Digital content etiquette and #ReadItAll

Engaging with digital content is a major part of modern life. Many of us can engage with literally dozens of pieces of content every day. Yet sometimes our methodologies for engaging with and sharing content can become less and less empathetical.

We lack “Digital Etiquette”, a kind of  online or social media decorum that has analogies in the offline world, and has not yet evolved to be mainstream in the digital world.

This article is about “Digital Content Etiquette”. It aims to discuss some of the trends of content interaction that are beginning to emerge as a new kind of online propriety gradually evolves into existence.

Premise: We are flooded with content

Eric Schmidt at techonomy was quoted to say:

“Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”

The growth and availability of information online has been truly phenomenal. More information is available at our fingertips than ever was available before. Any profound thought or supremely trivial piece of information is just a search away.

Of course, this is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. The internet has and continues to unalterably transform our world. But the consequence of this is that we are flooded with content. The ability to sift, skim or ignore information is becoming a mainstream skill.

When interacting with others online, it’s good to remember this fact: we are all time poor, and even if we’re not, we are way over saturated with information.

How can our methods of engaging with content online be altered to allow greater empathy for a world that is over saturated with information? Here are a few ideas.

Idea #1: When engaging with content, actually #ReadItAll

We cannot be expected to read everything we could read as we browse online. The time required would be completely unreasonable. Our online experience is saturated with irrelevance such as ads, additional comments, navigation through search, and so forth.

Nevertheless, when we engage with actual pieces of content, especially commenting and sharing it, it’s just plain good etiquette to have read it all beforehand.

This graphic by Chartbeat (re-shared on shows data about read time vs. sharing:

As you can see, there is little correlation between high read time and high social activity. For the most part, if we actually read something thoroughly (right hand side of the matrix) we are less likely to share it than if we skimmed it (left hand side). We are headline sharers. Often we just read the headline of a piece of content, perhaps skim it quickly to see the headings, and then rapidly share it on social media, not having read it all ourselves.


One of my personal dreams is to invent a clever hashtag that becomes mainstream. If I could invent one it would be #readitall

The English text “read it all” could be read into two pronunciations with two separate meanings:

  1. “read it all” (read pronounced “red” like the colour) — a past tense sense, indicating that the person sharing this content actually read (“red”) it all before sharing it.
  2. “read it all” (read pronounced “reed” like the plant) — an instruction or suggestion, indicating that anyone who wishes to engage in further discussion about this piece of content should first read it all so as to catch up with the others involved in the discussion and not be rude.

It is the double edged sword of content etiquette.

I think we’d find if we all obeyed this simple rule of etiquette; #readitall, that our online discussions would become more meaningful and less rushed. In a world full of frantic buzz and discussion, perhaps the solution to over-saturation is not moving faster, but moving slower and enjoying the ride of content together.

Let’s become more meaningful content consumers.

Idea #2: When sharing content, add context-granting commentary

Often in your email or social media feed you’ll see something like this:

There’s no context at all! There’s no introduction, no “smoothing” of the journey between wherever the readers’ minds happen to be at the time to engaging with this content.

This is analogous to the offline etiquette of greeting someone, saying “good morning” before proceeding to say something else. You wouldn’t just walk up to a friend of yours and just stuff a newspaper into their hands would you?

Give the content you share a personalised headline. Explain what it is, why it’s significant, and help people to make the choice as to whether or not to spend their precious time engaging with it and you. If it is just a newsflash, introduce it as such; “Breaking news, XYZ happened.”

How much better is it to see something like this:

Now I know exactly what this content is about, and whether it’s relevant to my life. Perhaps I will choose not to like, comment or share, but I caught the headline and made a choice. (Thanks FQTQ).

Idea #3: Be careful about tagging people, and give them context

Getting tagged in a post is like being yanked into a spotlight while being asleep. You wake up hours later (when you finally check your social media) and find lots of people are laughing at and watching you.

It’s a good idea to be careful about tagging people. Will this person really appreciate being tagged in this post? Will they really be interested in this content?

Tagging is “public” within the confines of the friendships circles on social networks. When you tag a person, potentially all of their friends can see it. Would they appreciate it? Would they mind?

Tagging also changes the mode of engagement from “pull” to “push”. It is the same distinction between outbound and inbound marketing.

  • “Pull” means there’s a lot of “stuff” to engage with, and people “pull” out what they want to engage with. It’s all in their control, done at their pace.
  • “Push” means that we are actively pushing content towards someone to engage with. We are interrupting.

Tagging isn’t evil, and outbound marketing isn’t terrible, but it needs to be done with respect and understanding of people. Many people don’t appreciate “push”.

If you do tag people, it’s best to be careful about how many you tag, and give them context. For example, here’s how I could share this article with a friend of mine (with whom I’ve discussed these concepts in person before):

Posting things to someone’s wall is the same. It is stuck on their wall — will they appreciate it?

If you don’t have the relationship with a person to tag them / write on their wall, perhaps it’s better to share your content and private message them afterwards with a personalised share: “Hey Chris, I recently shared this on my wall, what do you think?”

Idea #4: Discretion and moderation in generating social noise

When you share something on social media, especially without tempering commentary, it can be interpreted as a kind of endorsement of that content.

In a very literal sense, you are placing your name next to it and saying “HEY WORLD, this is good”.

Do you really feel that way about this piece of content? Is it really worth that precious real-estate on your wall? Is it really worth that precious little snippet of attention your friends might give to you as they see the post in their feed?

It may be that as the world generates more and more noise, people are more attracted to and yearn for a quieter, more thoughtful content source. Maybe not daily, but weekly instead. Maybe not lengthy, but pithy and terse instead.

Conclusion: Content etiquette is real, and evolving

The ideas shared above are not necessarily from me, they are mere observations. As people, companies, and organisations become more savvy in online and social media, I think we will see these ideas becoming more mainstream.

Hope you #readitall and feel free to comment, like or share!


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