An Insider’s Guide to Social Media Etiquette

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel

I receive a lot of questions about various points of etiquette with regards to social media. I also observe instances where I wish people knew some of the more common etiquette, because they seem like wonderful people, who maybe have made a mistake because they didn’t know better. To that end, I thought I’d give a brief set of ideas around social media etiquette. You’re very welcome to add to these in the comments. There will be a mix of do’s and don’ts, and remember this above all else: you’re doing it wrong.

Social Media Etiquette: Your Appearance

  • Your avatar picture shouldn’t be a logo. We don’t meet logos at parties, do we? You can include a logo, but make it you.
  • Unless you’re a fictional character, more often than not, your avatar should be you. Amazing Simpson-like renditions of you are interesting for about four hours.
  • Your Facebook profile pic can be not you, but it often means that others might not accept your friend request. It feels creepy friending a four year old kid (avatar).
  • Your picture can be you from 10 or 15 years ago, but that first face to face meeting is going to be jarring.
  • It doesn’t take a lot of work to take a decent pic. Why use those “me cut out from posing with someone while I have red eyes” photos?

Social Media Etiquette: Friending

  • You’re not obligated to follow/friend anyone. No matter what. Not even your mother. (I follow my mother, btw).
  • If you decide to unfollow someone, don’t make a big stink and announce why. Just leave.
  • It’s okay to let the competition follow you. It’s okay to follow the competition.
  • Famous people don’t always want to follow back. I’m looking at you, Justin Bieber!
  • You can set your own rules on Facebook. I’m in the process of moving everyone to a fan page and just keeping VERY close family and friends.

Social Media Etiquette: Conversation

  • Commenting about other people’s stuff and promoting other people’s stuff is very nice.
  • Retweeting people’s praise of you comes off as jerky. Just thank them.
  • If you retweet something interesting, always give credit for who found it first.
  • Facebook wall comment streams can get long. Don’t grumble. If you’re along for the ride, it’ll end some day.
  • Promote others more often than you promote yourself. My long-standing measure is 12:1. (If it doesn’t work at first, it’s because maybe you’re not sincere in your promoting of others).
  • Listening is important and commenting is important. Be the #1 commenter on your blog. (See next one)
  • It’s okay to NOT comment back for every single comment you receive. It’s nice when you can respond, but don’t litter the comments with a bunch of “Thanks, Judy.” People know you care, if you’re doing it right.
  • If you are talking about someone in a blog post, link to them. Steve Garfield is a pro at this.
  • If you’re really nice, you’ll think about link text and help them even more by linking to Internet video expert Steve Garfield. Make sense?
  • Links do matter to Google and to the people you care about. When you can, give them a link.

    Social Media Etiquette: Disclosure

    (Note: I’ve written about disclosure before).

    • If you’re writing about a client, add (client) to the tweet/post/update.
    • If you’re selling me something with an affiliate link, disclose that in the tweet/post/update.
    • If there’s a material reason (or perception of such) that you want me to take an action or click a link, tell me.
    • Tell me once in the post, and once again on a disclosure page. I use part of my about page for disclosures. See also: one of my other favorite disclosure pages (for cheekiness).
    • Make sure your audience comfortably knows your motives, and everything goes better.

    Social Media Etiquette: Promoting

    • Promote as if you’re at a cocktail party. It’s not the same as your email blast list.
    • Promote others, and it’s much more likely people will help promote you when it’s your turn.
    • Leave room for retweets. Writing 139 characters won’t get you anywhere.
    • Promoting on Facebook is MUCH nicer on my wall than in my private messages. (Do you agree?)
    • It’s probably okay to promote something 4x a day on a social network, so that you hit all the time zones appropriately. In the last hour, you can always give it a couple more pushes, but that’s about it.
    • Direct messaging people for promotion help is often annoying. It happens much more than you know.
    • Your cause isn’t always our cause. If we don’t want to help, don’t badger.
    • Things where you have to get 1,000 tweets to raise money are litter on Twitter. Things to get 1,000 “likes” on Facebook are fine. (Remember, however, that a “like” gives your demographic data to the thing that you’ve liked, plus permission for that page to message you privately.)

    Social Media Etiquette: Content Production

    • You can post as often as you want on your blog. It’s your blog. Monthly will probably fade from our memory. Weekly could work. Daily is my favorite. Some people post many times a day. It’s up to you.
    • You can tweet as often as you want, but people unfollow “noisy” tweeters (I get unfollowed often).
    • You can update Facebook often, and if you’re running pages, you might want to update 3-4 times a day, I’m starting to observe.
    • Depending on your blog’s purpose, be wary of over-selling. (I ran into this personally.) Make sure you’re still providing great community value.
    • If you find great content from other places, use it only after you understand whether you have permission to do so, and under the terms that the people have set.
    • If you’re linking and sharing someone else’s blog post (which is good to do), it’s also wonderful when you add something to it. Add some commentary. Add a thought or two as to why it matters to your community.
    • If someone’s work inspires your own post, it’s a nice thing to “hat tip” them with a link to the post that inspired you, somewhere in the post (usually down at the bottom).
    • If you go a long time between blog updates, don’t write a “sorry I haven’t written lately” post. No one cares. Just publish something good.

    Social Media Etiquette: Sharing is Caring

  • Every blog I know has a share/like/tweet/stumble button at the bottom or somewhere. They’re there for a reason. If you like the article, pushing those buttons is a “tip jar” for the artist. Push it. It doesn’t take long.
  • If you’re reading in Google Reader, sharing is as simple as “[SHIFT] S” and that goes to everyone who reads your shared items.
  • Tell the blogger when you love something they’ve done. People’s #1 complaint to me when they’re starting out blogging is that they lack any feedback. It’d take you 30 seconds to do, and would change a person’s perspective for a whole day.
  • Comments in Twitter are temporary moments in a stream. Comments on the blog post itself are forever, in the best (and worst) of ways.
  • The web thrives on links and social sharing. The more YOU do to participate, the more people will create material for free for you to enjoy.

    Your Mileage Will Vary

    For every idea above, there’s an exception. For every idea above, there’s a great reason to do the opposite. If you’re doing it differently than above, you’re not wrong. You’re doing it your way. Okay, I lied: you’re doing it wrong.

    I look forward to your thoughts, disagreements, counter-posts, additional thoughts, sharing, and more.

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