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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    • Beverly Wixon

      Thank you for this. I’m new to blogging and tweeting, so the etiquette article is very timely for me. Thanks again.

    • Beverly Wixon

      Thank you for this. I’m new to blogging and tweeting, so the etiquette article is very timely for me. Thanks again.

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    • http://twitter.com/ErvinMarketing Ervin Marketing

      Great article! I especially think this is important, “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.”

    • http://twitter.com/ErvinMarketing Ervin Marketing

      Great article! I especially think this is important, “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.”

    • http://www.DesertMountainHomesOnline.com CarmenBrodeur

      That is the most comprehensive list for social media etiquette I have ever read. I only object about it being ok for competitors to follow you. I find that incredibly annoying and intrusive. Some competitors are just spying on me to try to steal my best ideas. I try to delete them out.

    • http://tweencityblogs.blogspot.com TweenStylist

      Ok, so I’m blogging and tweeting for tweens. How do I follow everyone when I’m trying to keep everything PG? Some of the people may have really great ideas, but I don’t want their provocative avatar any where near what I’m doing. Now I keep a seperate twitter account for my adult blogging, but I still haven’t figured out how to keep things seperate on Facebook (this is my adult account)?

    • http://www.CavernRetailConsulting.com Cathy

      WOW!! Great article! I have been feeling a little like a bull in a china shop on several occasions. I am glad to have been set straight. I mean, I am never rude or obnoxious in the real world…why would I want to be in the digital world? Thanks a bunch

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    • Angie

      Thanks! I found this very informative? Did I just pass my first etiquette lesson with this comment?…

    • Angie

      Thanks! I found this very informative? Did I just pass my first etiquette lesson with this comment?…

    • Angie

      Thank you. Fun & informative article. Did I just pass my first etiquette test with this post?

    • Angie

      Thank you. Fun & informative article. Did I just pass my first etiquette test with this post?

    • John

      Super informative – we’ve building out our social media presence for business students and this couldn’t have been more helpful. Thanks, Chris.

      I will go forward sharing your wisdom and caring about you while I do it.

      Rock and Roll.

      John

    • Marjorie Janczak

      Thanks for this Chris!
      People are gradually waking up to social media etiquette and these are just great tips and information. thanks for sharing this.

    • Marjorie Janczak

      Thanks for this Chris!
      People are gradually waking up to social media etiquette and these are just great tips and information. thanks for sharing this.

    • http://www.daveflys.com David Allen

      Excellent stuff here, Chris. Practical information like this is why I consider you to be one of the few “experts” in social media – at least on THIS planet.

    • http://twitter.com/BijuteriiArgint Argintarie.ro

      “Promote others more often than you promote yourself.” I will try to use this advice… even if the 12:1 long-standing measure seems to take precious time to apply.

    • http://twitter.com/h_mosher Heather Mosher

      “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.”

      Thanks for the guideline, I don’t enjoy repeating myself (just ask my kids), so glad to know it’s something I better get comfortable with. :) Great stuff, thank you. I’ll be using, referring and linking to this a lot. Have a great day.

    • http://www.toolboxhapkido.com Frank Fedele

      Really good read, thanks for putting it up!

    • http://www.toolboxhapkido.com Frank Fedele

      Really good read, thanks for putting it up!

    • http://www.toolboxhapkido.com Frank Fedele

      Really good read, thanks for putting it up!

    • Dkastrinos

      Hey! I have a question. You say that in Facebook:

      (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.)

      Pages can message users privately? How can we do that? Except for “updates” and those more like spam-just group messaging that gets ignored.

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    • http://twitter.com/matsteinwede Mat Steinwede

      Another great post Chris.
      Thanks.
      Mat

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    • http://www.kategallison.com Kate Gallison

      Most useful Thank you. I may yet make it all the way into the twenty-first century.

    • Barbaracuster

      I enjoyed reading this and found some helpful imformation, for example linking to a writer whose work I’m promoting. I think that a lot of the etiquette has changed over the years. When I first started writing, workshop leaders told us to plug our website on shirts and cars. At a seminar last night, I found out that that it’s not the thing to do (BTW I never posted my website on any car, but I do have CVS’ initials on the license plates).
      Popple

    • Barbaracuster

      I enjoyed reading this and found some helpful imformation, for example linking to a writer whose work I’m promoting. I think that a lot of the etiquette has changed over the years. When I first started writing, workshop leaders told us to plug our website on shirts and cars. At a seminar last night, I found out that that it’s not the thing to do (BTW I never posted my website on any car, but I do have CVS’ initials on the license plates).
      Popple

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    • http://twitter.com/gmtomko George Tomko

      Most of this is out there in one form or another. It is nice to have some color commentary and good examples. Also great to have all of this in one place.

    • Anonymous

      your ettiquette consciousness is to be found in your own intuition, not in somebodys book of rules.
      you are the inheritor of Gods own mental acuity. use it and feel secure. you are not secure in your
      independence to think for yourself when you think according to someone elses authority.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1398115973 Chelsea Junget

      I think an avatar is fine. Some people are not totally comfortable using a real photo of themselves but still want a likeness online. Plus, if you meet in person it’s fun to see how their avatar compares to their actual appearance.

    • http://fabulositynouveau.blogspot.com/ Fabulositynouveau

      Chris I hope you’re happy, my Angel Avatar has left the twitter building…….ok, .only because I feel equally annoyed when all I see is a cartoon or something and not the person and now I realise that on my twitter ID i’m doing exactly that.
      Some of things I feel as though it could go either way, e.g if i follow the people who follow me I’ll be following a lot but if I don’t follow then that to me is just ungracious. I don’t follow companies out of the same sentiment though…it a like or don’t like that determines that. I had a lot of fun reading this and have learnt quite a bit, especially regarding comments and promotion.
      Thank you so much.
      W

    • http://twitter.com/SOYLAMAR Reina Valenzuela

      Thank you for this easy to read to read handy list. I found it reassuring. :)

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    • http://twitter.com/PeopleSideOfBiz Carol Albert

      Great stuff, Chris. You hit some important points in an easy to read and reference format. Tweeted “Comments in Twitter are temporary moments in a stream. Comments on the blog post itself are forever, in the best (and worst) of ways.” as a reminder to myself and others.

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    • Cassidy

      Wonderful post. I don’t quite see the answer I’m looking for, but maybe this will get through the chatter. How important is it to follow your followers? I run SM for a brand and I find that I can hardly keep up with all our followers (good problem). Is it rude that we don’t follow everyone back? Will people think we’re not engaged because we don’t return the favor.

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