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4 Way Test for Better Blogging

Free Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.comYesterday, I was given the distinct privilege of speaking to the Dayton Rotary on the topic of blogging. I was joined by emcee Alan Pippenger, who put the program together, and bloggers David Esrati, and Bill Pote. As a member of the organization, I was particularly thrilled to be able to address my fellow Rotarians on something that has had such an enormous impact on my life.

In preparing for the speech, I was looking for something to help the message further resonate with the audience. Then it hit me – the Rotary 4 Way Test. This test, developed by Herbert J. Taylor in 1932, is used as a guide for ethical decision making, and is a cornerstone of Rotary International. It is also a great guide for effective and ethical blogging. It is as follows:

1) Is it the TRUTH?
2) Is it FAIR to all concerned?
3) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

So how does this apply to blogging? Well here is my take.

1) Is it the TRUTH?: This one should be fairly obvious, but deserves explanation beyond just True / False. If you have read Meatball Sundae, by Seth Godin, he discusses the importance of telling an authentic story – one that is truthful with who you are. This can be applied to a person, a business, or even a philanthropic organization. Is who you are who you say you are? Is what you say consistent with what you do? Yes, it is important to tell the factual truth about the things written on your blog as they pertain to others, but it is equally important to be truthful about yourself. As Seth states, “Saying one thing and doing another fails, because you’ll get caught.”

2) Is it FAIR to all concerned?: Fairness need not be sacrificed to state what you believe to be true. Controversial, outspoken blog posts get people reading. It is true that strong opinions make for good reading, but fairness need not be sacrificed in the process of communicating your view. No, I am not stating that bloggers collectively hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, but rather that facts are portrayed in the proper context. Base opinions on the facts, as best as they can be understood. Don’t invite people to the conversation only to shout them right back out. The idea of fairness really plays itself out in comments and feedback. All too often, comment threads head for the least common denominator of name calling and labeling. There can be multiple views, and there should be a welcoming of diversity in opinion. This is what ultimately leads to a deeper understanding of the world.

3.) Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?: You are upset. You sit down at your computer and begin typing. You put your clever wit to work writing a scathing post about the idiot business, friend, stranger, or public official that has seemingly wronged you. Be careful before publishing that post. Think about what you are trying to accomplish before you go tearing down others. What is it you hope to achieve? Do you want to change someone’s mind? Will berating them accomplish it? Dale Carnegie has some great stuff on this in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Ultimately we are always the hero of our own story. That applies to you. It applies to the person who wronged you. They think you are wrong. Calling them stupid is not going to change that, and really just makes you look foolish. What I would suggest is that you focus on the issue of contention and not the person on the other side of that issue. Yes, people disagree. Yes, people are stupid sometimes. Yes, sometimes you are the stupid one – you just may not know it. Look to build goodwill and better friendships through blogging. You will keep people listening rather than putting them on the defensive – and may well accomplish changing the opinions of others. Better yet, you may change your own.

4.) Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?: This one is tough. You can’t make everyone happy, especially if you have an opinion to express. Still, this principle becomes an extension of the previous 3. Focus on delivering value by making your criticism constructive. If you can not do that, it may well be best to not saying anything at all. Think before you post. Is what you are getting ready to post going to help someone or hurt them? Using a blog as a platform to attack people without regard for their well being is counterproductive. Even in criticism, seek to propose solutions. Seek to help find deeper meaning. Seek the truth. By keeping the focus on benefiting all, you benefit yourself.

Back to yesterday’s speech. I was the first speaker, and was given 5 minutes to talk. By the time I had recounted a few stories of how writing a weblog has been an amazing experience for me my time was almost up. So while I mentioned the 4 way test, I did not get time to explain it in more detail. I hope that this post helps to accomplish that.

Thanks to everyone at Rotary for allowing me to speak, and to Alan for inviting me to do it. It was a thrill, and I am honored to have been given the chance to use my voice.

Dayton Rotary