What You Need to Know About Social Media Etiquette

By Margaret Page

Like children with a shiny new toy, adults introduced to social media jumped in and started playing – posting personal photos to Facebook, accepting “friend” requests from long-lost high school pals, and checking into everywhere from the coffee shop to their favorite local eatery. What fun! Suddenly we were getting an inside look into the lives of people we hadn’t connected with in years!

But, unlike a new toy, social media didn’t come with any real instructions. We unwrapped it, signed up, and off we went, sharing our world with…the world. As more and more people glommed onto this new way of communicating, the seeds of chaos were planted.

Rules of Engagement: Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a tweet away. Many organizations have found this out the hard way. Embarrassing gaffs, impulsive rants, and misguided comments have ensued.

What you post on social media sites is out there forever. The Internet never forgets. A selfie posted after a night on the town or a tweet about a colleague can cause more damage than you think. It’s dangerous to assume that privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page, once something is posted to the Web, you can guarantee someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends.

And what you say can and will be held against you! Your future boss, clients, partners, and vendors are watching.

A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging on social media for personal or business, is this: If you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your boss (or mother), you shouldn’t post it online anywhere!

With so many organizations involved in social media, it’s more important than ever to have a clear social media policy in place for employees, especially contact center agents. Your employees are representatives of your brand, and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand-building process.

Do I Know You? In this world of connectivity, how connected are we really? Has the word connected lost its meaning? With our ability to connect to anyone, anytime, anywhere through social media, the term connected has been watered down. Think about how many of the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” invitations you receive each month. Few of them are from people you have truly connected with outside of social media. It feels like the person with the most fans and followers wins. But do they really?

Before there was LinkedIn, you wouldn’t dream of asking a new acquaintance to buy something from you just minutes after you met. And, you certainly wouldn’t show up at a networking event in yesterday’s outfit. Just like offline networking, building relationships online follows the same basic etiquette rules. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Be professional. On Twitter, don’t be the egg; post a professional photo of yourself on your profile. This holds true on all social media sites. A business colleague should recognize you from your online picture. Include information about yourself. Your social media profile is the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep it updated as your professional information changes. Always keep your basic contact information current and linked to your other professional profiles.
  • Introduce yourself. Want people to get a sense of who you are? Post interesting, value-added content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn; when you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network and opening doors for introductions to new connections.
  • Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with “that guy.” You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like “George, I really enjoyed your post at xblog.com. The leadership content you share is so valuable. I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business.” This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connecting for the sake of just adding to your numbers.
  • Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and when there is an opportunity for you to add value, jump in!

Whether you are connecting with people in the online world or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. “Think before you speak” translates to “think before you tweet.”

Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker, and coach who helps people and organizations be more professional. She is the author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and an illustrated card set, Cognito: Wisdom for Dining and Social Etiquette. She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization.

[From the Aug/Sep 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]