Etiquette seems like a bunch of rules made up by frumpy old ladies who care deeply about which spoon people use.
But, when it comes to social media, proper etiquette is important stuff that can mean the difference between building a respectful, authentic online presence that shows you in your best light, versus one ridden with embarrassing gaffes that could potential end your career or a relationship.
Proper etiquette matters.
For many of the tips listed below, you might be thinking, “Well duh, Jen. That goes without saying.”
Trust me, ladies and gentlemen. It doesn’t.
All of these faux pas are things I have seen done in social media countless times. (And I haven’t even begun to cover all aspects of social media etiquette. If you have other tips to add to this list, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.)
1. Do not tag or mark the geolocation of the person/people you are with without his/her permission.
A lot of people don’t want their physical location, (or information about who they are with in that location) broadcast to the world for a whole host of reasons. So, before you tweet, “At Starbucks with @SoAndSo,” or check in “with SoAndSo” on Foursquare, it’s important to always ask your companion for their permission first.
2. Use private forums or email to make your personal plans.
Social media is great for meeting new friends and hooking up with old ones. However, once the “Hey! How are you?” pleasantries have been exchanged, it’s time to graduate the hug fest to a more private venue. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people publicly tweet the whole “Should we meet for coffee?” “Sure, what day works for you?” “Well, Wednesday afternoons are good, You?” exchange publicly for us all to read. That just adds noise to the feed. Go somewhere else to catch up and discuss your deets.
It’s easy to spoil secrets and surprises these days because so many people time-shift when they watch TV and so many others are eager to “break news” as it happens. To avoid spoiling someone’s enjoyment of the media you are talking about, make sure to always review your posts before you make them live to see if they give away critical details. If you think they will, add a disclaimer.
4. Do not “like” Facebook updates announcing death or major illness/injury.
It can be uncomfortable to know how to respond when someone announces bad news; especially if the news is followed by some “look on the bright side” affirmation, (e.g. “My grandma just died. But she lived a long and happy life and I got to spend her last days with her.”) While the affirmation part of the update could be interpreted as “likeable,” always err on the side of caution and opt for a supportive comment instead of the generic thumbs up, which is easily misinterpreted.
5. If you post material containing nudity or swearing, include a “Not Safe for Work” (NSFW) designation.
Just because you’re looking at social media from the comfort of your home on a private Wi-Fi network doesn’t mean your audience is, too. I have no problem with people sharing blue material with their networks, but give your audience proper warning about what the link contains so they won’t risk offending the people around them (or risk getting offended themselves) or breaking rules at work when they view it.
6. Do not live tweet or quote something someone just said without first asking for their permission, (unless that person is on a stage.)
Like the geotagging, quoting the person sitting next to you and then distributing that quote to your social network without their permission is a breach of etiquette. That person said that comment to YOU; not to your mother, your boss or your friends from high school. If you intend to expand the reach of their words and include audiences they may not know about, please ask them for their permission, first.
7. Do not use any social network to share highly private information.
Major gaffes in social media usual revolve around someone accidentally sharing something publicly that they meant to keep private. There is one way you can ensure this NEVER happens to you: don’t post sensitive information on social networks. Someone (even if it’s just some flunky in a cube at Facebook or the person you sent it to) can see anything or share anything you post on any social network, even if it’s posted in a “private” space.” Always err on the side of caution and save your top secret stuff for face-to-face conversations.
8. If you share someone’s original content or quote them, give them an attribution.
Yes, information gets passed along fast in social media and direct attribution may not be always possible. But do try to give it your best effort. I’ve seen a presenter say something witty on a stage and then someone in the audience immediately tweet that quote to their network without the speaker’s name attached to the quote in any way. That’s not cool.
9. Avoid passive-aggressive posting or vaugebooking.
Social media is an awesome forum for being passive aggressive. You can say things like, “I really hate it when some people get all preachy about politics” and never have to confront that annoying friend from college and tell them it’s actually them who annoys you. But here’s the thing…that annoying friend? Chances are they will ignore your post or assume it’s not referring to them. And some of your close friends who are more self-aware? They might think you are signally them out and feel awful. So be direct when you talk. And if you want to call out someone’s behavior, do that directly, too…in private.
10. Be social.
As social media has evolved, more people (cough.marketers.cough) are using the tool as a purely one-way communication channel to showcase themselves. Their feeds read like the cross between their diary and their resume (Today I won an award! I wrote this important thing: READ IT. Man, I am on a roll today! My deep thoughts on me…) Snore. First of all, narcissism is unbecoming (and unhealthy.) Secondly, you join social networks to…you know, socialize and network. So don’t forget to talk to people, too.
11. Respect people’s work/life boundaries.
Again, you may be using social media to talk to your close friends about all sorts of things. But, someone else might be using it for purely professional reasons (yes, even Facebook.) So don’t be surprised if your friend who drops the f-bomb all the time when you are out for drinks gets all “Queen of England” with you when she is on Twitter. Try to respect those boundaries by always following your friend’s lead in the language they use in a conversation. When in doubt, ask them directly what they prefer.
12. Do not tag someone on Facebook in photos which are unrelated to them or unflattering.
As mentioned above, people use social media in many different contexts. Not all of them will be the same as yours. Before you tag a friend in a picture of them getting wasted at your Bachelor Party or tag their name in a random photo, cartoon, etc. because you want to make sure they see it, remember that those photos will now appear at the TOP of their picture feed on Facebook (which is a total dick move on Facebook’s part.) And that could have repercussions for their professional life. So use your tagging power wisely.
13. Do not pitch or jump topics within comment threads.
A comment thread is a conversation. Jumping in with an unrelated pitch like, “Hey, I’ve tried Slim Fast and lost a lot of weight!” or even something less douchey (but equally off topic) like, “Hey, Bob! We still on for drinks tonight?” is odd and makes the conversation awkward for everyone. Use the back channel, email or direct posts for these changes of topic or start a new thread somewhere else. Also, if your comment on a blog post is longer than 3 paragraphs, then it’s no longer a comment…it’s a blog post you should go post on your own blog.
14. Do not hijack hashtags.
Hijacking a hashtag is when you talk about your product/service using the hashtag of an event so everyone following that hashtag will see your marketing. While, in theory, this seems like a clever marketing tactic, in practice it comes off about as gracefully as inviting a porn star or a door to door salesperson to your kid’s birthday party. Context is everything in social. Try to honor it whenever possible by not inserting marketing messaging into other people’s conversations.
15. Always say please and thank you.
There’s a reason this rule has been an etiquette standby since we were talking about the proper way to ask the blacksmith to provide services in exchange for a crate of chickens. “Please” and “thank you” are powerful words. Whether they help you get ahead in the rat race is irrelevant. They help you be a better person and leave the world in a better place than you found it. And that is the true power and importance of proper etiquette.