Mind Your Business: Online & Social Media Etiquette

Keep your elbows off the table; don’t chew with your mouth open; remember to say “please” and “thank you…” – the eternal words of our mothers. Although you might know fish spoon from your coffee spoon in the real world, etiquette extends far beyond table manners – existing now in a virtual world where we must behave and express ourselves carefully. If you’re representing your company or performing social media on behalf of another business, you should consider it as part of your job to maintain a polite, courteous and sincere online persona. After all, your online presence should match who you are in reality.

Keep in mind the following in both your personal and professional web communications:

Misinterpretations:

When communicating with others in cyberspace, we do not have the advantage of observing body language, facial expressions, tone or other such gestures that aid in understanding the sender’s meaning. This means you must rely on your words and writing skills to communicate yourself online. These words exist forever on the net so choose them wisely and use them properly.

  • Write well and edit. As a social media consultant, writing will take up 80% of your day so make sure you are doing it well. Take the time to ensure your messages are clear, concise and correct. Spelling and grammar count (and yes, people are judging!) Is there any chance the reader might misinterpret your message? Are there any errors? Before you hit ‘send’ or ‘post,’ make sure you’ve edited your message.
  • Most people know this, but I’m going to put it out there anyway: never type in ALL CAPS unless you are trying to express an extreme emotion – it is seen as yelling.
  • Be careful of when, where and how you use sarcasm. As mentioned above, your reader cannot discern your body language or gestures. If you’re going to make a sarcastic comment, make sure it’s clear! If you’d like, you can add a reassuring phrase like, “reeking of sarcasm” after your comment.

Respect:

Straight up – there are not enough hours in the day and therefore when you email, post comments, tweet or Facebook someone, you are taking up their time. Of course, this is not a bad thing, but it can be if you abuse it. To ensure you respect others’ time, use these tips:

  • Search for an answer before you ask someone a question. It might be right in front of your face. (Speaking from experience, here ;) )
  • When sharing or posting files, ensure they will not bog down others’ servers or bandwidths.
  • Be patient! Give people a chance to respond to your queries before you send follow-up posts or messages. Bugging someone to reply is an easy way to get on their nerves.
  • Give good thought about who your posting/email/message pertains to, or whom it might interest. Don’t just send it to everyone on your list. If you make a bad habit of mass emails, postings, etc, people will just delete your messages before opening them…or worse, they may block your messages altogether.
  • Flaming…there is a time and place for a good debate but tread lightly. There may come a time where you feel truly passionate about a certain subject and it is certainly ok to defend your position – but sometimes it’s best to sleep on it. After you’ve cooled your jets and are ready to respond, be sure to present your argument without strong emotion – just lay out the facts in an educational manner.
  • Cursing on the net is not uncommon – but I caution against it. As a professional, you should be able to express yourself without having to swear. However, if you feel it is the right time and place to curse, use euphemisms like “eff” or simply express your frustration by using “!@#$%^&*.” Just remember, what you say will exist forever in cyberspace and could come back to bite you in the @$$ <—-seems appropriate as a joke in this case!

Facebook, Twitter & Blog Etiquette:

Twitter:

  • More than three “@ Mentions” is worthy of a private message or an email.
  • Use an avatar with a nice picture of yourself. People want to know they’re interacting with another human being.
  • It’s ok to share things that aren’t strictly business. Business-people are still people - who like to laugh at funny videos know and receive good music recommendations. Just make sure it’s all in good taste – and that you balance the fun stuff with content that adds value to your readers/audience.
  • Be transparent about who you are in your Twitter bio.
  • If you’re looking for a one-on-one conversation, use a direct message (DM). The Twitter world does not need to know what you’re doing for happy hour! On the other hand, use @mentions if you think other people might like to participate or share their opinion on a certain subject.
  • Sure, re-tweeting is a great way to share someone else’s ideas, but if you become a serial re-tweeter, people will start to think you don’t have any unique ideas or contributions of your own.
  • The beauty of Twitter is that we can find and follow people who interest us. Therefore it’s ok to follow people without them following you back. If you’d like to get to know them, why not send a personal message introducing yourself?…then they can decide whether or not they want to follow you.
  • Don’t use “robot behaviour.” I share the exact same sentiment on the subject as Chris Brogan, who explains how and why it’s annoying here.

Facebook:

  • Use Facebook as a PERSON. No one appreciates being spammed by their “friends.” If you’re friends with someone on Facebook, you should actually consider them a friend and treat them like one.
  • Personally, I detest receiving countless invitations to play Farmville or test my IQ. I’d much rather chat with you. If the app is cool beyond words, then by all means, mention it to me and I’ll consider trying it out.
  • Think twice before you post photos of others and consider whether or not someone will appreciate being tagged in said photo. If it’s an embarrassing picture of them doing a keg-stand, or perhaps eating a hoagie sandwich, (a saucy one, at that) they might resent you for it. Respect others’ privacy as you would like them to respect yours.

Blogging & Commenting:

  • If you mention someone in your blog, take a moment to create a link to them.
  • Perhaps you discover a great posting that you think deserves to be shared with others outside of your social circle, why not “like it” on StumbleUpon or share the bookmark on Delicious?
  • Sometimes people will leave blog comments like “good job” or “I agree,” to seem like they’re participating in the conversation/community…that’s bunk. If you want to be a respected member of the community, naturally, you’ll need to contribute something. If you liked the post, explain why. If you have your own take on it, pray tell! Ask questions – be curious!
  • Just as in reality, when someone does something nice for you online, you should thank them for it. If you receive a nice comment on your blog or you see that someone has re-tweeted/promoted your work, take a second to say thank you. OR, if you’ve come across a blog that truly helped you understand a new concept, thank the author for providing you with that clarity.

Pay it back:

  • Promoting yourself is perfectly alright but it’s nice to promote others as well. If someone shares a great resource with you – give them a shout out! Point others to their site or give them a mention on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Share your knowledge. If you find the answer to something that you know other people were looking for, share it. We’re all here to learn from one another.

Thank you to Chris Brogan and Virginia Shea for your professional “netiquette” advice!

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