bad mannersMy mother regularly dispensed practical advice, much of which stemmed from her dedication to common courtesy.  From “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’” to “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,” my mother took great pride in doing her part to civilize the next generation — and provide early training to her daughter for a career in public relations.

A recent study by Weber Shandwick bears out this counsel, reporting that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that incivility is a major societal problem.  Whether in the political or sports arena, our schools or workplaces, or with whom we do business, Americans are increasingly fed up with discourteous behavior and are showing their disdain by withdrawing their support, participation and business.

They’re not just talking about people cutting in line or neglecting to hold doors.  The proliferation of social media like Twitter and Facebook and an overall more casual attitude in our institutions and marketplaces has contrived surprising new ways to be impolite.

When asked about the civility of social networks, nearly 50% of those surveyed indicated that they found them uncivil, an increase of 43% from 2010.  This perceived incivility has resulted in respondents blocking or “defriending” people (49%), no longer visiting an online site because its content or tone made them uncomfortable (38%), or dropping out of a fan club, online community or other forum. And perhaps most importantly, 69% of respondents indicated that they have severed relationships with companies they find to be uncivil.

This is not to say that online discourse and relationships should be avoided; but it can’t be unmonitored or ignored.  When online content is carefully and thoughtfully managed, the opportunity for individuals and businesses to connect with clients and customers and build communities of goodwill ambassadors is unparalleled.  While a Facebook page for a business can work well as a less formal way to communicate with customers, it should never be too me

A good start to healthy online discourse is leading by example. Respect your audience, address their concerns constructively and responsively, foster positive conversation through informative and compelling postings, and quickly remove any offensive material that may be posted on your site.

And mind your manners.