February 26, 2011

Internet Etiquette 101 (or how NOT to upset belly dancers in your community)

I have been feeling a little burned by the Internet lately.  Content I have published has been copied without my permission, articles written about me were used as promotion for other dancers, and rumors of non-existing Facebook posts worked their way into my professional life  So, I am feeling a bit disappointed, betrayed, and just plain annoyed by it all.  I recognize that once you go public in any shape or form on the Internet, you open up a lot of issues about your public and private life, but I think I was in the honeymoon phase up until now.  You know the part of the relationship where you trust everything and everyone and life is all roses, chocolate and unicorns.  That is, until the first disagreement…the first tiff…or the first betrayal.  Well Internet, the roses have wilted, the chocolate has left extra pounds on my hips and the unicorn metaphorically pooped on the carpet.

So what’s a girl to do?  I could be catty and vengeful, or I can use this as an educational opportunity.  In life I always try to take the high road, and instead of just assuming people are malicious and greedy, I prefer to think they are misinformed or not aware of the issues they may cause.  My response is to provide some guidelines for those of you who choose to post/comment/publish on the Internet.  I started with a great article called The 5 Rules of Blog Etiquette and worked from there.  My first two points are directly taken from her post (see italics...with additional comments from me), but you should read the entire article because she has other wonderful notes on the subject.  And, here is another article that has some great tips on the same subject…so go read, and I’ll wait here for you.
If you quote someone, you should link back to the source. If you’re only quoting a small section from another blogger’s post, you don’t need their permission to do so. However, you should link back to their original post.

This is all about giving credit where credit is due, quoting the source correctly, and returning the favor of sending blog traffic to the person who wrote the post originally. If you post everything on their site, what is the incentive for anyone to go visit their website or blog? Be courteous, give credit, and send readers to the original author. I think this is good karma, besides basic etiquette. If the author has multiple pages or social media sources, check to find out what is the most appropriate link. For example, I had someone link a belly dance article I wrote to my personal Facebook page. The problem is, my Facebook page is not public and for the belly dancing side of my life, I have worked hard at setting up a website, Facebook pages, a blog and Twitter feeds. So by using my personal Facebook page, not only were people sent to a site they could not access, but all my hard work at setting up other sources was for naught.
  Do not repost information without permission. It is never okay to take someone else’s post and put it on your blog without first getting their permission. Even if you link back to them, it is still unacceptable.

Even though information posted on the Internet seems public, keep in mind that the author owns the content and has a copyright on that information. If you take all of their material off a post or site (even if you credit it) you are at a minimum stealing traffic from them…or stealing business. Beside bad karma, it just isn’t good business sense. That’s like paying money to go to a dance workshop, copying all the material and then teaching it again yourself. You may tell people where you got the material from, but you’ve taken away the incentive for people to go to the source.

On a side note, this applies to real life experiences too, like choreographies. I've had people approach me asking if they could use my choreography and my music selections to teach materials to their students…here in Austin. One individual was very put out when I said no and didn't understand my stance that if someone wants to learn my material, they should take directly from me. They just did not seem to respect the idea that I put the work and effort into it, and I should get the credit and rewards…online or off. 

So, remember that the belly dance community is a close-knit group, and if you have the reputation of stealing other people’s content to promote your own business…eventually you won’t have a business.  Now, here are a few additional comments of my own on the subject:
Respect a dancer’s name, title or persona 
There are multiple opinions on whether or not a dancer should take a “stage name”. I know many dancers who do (including me) and many dancers who do not. What is important is to recognize and respect the dancer’s preference. For example, you may know that their real name is Sheila, but if she never uses that name for business purposes…I would use solely their business name. On the other hand, some dancers are fine using both names depending upon the situation. In that case, the general rule is to use their dance name at dance events and venues and in other social circles (and with their permission), you can use their given name. When in doubt, ask their preference.
Just because someone said it on a Facebook post or online forum does not mean it becomes your property.  

There is a certain amount of trust that you give to people who are friends on Facebook. Part of that trust is to not repeat something you may have said in jest, or assume the worst regarding a post. For example, during the last two months I've been tired and stressed because of work, and I posted that I was tired and stressed. It was simply a statement of fact, and not a criticism of anyone or anything. We all have those days. The problem is someone heard through someone else that I posted something work related…and then the grapevine took over to the point that I had to defend and explain myself to upper management. 

As a result, it was a horrendous week for me, especially since I would never in a million years do what I was accused of. It was also a big lesson because although I am direct and to the point, not everyone is. And those people may read more into a comment than necessary. Unfortunately it’s not the first time someone took a Facebook post out of context. In another situation, something I said in jest was used as a “quote from Najla” in their newsletter...which led to another mortifying moment for me. 

The lesson for everyone is to consider those posts as conversations, not as public fodder or material for your own business purposes. If you want to use the material, ask first…and if there is any potential misunderstanding, ask for clarification. We’ll all rest a little easier if you do this. 
Give credit where credit is due 

I've never been a pushy salesman, even back in the day when I worked in retail and was paid to sell. So, over the years, my approach to promoting my belly dance business has been less hard-sell, and more dependent on word-of-mouth and positive reviews from students. What has been unsettling is finding out that positive publicity or comments on me have been used for other dancers to promote themselves. And here’s where it gets sticky…because in giving examples, I’m actually giving away the people who did this. For the record, I understand this...and I also think that this is the beauty of karma. 

The first example was a really sweet blog post on the experience of attending a Mother-Daughter workshop that I taught. The blogger is actually very well known in the Internet community, and is a bit of an Austin celebrity. She has actually been quite successful in a making a brand name out of her blog and business. She wrote about the class she attended without ever mentioning my name, not an oversight, but when you look at other posts on her site you’ll see that is a business choice she has made regarding most of her posts. But I knew that she had written the post, she sent me a sweet note telling me she would do it (and asking permission…), and although I didn't shout it from the rooftops, I did include a link…to her post (see point 1 from above!) on Facebook. 

Well, guess what? Someone else in town who also periodically teaches classes with kids and moms included the link in their newsletter. And although they did not explicitly say that the article was about me, the way it was worded…and the fact that it was in their newsletter implicitly implied that the article was about them. I also know that they did not ask the author for permission to use her post.  It would have been one thing for the other dancer to say, here’s a nice article on Najla’s workshop…and then say that they also teach similar classes…but no…no credit whatsoever. 

My second example is much more recent. I was contacted by a reporter at the Daily Texan who wanted to do an article about belly dancing, and specifically UT students/staff who were involved. We emailed back and forth several times, I sent her a list of students who were affiliated with UT, and she and I had a phone interview that lasted well over an hour. She was a new reporter, and I was a bit worried about how the story would come out, but I thought she did a lovely job. There were a couple of things that didn't follow what I had said, and the photo is less than flattering (imho)...but all things considered, it was very nice.

Much to my surprise the focus of the article was me…not UT students…not Mirage…and not Informal Classes (although they were mentioned). However, someone took offense at the article and actually posted online publicity for their classes on the page with my article. Again, the article didn't include a link to me or publicize my specific classes, but the absence of promoting me seemed to leave room for someone else to promote themselves. I wasn't asking for great acclaims or publicity, but just credit where credit was due. 

So, when other dancers get noticed or attention, don’t take this an opportunity to garner attention for yourself. When someone writes an article, or posts useful information, don’t steal it for yourself. Give appropriate credit, respect an author or dancer’s work, and ask permission. Consider it good publicity for the dance or the community, which in turn can help your business and your karma! 

*climbing off my soap box and heading off for dinner now*


  1. I think the same guidelines should apply to choreography!

  2. Yes Ginger, I agree. I think sometimes people forget that someone has put a lot of time and effort into either something they write or something they create, and we should be considerate of that and respect other dancer's hard work!