Social Media Etiquette for Professionals
By Steve Ritch and Maggie McGary
Social media has changed the way that we communicate and in turn the way we conduct business. Information that used to take days or weeks to disseminate can now be posted on a site like Facebook and be distributed around the world in seconds.
Likewise, the amount of traffic and information that social media sites produce is astounding. Some of the most recent statistics from the Facebook Press Room in November 2011 illustrate this point. For example, look at the following statistics related to social interactions of the average Facebook user:
- Facebook has more than 800 million active users.
- The average Facebook user has 130 friends.
- The average Facebook user is connected to 80 community pages, groups, and events.
- Facebook has more than 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events, and community pages).
- On average, more than 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook per day.
This article was not written with the intent to launch into a meaningful discussion about the features or merits of one social networking site verses another. Instead, the reason for this piece is to provide you with tips on the etiquette of social networking. If social networking is so intricately woven into the fabric of our personal and professional lives, then the need for some basic rules of civility could not be any more necessary. The following list of items, although not comprehensive by any means, should provide even a novice user with a good starting point for any social networking context:
- Pick a professional screen name. How professional is it to have work colleagues or clients respond to posts from "HippieChick7" or "FratGuy75"?
- Create a professional profile. Think of your profile as your online business card. Sometimes, this is the way that people are first introduced to you online. What impression are you hoping to create? Put your real name and your actual photo on your profile. You may be really psyched about your Scooby Doo collection, but do not use it in your profile picture (unless your business is selling Scooby Doo memorabilia).
- Don't post anything that you wouldn't want your mother, clergy person, clients, boss, or colleagues to see. Unless you are prepared to join the witness protection program, make sure your "internal editor" is always turned on. Too many people have had something they post on a whim come back to bite them later. This is especially true of the photos you post on Facebook, or use for your Twitter profile. Also, be mindful of privacy settings on Facebook—limiting who can see you in photos, who can tag you in photos, and who can check you out via Facebook Places.
- Keep personal and professional posts separate. Use Facebook's "list" feature to filter who sees what—you can set up lists "personal" and "professional" and designate what friends can view in each of those categories. Also, consider using Facebook's secret group feature—this might be an ideal way to separate personal from professional by creating a group called "personal" (or whatever name you choose) to keep friends and professional life separated. Too many people try to mix their business and personal lives; it rarely works successfully. Do you really want your business contacts to know that you call your best friend Tommy "Dorkface" on a regular basis?
- Be nice. Acknowledge people when they ask a question, apologize if you offend someone, and never ever spam, flame, or trash someone else online. Social media in the business environment is never appropriate for working out your childhood issues, settling a score, or arguing endlessly about your personal/social/political beliefs.
- Practice HALT. Never post anything if you are too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Take some time to rest, reflect, and recuperate, then, post it later.
- Do not send winks, pokes, virtual martinis, or invitations for your business contacts to play online games. This is your professional life, not Tuesday night with the gang at the sports bar.
- Do not be a stalker. If someone declines your friend invitation, move on. Do not keep trying to friend these people—at best, you will appear desperate and at the worst you will appear psychotic. Can you say "virtual restraining order"?
- Use spell check. This may seem strange, but you should think about writing your responses in Word or some other word processing program and then posting the edited version. It can save you some embarrassment later on if you don't have to apologize for or explain away simple grammatical or spelling errors.
Clearly, social networking (social media) sites are here to stay—at least for a while. It only seems natural that with such impressive numbers of users, we should try to reinforce some common sense rules of behavior for the business professional.