Modern Etiquette: Social Media Do’s & Don’ts Etiquette

By Grace Bonney in Design Sponge

Basic Do’s and Don’ts: 11 Things to Remember Across All Social Media Platforms

  • Comments follow you. Much like comments on a website, comments, responses, likes, dislikes, rants, pictures and hashtags are, for better or worse, forever. Because social media feels like a place where people can just be themselves and say things off the cuff, people often say things they wouldn’t typically say in public. But unless all your accounts are private, what you’re saying is most definitely in public. Deleting tweets and updates doesn’t always solve the problem. When in doubt, if you don’t want something coming back to you, don’t say it online. (Prefacing something with “No offense, but . . .” or “Don’t get mad, but I HAVE to say this . . .” doesn’t absolve anyone of anything.) Cursing as well as spelling, grammatical and factual accuracy fall into this category, too.
  • Pay attention to the purpose. By this I mean, is your or someone else’s handle related to their personal name or their business? It makes a difference. If you find your favorite internet personality has a private personal Twitter feed and a public business feed, which is the right one to contact about work? Yep, the last one. More often than not, people think it’s effective to contact anyone anywhere they can find them. But people name and identify sources of contact for specific reasons. So rather than pitching endlessly at your favorite TV star’s personal account, try using their “contact me” page on the business site instead. Bottom line? Don’t bombard someone with pitches on social media outlets unless that’s their only form of contact (and even then, contact 1–2 times and wait for them to respond). Most people have websites with submission or contact forms. Use those rather than constant tweets and updates.
  • Beware the overshare. Nothing seems to freak out online readers (and people in general) more than a picture/comment/post that crosses the line you’ve established with your audience. If you’re someone who typically talks about design and suddenly you’re updating with details about your frequent trips to an adult bookstore (yes, I actually saw this happen), people might be a little surprised or uncomfortable. Does that mean there’s something wrong with your life choices? No. Does it mean you might need a separate personal account for things discussed outside the realm of your business? Yep.
  • Not everything is personal. I have friends who seem to live and die by Facebook. If someone doesn’t friend them, they think there’s secretly a huge war brewing between them and this now former friend. But sometimes it’s not about you, Facebook or any perceived slight. Sometimes someone missed your request or just isn’t signing on as much. Either way, if you truly feel you’ve been slighted by someone you know well in real life, send them an actual email to ask. If they’re a real friend, they’ll explain, and hopefully a needless Facebook war can be avoided. *Facebook specific: If you’re sending someone a friend request without any note attached and you don’t really know them, you may not get a response. When in doubt, explain who you are and whom you have in common, etc.
  • Beware the overshare, Part 2. I have often been an (albeit unintended) offender of this rule. Whether you’re tweeting, updating or pinning things, most people don’t want to be flooded by updates from someone. Especially if that upload rate differs from your typical post rate. I made this mistake when I finally got into Pinterest (I stupidly didn’t realize uploading a million old things at night would flood everyone’s feeds. Sorry guys, I learned and stopped.), and it tends to be one of the most common reasons (outside of political commentary) that inspires an angry “UNFOLLOW!” comment. So, if you plan on tweeting 40 times a day, let people know. Clearly people can always unfollow you on various accounts, but it’s always polite to give people a heads up that says, “Today I’ll be updating more than normal because of (XYZ).”
  • Consider the tone. Humble-bragging, outright bragging, constant complaining and endless rhetorical questions never go over well with readers. If you find your tone slipping into these territories, it may be time to consider whether this is the right outlet for you. If Twitter has become your only place to vent, people may start to associate you and your business with that tone of voice. When it doubt, try to represent an accurate and realistic range of tones. No one expects you to be happy all the time, but no one wants you to be fake either. Keep it real and try to keep it balanced if you can. Also consider that people can’t always tell your tone online. If you’re being sarcastic and people can’t tell, it might be time to be more direct.
  • Skip the call-outs. Let’s be honest. As fun as it can be to discover internet gossip (I’m pretty sure there are enough sites devoted to that), it’s more fun to avoid the hurt feelings, damaged reputation and upset readers that come with calling people out, vaguely or directly. Sometimes it can’t be avoided (I’ve seen some legitimate copying issues addressed successfully on social media platforms after a lack of email response), but most of the time, calling someone out just makes you seem like a jerk. Just skip it. Talk to that person privately or just let it go. Readers really don’t want to hear most people’s dirty laundry.
  • Think before tagging. Most people want to put their best foot forward online. That foot rarely includes eyes rolled back in their head or shots of their jeans slipping too low. If you’ve got a shot of someone you want to upload, and you’re not trying to embarrass them, reach out to see if they mind you tagging them. Most people appreciate the chance to avoid having their reputation damaged or looking foolish. It should also be noted that personal photos (partying/drinking, vacation in a bikini) are probably best left out of business-related feeds.
  • Ignoring trumps engaging (most of the time). I’ve got nine years of experience dealing with people being mean online. No matter what you write about (people, furniture, kids, pets), someone out there will hate you for it. And those people seem to love attacking on social media outlets the most. It’s easy to trip and fall into a Twitter war or a Facebook comment battle, but when in doubt, let it go. Unless someone’s causing real damage to your reputation, stay out of it or respond with a simple factual response.
  • Act the way you’d want to be treated. If you care about people crediting you, credit other people. If you care about being polite and responding to people on Twitter, respond politely to them. If you want to have people leave insightful comments (and not just promotions) on Facebook, do the same for them. You get the point — be the example you’d like others to follow. If you put positive, responsible energy out on all of your accounts, you’re more likely to get it back.
  • Don’t demand reciprocation. As much as I’d like some of my favorite people (please, Robyn?) to follow me online, I can’t demand that it happen. Constant plugs for follows, likes, friending, etc. can feel calculated and anything by genuine online. Bottom line? Follow, friend, like or pin something because you really want to, not because you expect something in return.

II. Twitter

Twitter is my first social media love. I fought joining it for a solid year, and when I finally did, I found a new home online. I felt more relaxed, more off the cuff and just more ME. I was able to talk about things outside of design (as long as it wasn’t controversial), and I got to meet new people I wouldn’t normally meet. Of all the social media outlets, this is the one I feel the most well versed in. While most of the main ideas apply across all the outlets listed below, I wanted to share a few Twitter-specific thoughts.

  • Twitter seems to be the main battle ground for online fights. Trolls, weird impostor accounts and Debbie Downers abound here. I’ve made the mistake of engaging in arguments and staying quiet when I shouldn’t have. Overall, I learned it’s best to stick to the facts. If someone’s responding with an opinion that you don’t like, just ignore it. If they do nothing but respond with opinions you don’t like, you can choose to unfollow them or block them. Some people are endlessly offended by blocking, but I think it’s the simplest tool you have to end an ugly situation without making it uglier (i.e., yelling at each other online).
  • SPOILERS: Just don’t do it. Wait a day or two and then preface your updates. As much as I hate that people spend time on a site dedicated to live updating on the night of something that’s happening live and get mad about those live updates, it’s usually not worth the fight. If you’re going to live-tweet the Oscars or a show finale, give people a heads up so they can unfollow you for the day/night/week. That said, if you’re not watching the election and want to be surprised in the morning, don’t hang out on Twitter that night.

If I had to sum up my point of view in one sentence it would be: Treat others the way you want to be treated and don’t attack people with pitches. Feeds are meant to be balanced, so try to offer people a little bit of the good with the bad (if you feel the need to share negative things on a regular basis) and a little bit of the personal with the work. It helps people get a well-rounded picture of you and the important projects in your life.


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