Break the rules online and people will respect you

So, now you know – it was Ryan Giggs after all…! Oh – you already knew that. Drat! I thought I was giving you some “news”. If you have been using Twitter for the last couple of weeks you can’t have avoided the name of the footballer with the super-injunction – which is still in place, by the way – so I am in contempt of court by telling you his name. Today, of course, people will line up to complain about the MP who used Parliamentary Privilege to reveal Giggsy. I suspect that many of those complaining are concerned that their private life could be revealed if we don’t have some kind of privacy law. My advice to them – and to Ryan Giggs – is if you don’t want your less-than-savoury antics exposed in the national media, then just behave yourself.

Ryan GiggsThe problem is that people in positions of relative power – such as MPs and Premier League footballers – actually believe they live under different rules to the rest of us. The think it is OK to break the rules. New research from the University of Amsterdam shows that people with power, or who believe they have it, do actually behave in different ways to people who do not have power or authority. MPs might like to say they abide by the same rules as us, but their behaviour indicates they do think they are “different”. So when it comes to privacy, they jump up and down because they realise the conflict in their actions; they want the rest of us to believe they behave like “normal” people, whilst they know they actually behave in unacceptable ways and want a privacy law so that fact is not discovered.

Authority comes from bad behaviour

But the real problem is not them, not the rich and powerful. The Dutch research shows the real issue is us. We actually appear to condone the bad behaviour. It turns out that when we see people behaving in ways that are less than acceptable we believe that those individuals are powerful – even if they are not. When someone enters a meeting room, chucks their case on the floor, puts their feet up on the desk and interrupts everyone else we think they are rude. But…we also appear to believe they are more powerful and have more authority than anyone else in the room. That has all sorts of consequences – such as deferring to them, agreeing with them and doing their bidding. Several studies of authority figures show us that “normal” people become subservient to the one who has apparent authority.

Online, you can see this happening all the time. Someone becomes “the authority” on a particular topic and before you know it everyone starts to accept their point of view – their apparent power and authority has had consequences on the rest of us. On the Internet you can find all sorts of advice on “dominating your niche” – indeed, you will find such advice on this very website…! If you behave online as though you did have power – rather like the rude person in the meeting room – the rest of the web world will treat you as someone with authority and power.

So, how does this all affect your online presence? It’s easy; break some rules…! I’m not suggesting breaking the law – after all you wouldn’t be so daft as to go against the High Court and reveal footballer’s name on your website would you? Oh, whoops…! But if you behave online rather like the stooges in the Amsterdam study, you will even more dominate your niche.

For example, subtle rule-breaking can help. I break the rules every day on this website by going against grammatical niceties. Unlike many business websites that try to abide by the “rules of business writing” and the “rules of grammar”, I don’t. I simply write as I speak, with all the grammatical errors included. That’s like coming into the room and putting my feet on the desk.

Other rules that get broken by authority figures online include sending more emails to you than you might think is acceptable, or having pop-up windows, for instance. The accepted “rule” is that you shouldn’t email unnecessarily nor should you annoy people with pop-ups. But online, the people who flout these rules are often deferred to as “experts” in their fields.

The old adage that “rules are made to be broken” may have a more subtle meaning than we ever previously thought. We don’t know if Ryan Giggs broke any rules; what we do know is that online the Tweeter who broke the rules has had a considerable influence, with just six Tweets,.

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