Social media etiquette is subject to change over time too. That’s because popular platforms are constantly in flux, changing their features, policies, and algorithms to accommodate internal goals, external pressures, and ever-evolving technologies.
So, even if you consider yourself a good social media citizen, you could probably use a refresher on best practices for responsible social media use. This is doubly true if you’re responsible for managing a corporate social media ecosystem. In the business world, the stakes are far higher; people are routinely fired and disgraced for seemingly trivial slip-ups.
These 11 practices will serve you well this year and beyond. Are you already following any?
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Hit “Delete”
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no shame in admitting a mistake. That’s doubly true when doubling down on said mistake is likely to cause even more trouble.
If — nay, when — you make an ill-advised social post, do the right thing: delete it and apologize. Yes, screenshots are forever, but that’s why you apologize. At the point, it’s out of your hands, and the chips will fall where they may.
2. Give Credit Where It’s Due
Most professionals know what it’s like when the boss takes credit for a fantastic idea. Ditto for prolific writers and thinkers: sooner or later, someone is going to rip off or blatantly plagiarise a particularly incisive original thought.
Don’t be that person. Whenever you share or post an idea that isn’t your own, give credit where it’s due. Post a source link or screenshot, if possible, or use the source’s own social handle for attribution. You’ll look better by association — and avoid accusations of intellectually unethical behavior.
3. Don’t Wade Too Far Into Hot-Button Issues
Unless you’re paid to opine on controversial topics or particularly well-qualified to do the same avoid any issues you wouldn’t discuss at the Thanksgiving dinner table: religion and politics, to cite two perennial examples.
Serial entrepreneur Kris Duggan has it figured out: his Twitter feed is a mix of tech, healthcare, and auto racing content. And nothing too heavy — just what he knows and loves best.
4. Triple-Check Before You Post
As the old saying goes: measure twice, cut once.
In the social media realm, this translates, roughly, to “don’t post anything dumb.” Make sure there’s no inappropriate language or nudity (hey, it happens) off in the margins of your Instagram posts. Assume everyone is screenshotting your snaps. And proofread all written content to ensure you’re actually spelling words right and saying what you mean.
5. Wall Off Your Personal and Professional Accounts
There are exceptions to this rule. Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Twitter handle is hard to categorize, for instance.
As a general practice, though, you want to keep your personal and professional accounts strictly separate. You can join the cool kids and embrace the “Finstagram” trend: using two accounts for every platform, one locked to all but your closest friends, the other wide open for public consumption. Or you can use the old “posts/tweets/opinions my own” saw, which works well enough.
6. Keep Photos Appropriate for All Ages
Remember the advice from #4: keep photos age-appropriate! Dodgy photos aren’t always your fault, particularly when you’re shooting a wide-angle streetscape or chaotic party. Still, it’s your responsibility to edit or re-shoot appropriately.
7. Don’t Get Into Shouting Matches
Be respectful above all else. Like the wider world, social media is an endlessly diverse place, and it’s only a matter of time before you encounter toxic users. Show you’re better than them by refusing to engage.
8. Engage in Good Faith
In short, don’t be a troll. This is easier said than done — trolling can be fun, after all. But the long-term consequences to your online reputation (and your platform privileges) probably aren’t worth the short-term rush.
9. Leave the Sarcasm Out of It
It’s a rare social media user who can consistently post witty, cutting comments that actually garner laughs all around. More often, attempts at sarcasm (or even dry humor) backfire badly on social media. Unless you’re confident in your (humorous) judgment, it’s best to avoid such attempts altogether.
10. Share Fellow Users’ Content Liberally
Be a good neighbor and share valuable, useful content liberally. This is actually a great way to form relationships with influential social media users, particularly on B2B or business-friendly platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. The more you share, the more notice you’ll get for your own content — likely from people with bigger mouthpieces than you.
11. Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Want to Know the Answers to
In the courtroom, a good prosecutor never asks a witness a question she doesn’t already know the answer to.
You probably can’t follow this maxim with every tweet or post or share, but you can limit the danger posed by out-of-control Q&A sessions on the more, ah, “dynamic” social media platforms (think Twitter and Facebook).
When you ask open-ended questions without thinking through probable answers, you run the risk of inviting invective or snark that clouds up your timeline and sends the discussion flying sideways. Stick to narrowly tailored questions whose responses you can predict with at least some measure of certitude.
Keep It Clean, People
Some folks go so far as to apply a version of the “grandmother test” to their social media activities. The “grandmother test” usually refers to user-friendliness in apps or coherence in sales pitches: if your grandmother can’t figure it out, it’s probably too complicated.
But it can also refer to social appropriateness. If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, or any other polite company, it’s probably not worth repeating on social media.
As we’ve seen, that may go too far. Plenty of brands aren’t made for grandmothers (no offense, granny) and don’t need to tone down their social posts that far. But the principle still stands. If your audience as a whole is likely to balk or cringe at a particular social post or share, think twice before going ahead with it. You might just open a can of worms you have no intention of eating.