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Etiquette Question: Social Networking

Filed under Etiquette, In The News

Etiquette for Social Media and NetworkingDear Charles,

For the first time in my life, I’m finally active on Facebook and Twitter. While learning how to use them seems overwhelming, I’ve noticed that people take an “anything goes” type attitude about what they post on those sites. Can you offer up some general etiquette tips? I’m a pretty private person, so I’m not really sure what the point is!

Thanks for your help!

Jonathan Frye

Dear Jonathan,

As far as I can tell, social media is here to stay. Businesses and individuals use Facebook and Twitter to stay in contact with their clients, customers, families, and friends. They post links to¬† news stories; they repost interesting thoughts, quotes, or concepts. It’s a great tool that every business should embrace, and it also allows you to keep all your personal connections in one place.

But social media etiquette has become a very tricky concept for some people to understand. Contrary to what you might have noticed, there are definite does and don’ts about how and what to post. Below I’ll discuss the proper etiquette of posting photos, links, and general thoughts.

Photographs: I strongly suggest that you only post photographs that anyone could view. My rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t want your grandma or your future boss seeing the photograph, then don’t post it on Facebook (this goes for LinkedIn, Twitter, Myspace, Tumblr–any blog or social network that you are active on).

Even if your profile is private, anything that you post on the web can and will be seen by others.

You might have enjoyed a night out with friends, and you may want to post photographs of it. That’s fine. It’s normal to want to share your fun experiences with others. However, do not post photographs in which you, or others, are visibly intoxicated, are under-dressed, or appear to have lost control in one way or another.

Business profiles don’t usually have this problem, but they face another issue: over-posting of incredibly dull photographs! Your business may have participated in an interesting training seminar or team-building exercise. I suggest creating an album for that event, and choosing up to ten relevant and interesting photographs. Digital photography allows us to accumulate literally thousands of photos, but only a few are engaging. Select those few wisely.

Links: Posting links to news articles that are relevant to your industry or interests can be a great way to participate in a global conversation. However, make sure that you add your own description or thoughts about the article, rather than simply posting a link.

For example, on my Twitter feed I recently posted a link to an article that discusses customer service issues concomitant with mergers. I added a one sentence comment to the link, to share with my followers what I thought about the article. Some businesses do not take the time to comment, and only post the link. This is poor etiquette and is not truly engaging others in conversation.

Another thing to consider when posting links is how political do you want to be? Do you want to share with your coworkers, friends, and family your political views? If so, then it’s fine to post links to political articles. If you want to maintain a neutral online presence, then I suggest saving political discussions for in-person conversations. This goes for religion as well.

General Thoughts: One of the most common uses of Facebook and Twitter is to post what you’re thinking and feeling at a certain moment. We share with others thoughts that in the past we may have kept to ourselves. While it’s fascinating that we’re sharing more than we ever have, we have to be careful about what we share.

A few weeks ago the social media firm managing Chrysler’s Twitter account offended thousands of people by tweeting about Detroit drivers (an expletive was included). I tend to believe that the tweet was an accident: the person managing Chrysler’s account may have intended for the tweet to come from his or her own personal account, and mistakenly posted it to Chrysler’s.

However, this incident highlights the need to be cautious about what we post about others. Consider the industry that you’re in as well, even if you’re posting from your personal account. Comedians on Twitter are notoriously offensive. But then again, comedians in general are notoriously offensive.

Unless you’re a comedian, I’d consider keeping your content clean and conscious of others.

What’s the point? In the last sentence of your letter, you state that you aren’t sure what the point is of social networking online. As I mentioned above, social networking sites allow you to keep in contact with a broad range of people with relatively little effort.

And for your business it is a crucial marketing tool. You can stay in contact with former clients, reach out to new ones, and promote your product and brand by engaging in relevant conversations. Google has recently incorporated concepts born out of social media, and this will greatly affect how your company is found online. We must be willing to embrace social networking to ensure that our businesses grow.

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