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Everything I need to know about Social Media, I learned from the Boy Scout Law

As part of my ongoing social experimentation in Twitter, I will periodically tweet out random words to see who takes an interest and will start following me. That is, in itself, a fascinating subject but not overly germane to today’s post.  It was on such a #randomwordthursday that I tweeted out these twelve words: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent. @billvann responded “My kinda list” and @jbtrexler tweeted back “:) haven't seen those 12 in a long time. Eagle Scout?”  While I do not have the honor of having earned the rank of Eagle Scout, I happened to pick those words because I am actively involved with Scouting.  Former Cub Master, now Assistant Scout Master, my oldest son, a Tenderfoot Scout in Troop 1158, is an aspiring Eagle Scout.  And yes as any Boy Scout can tell you, “A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” 

When I was asked to be a columnist for the Legal IT Professionals website, this law (completely tweetable with room to spare) struck me as one that covers everything you need to know about using social media.  I’m not going to make claims of being an “expert” or a “guru” on the subject of social media, I’ll leave that to others and for you all to judge them.  I have been involved with social media, issues and usage at both my prior law firms and remain today, a fairly heavy user and believer.  So with that as a background, let’s use some common sense and dive into the twelve laws of scouting and how I relate them to social media:

1) Trustworthy
According to the 1911 handbook, “A Scout's honor is to be trusted. If he were to violate his honor by telling a lie or by cheating or by not doing exactly a given task, when trusted on his honor, he may be directed to hand over his Scout badge.”  The latest version of the handbook put it a bit more simply, “A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.”  Telling the truth, being honest and dependable are key traits in establishing your social media identity.  Lies seem so much easier to uncover in the wild, interconnected world of social media, so don’t bother telling them.

2) Loyal
“A Scout is loyal to those to whom loyalty is due.”  I never liked recursive definitions, but I understand that it can be fairly tough to define this term to an 11 year old boy.  Some dictionaries will define it as “feeling of friendship or duty towards someone or something”. It’s nice to feel that friendship and duty towards the larger social media community of your choice.  Be loyal to those you’ve made connections with and there is no telling how far they can take you.

3) Helpful
“A Scout cares about other people. He helps others without expecting payment or reward. He fulfills his duties to his family by helping at home.”  Blogs, Tweets and connections can be incredibly helpful to people.  In my humble opinion, the best users of social media don’t expect payment or reward.  (I might add that both may come quite naturally as a result of their helpfulness, but the initial attitude is free of that.)  I have found some of the best people I know in the real world operate similarly, they help without expectation of reward.

4) Friendly
“A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races, religions, and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.”  Pretty simple really.  Are mean, unfriendly people in social media?  Absolutely, but no more so then there are in your every day real-world life.  I like to follow people who make me think, who challenge some of my base understandings.  I make connections with those outside my industry or with different interests, so I can learn more.  What a dull and boring place the world would be if we were all the same!

5) Courteous
“A Scout is polite to people of all ages and positions. He understands that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.”  Remember all those rules your mom and dad taught you?  Civility and mutual respect go a long way in maintaining relationships with the people you connect with.  Misuse the system or abuse the people there, and you’ll quickly find yourself alone.  The old phrase “nothing travels faster than bad news” is especially true in the social media circles.

6) Kind
“A Scout treats others as he wants to be treated. He knows there is strength in being gentle. He does not harm or kill any living thing without good reason.”  How much simpler can practicing the golden rule be?  Practice it in your real and online communities.

7) Obedient
“A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he seeks to have them changed in an orderly way.” Understand the system you are using, use it properly, obey its rules.  It usually doesn’t pay to try to break the rules or even to skate around the edges.  You might find yourself locked out - your account frozen and shutdown.

8) Cheerful
“A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way and tries his best to make others happy, too.”  There is a lot to be cheerful about in the world of social media.  I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to learn and think about with the input and provocation of people in my various extended communities.  If I have been able to stimulate even half as much thought in them as they have in me, I’d be cheerful indeed.

9) Thrifty
“A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He is careful in his use of time and property.”  Are you paying your way in your social media community?  Do you contribute and foster discussion or just suck things up without thought of repayment?  One could also argue Twitter is one of the ultimate thrifty social media tools - you really have to think how to express your thoughts in only 140 characters.  ReTweeting can be even more challenging!

10) Brave
“A Scout faces danger even if he is afraid.”  Social media goes off in many new directions.  Debates rage on about whether social media is useful or not - whether it is for “marketing” or not - who should own it.  Some people would rather do nothing because they are afraid of it.  The world of social media is still evolving.  There are dangers in being an early adopter for anything, but the rewards can also be quite high.  I challenge you to go out and face those social media fears.

11) Clean
“A Scout keeps his body and mind fit. He chooses friends who also live by high standards. He avoids profanity and pornography. He helps keep his home and community clean.”  As social media stretches our definition of community, we all need to pitch in to keep it clean.  The decisions of who you chose to associate with will have a direct bearing on this.  The original 1911 Scout Handbook states it this way: “He keeps clean in body and thought; stands for clean speech, clean sport, clean habits; and travels with a clean crowd.”  As social media is the latest fascination on the web, and, on the web, you can find “anything and everything,” you’re going to run across the dark and dirty side - its unavoidable.  I have never been impressed with vulgarity or dirty tricks.  I think it shows a small vocabulary and a smaller mind.  Ignore, block, delink, de-friend and report those dirty things when you come across them.

12) Reverent
“A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.” Of course religion is one of those things you aren’t supposed to discuss in most social circles.  But as part of the Scout Law, I’ll address it here.  It is the duty of a Scout to be reverent in the religion he has chosen while being respectful of the choices others have made.  Respecting others choices is the key here.  Honest, open dialog comes from the respectful engagement of others in conversation - irrespective of the topic.  Personally I think this is another example of our differences making us stronger.

So there you have it, my first post - what I hope are some common sense social media tips inspired by the Boy Scouts of America. Please feel free to comment, I look forward to the dialog!


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