are you a social media bully?Have you come across a social media bully lately?

That’s the person who tells you they “will not do X if you do Y.” Or, “Unless you stop doing X, I will not do Y.”

It could be anything from not following you on Twitter unless you stop checking in on FourSquare …

… to not following you on Twitter (because you make so much “noise”) but they’d like to connect on LinkedIn anyway, because that will benefit them) …

… to not commenting on your blog because you use a particular comment system (but you should comment on their blog because, oh, just think of the link backs you’ll get!).

The list could go on.

And I’ve thought a lot about this before deciding that, in essence, people who behave like this are social media bullies. To make you engage in a behavior simply to make them happy, and pride themselves on how “influential” they are.

You might quite reasonably ask, “What’s the difference between a social media bully and the right to one’s own, albeit differing, opinion?”

Here’s what.

I strongly believe everyone has a right to his or her opinion, including whom to follow on Twitter (or not), whom to friend on Facebook (or not), which blogs they choose to comment on (or not, as well as the substance of their comments), and so on.

I don’t follow everyone who follows me on Twitter (and I don’t care if people unfollow me); I don’t accept all Facebook friend requests (or LinkedIn connections, or add everyone who adds me to a Google+ Circle, etc.); and I really don’t care if they do the same. That’s my prerogative, and it’s just as much theirs to not follow, friend, connect, Circle, etc.

But it’s also my prerogative to use social media the way I see fit, to test new platforms as I figure out how they can work for me, my clients, and for the bulk of people I’m connected to, unless I see a sensible reason not to. Which is the collective voice of my community, not just one or two people.

An active community is a powerful thing.

For example, personally I’ve received feedback from Marcus Sheridan (when I didn’t even know him) that led to me figuring out how to increase the font size here on WUL. Community conversations led to one of my favorite posts yet (and, I think, yours) on social media barfshiners. A comment from someone I don’t know made me rethink how I format my blog posts.

I’ve also had disagreements with people I like and respect on certain aspects of social, be they a viewpoint or tools (for example, my friend Kellye Crane and I have different opinions on Triberr). That’s ok – and a good thing, because how boring would it be if we all agreed on everything, all the time? And we both respect the other’s right to that opinion.

Those are just a few of my personal examples, and I bet you have your own. If your organization, or clients, have nurtured their communities, they’ve probably seen the power of “community in action,” as well as healthy and respectful disagreement.

On the other hand, the schoolyard bully says:

“If you don’t give me your lunch, I’ll beat you!”

“If you don’t stop making friends with So-and-So, I’ll give you a wedgie!”

“If you don’t [updated; thanks to a friend for very courteously pointing this out!] invite me to your party, I’ll never never NEVER be friends with you again!”

Tell me.

Are you more likely to do something when someone threatens you with the consequences if you don’t do it?

Me, the minute someone takes it upon themselves to inform me that they will not do X unless I stop doing Y, my internal brakes are engaged. My brain is shocked enough to stop in its tracks, and my commonsense tells me this is simply bullying.

So, Dear Social Media Bully:

I’m glad to know that you will not do X unless I do Y (or not do Y).

You have enlightened my consciousness and, for that, I am truly grateful.

But what I do, or don’t do, depends on me, my community, and what works for us collectively. And that’s the beauty of social media; that we are all free to experiment with what works, or doesn’t work, for us – individually, and collectively.

You should absolutely keep doing, and behaving, the way you see fit. And so will I.

But as far as what you want me to do for you … because it only serves you and no one else … Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Image: DanJackson_UK via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke