙂
SHOUTY CAPS!! – If you’re typing with your caps lock on YOU’RE SHOUTING. Generally speaking caps are reserved for extreme situations so be careful when using them. I would suggest thinking to yourself “would I actually shout at this person if we were face to face?” before you type in caps, as most often the answer would be “No” and italics are sufficient. In some cases caps are used to emphasise a word in the absence of the italics function.
Actions – if you see any of the following in a chat room or e-mail they denote an action: ((hug)), (sigh), *wave*. Actions are usually indicated by brackets or stars but other indicators could be forward slashes. They’re often followed by the “at” symbol (@) to indicate who the action is being directed toward. As with caps, we need to be careful when using an action.
Terms of Endearment – When being supported/delivering support online you will often come across others who are regularly referring to people as “Hun”, “love” or similar. These are terms that are used much more widely online than during face to face communications. Regardless of how frequently these terms are used online we must always remember that in some cases these terms could be be misconstrued or unwanted so if you don’t want to be referred to in that manner, please say so, and if others ask not to be referred to like this please respect their decision.
Emoticons – Symbols such as the ones you can see below are referred to as emoticons which are used to portray an emotion. They can be added by simply clicking on one already available within the chat software you’re using or they can be typed as follows : ) ;P : ( :-O. Most people accessing any kind of online group will be familiar with the use of emoticons and they can say a lot about a persons’ mood. The use of emoticons to demonstrate you’re pleased to see someone or sad to hear their news can help to strengthen the online relationship and , if not used to excess, they are pretty useful!
Acronyms – acronyms are short hand methods of text based communication. Many are so widely used that they have now made their way into mainstream offline communication. Certain acronyms such as “lol” (laughing out loud) are very well known and most, if not all, of the people that you engage with online will know what they mean.
Online communication can be fast, fun and tricky. There are many advantages to accessing online support due to accessibility combined with anonymity. It does however have drawbacks as the very things that make it enjoyable can also lead us into a false sense of security. If you’re used to online communication in your personal life you may be tempted to interact with others in a support environment in the way that you would usually communicate online ….but our interactions should always be informed by fact that a support service is not a social networking site or yahoo chat room.
So always remember:
- Type clearly
- Remain warm yet focussed on the reason you’re there
- Pay attention to confrontational punctuation!!!!!!!
- Let yourself be guided by the language used by others in groups and on forums
- Take that extra moment to check what you’ve typed before pressing “reply”
And perhaps most importantly……
- If you wouldn’t do/say it offline, don’t do/say it online