Missing presumed dead: ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ have left the social web

When I was a child I looked forward to Christmas and birthdays with much anticipation because I knew that I would be showered with gifts from family and friends.  However, one of the small inconveniences that my mother insisted on was that we neatly noted down who had sent the gift so that we could then spend a day following up with thank you letters.  At first those thank you letters were written by my mother with a drawing (actually, more a scribble) from my siblings and I, later we progressed to writing our name, in large red crayon normally and finally we were tasked with the responsibility of managing our thank-you notes ourselves, choosing the day we wrote and then posted them.

Although it seemed onerous as a child to have this ‘duty’ imposed upon me, I look back with fondness to the days we all sat together and wrote at the kitchen table; each small note that would give someone else pleasure at it’s receipt. Even today whenever I receive such a missive, and some of my friends still insist that their children follow the same process, I feel a little skip, a lightness of heart and have a smile because I am glad that my gift, no matter how small, has been acknowledged.

My mother taught me well.  Today, after Christmas and birthdays and if I haven’t been able to thank someone personally for their gift, I will send a card with a note inside expressing pleasure and telling them how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness.  The card is not an email it is real, genuine piece of paper in an envelope with a stamp that is sent by the Royal Mail and delivered to the door by a postman.

On the social web, on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn I observe the same formalities.  I am always grateful that someone has paid enough attention to what I write to want to comment on it or share it with their friends, followers and connections.  I always feel that little skip and lightness of heart that someone else has given me a recommendation, written a review or said something nice about me.

These are compliments and small ‘gifts’ that people are giving to me and I take them in the spirit they were given. I don’t shrug them off as irrelevant or not worth noticing as once again my mother taught me well – she taught me that not acknowledging a compliment by saying ‘thank-you’ was to do the person giving the compliment a disservice and to be disrespectful, they had put effort into reading my words, thinking of a response and then saying (or writing) this nice thing and the very least I can do is to say ‘thanks’.  So I do.

But, I’ve noticed that I seem to be in a minority.  Over the last few months I’ve had a dawning realisation that few people say thank you when you retweet something they’ve written because you think your followers might find it interesting too, few people say please when they invite you (with the canned requests usually) to be a friend or a connection and others don’t even bother to acknowledge that you’ve written a recommendation or taken the time to follow up a connection request with a note or email.  And some don’t acknowledge the fact that you have commented on their status update with a note or a ‘like’.

Why are these simple social skills missing? Are they a casualty of the ‘me, me, me” focused society? Is this evidence of people not taking responsibility for themselves and their actions – instead feeling that such ‘gifts’ and compliments are their right, so much so that they don’t need to acknowledge them?  Or are some of these people so full of their own importance and ‘authority’ that they prefer not to even admit that there are lesser mortals (their possible perception – not mine) within their online social circle.  As a result of this awareness I decided to undertake a minor experiment on Twitter – just to see what would happen.

There is an event coming up at which I, and a bunch of others will be presenting and I would like to get as many people along as possible because I think many people will find something and someone they can learn from there.   So I created a set of tweets which referenced each of the presenters (and their twitter handle if I could find it) and started sending out one each day.

Bearing in mind that those who are on Twitter will know that I had sent a message because it included their Twitter handle within it, even I was shocked to find that of the 44 messages I created only 5 have been acknowledged publicly.  What makes this worse is that these tweets are for people I know, not just people I have met on Twitter.  I meet them regularly at face to face networking meetings.

Despite this lack though, I shall continue to carry on with my own way of building relationships online (and offline).  I will continue to say ‘thank-you’ and I will continue to say ‘please’ if I would like someone to do something for me.  I will continue to respond to all emails that are sent personally to me and I will even continue to follow up the canned connection requests with an email asking for more information about the person making the request.  But I will also make a note of those that don’t seem to be able to say ‘thank-you’ and may just decide that they aren’t worth helping because they don’t seem to understand that building businesses online is all about the quality of the relationship and not the numbers!

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  1. I usually do try to say thank you for tweets and shares. I think part of the reason many don’t do this is because they see tweeting and ‘liking’ just as extended conversations, and we don’t normally thank people for normal conversation. Still, I am like you in trying to be mindful about my manners 🙂

  2. I don’t think you are at all Rosemary, these seemingly simple interactions are going to be increasingly important in the coming years I think as we move ever further into mediated interaction through technology.

  3. ‘Common courtesy’ is a misnomer these days, as it is increasingly less common. Thanks for this post and I appreciate the follow-up comments, too. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who feels this. Sometimes I think I’m becoming an old fuddy-duddy but then I think how little effort it takes to be nice and grateful for small things. People are becoming so keen on getting things for nothing that they won’t even repay a kindness with gratitude.

  4. You’re welcome Mark and I’ve seen some pretty interesting things happen with freebies too over the years – in fact I remember my mother telling me about the time her Church did a stall on the local market to raise funds for the Christmas project and they had people trying to sneak items off the table before they’d even opened!!!

  5. Thank you Linda! For another thoughtful post. This last weekend we showed at Bath and West. On the Sunday we placed a bowl of sweets on the desk for passers by and visitors. We noticed that it was the children that asked, ‘please can I have one’ and it was the adults that took them, mostly without this courtesy. Some even thumbed our brochures befor scurrying away with one. The prize though goes to the chap that looked my colleague in the eye while chatting and then slipped a whole pocket full away! I hope he enjoyed the sugar rush!

  6. What a lovely comment and compliment Frank and thank you for sharing your ‘thank you’ too, I really appreciate it 🙂

  7. I’ll have to read this post a few more often, but will not leave this page until I’ve said: Thank you very much. To be honest, grateful, happy, calm and gentle can only be done by decision. And must be decided new any day. I hope that I will always find the time to pick up pieces of paper thrown away or ask: Can I help you? or see and feel behind a face. That has also to do with spending a couple of Moments writing a Thank you…

    Hello Linda, have a nice day and weekend.

  8. Hi Joanna, there are some who naturally ‘get it’ and there are others who definitely don’t. I’ve noticed that some people seem to think they are too good to respond or reply as well … it takes all sorts I guess. As for hootsuite – the ones you won’t see in there are the ones that have been done directly from twitter.com as a RT rather than through a third party system – it’s the biggest reason I use now both systems to keep up with them.

  9. I agree. And I was brought up to do the same as you, Linda – be polite, and value the time others ‘offer’ to me. Why should online communication be any different?!

    I hope I manage to catch all RTs and posts and to thank or comment on them, or to at least acknowldegdge them. I was surprised, though, that not all Mentions etc make it into my Mentions column in Hootsuite so I’m sure I only see about 95% of them.

    If I miss any of yours, Linda, please feel free to send me a FIRM NUDGE!!! 😉

  10. You’re welcome Annie and I’m looking forward to our author interview with you sometime soon. Now, it’s off to Twitter to catch up on my thank-you’s and mentions too 🙂

  11. Hi Linda,
    This really chimed with me: in real life (as opposed to online life) I find young relatives never bother to write thank you letters, they don’t teach their children to write thank you letters, if I’m really lucky, I might get a text. And sometimes I’ve found that my contemporaries do the same. It’s horrible. I always either send a card or phone the person to thank them. And as for my nieces and nephews (most of whom are now adults) sending their aunties a birthday card – well, forget it! Again, if I’m really lucky I might get a text or a scrawl on my facebook wall….Like you, I believe in proper thank yous and in taking some care in observing birthdays and other special occasions.

    HOWEVER, I fear I may have sometimes missed saying thank you to people for online things. Retweets would be the main problem, because I’m an infrequent user of Twitter. Sometimes I also feel overwhelmed by the amount of online activity, and I don’t keep up with everything. I’ve always thanked people for Linked In recommendations, but need to check that I’ve thanked everyone who’s recommended my books on Amazon….so thank you for a timely reminder.

    Warm wishes,

  12. Many bloggers do comment but even more do not although those that do are looking toward building those relationships. I’ve noticed myself that I pay attention to those bloggers who are ‘networkers’ and I try to help them out where I can and time permitting. I think what I mean is that many bloggers are keen to have you comment on their site but don’t keep up to date with your blog …. I’m not sure how to overcome it but I guess with more people like you around it seems as if there is hope 🙂 BTW – are you on Twitter?

  13. Common courtesy just isn’t that common anymore. That said, i have noticed a trend with bloggers . . . generally if you comment on a blog post, they will reciprocate. I like that because it actually builds a real relationship.

  14. Reblogged this on woman on the edge of reality and commented:

    I was once again reminded of this post as I was travelling around the web again and thought that perhaps people might find it interesting. I also wonder what you think about the matter too?

  15. Why thank you kindly Bruce, glad you found it insightful and of course as you suggest we don’t all have to be sheep, maybe enough of us will show the way to force a change in behaviour 🙂

  16. Excellent post! I also fear that what you’ve documented is the new reality. Of course that doesn’t stop anyone from ignoring that approach! Thanks for the insight, Linda!

  17. Hey thanks Darren, I know you’re right but sometimes it can be a bit frustrating and I’m sure you have the same thing happen to you too 🙂

  18. Great post Linda, keep up the great work and be the difference. Many won’t notice or reciprocate but those that do will be all the more visible by doing so, rising from the crowd to be noticed and enjoying the rewards that come from this.