It’s pretty safe to say that most of us spend a fair amount of time online. In fact, if you’re reading this right now then it means you’re on the internet at least some of the time. It’s normal to be online. Whether returning emails, liking cat photos on Facebook, or simply falling down the vast hole that is web surfing.
Although it may not consist of in person interactions or real time reactions it’s still real life. What you do and say online has real consequences. Anytime you’re interacting with another human being then etiquette is involved, this includes interactions from behind the screen.
This is why I’m starting a series of lessons discussing internet etiquette, or as some like to call it netiquette. I won’t be discussing cell phone etiquette as we’ve covered that in a past lesson, but we will be covering a variety of internet related topics, such as social media, email, online image and the like.
As our world evolves so must we, and this means keeping up on rules of behavior that will help us to remain polite online. So to kick off our first lesson in this series we will be discussing the ever important topic of social media…
When I refer to social media I’m referring to all the platforms that are commonly known and used today. This includes Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest etc and can easily be applied to any newer, hotter apps I may have not heard of or are currently on the rise.
As many of the rules apply to all platforms I’ll discuss them by topic:
- WRITTEN POSTS
By written posts I’m referring to any captions, tweets, or status update type posts. What you publicly say, no matter how mundane or silly will reflect back on you and affect anyone who reads it.
Questions to consider when writing:
Am I repeating myself? Nobody like to listen to a broken record. If you have nothing new or original to say sometimes it’s better to take a break and say nothing. Or better yet, share something funny or inspiring that someone else has said, giving them credit of course.
Is this my idea? Jumping off the back of the last bit of advise, be sure that if you do quote someone else you give them credit. Just as you shouldn’t steal credit for photos that you didn’t take you shouldn’t steal other people’s words.
Will I be ok with any responses I may receive? Of course no one should be ok with receiving rude or uncalled for comments, but if you post something controversial or specific, then you should expect some disagreements or alternative opinions. Be sure you’re mentally and emotionally up for handling them when they come your way.
Is this annoying? By annoying I’m covering anything from constant complaining, overly dramatic or overly personal comments. All of these things should be avoided. Before sharing, reflect on if it’s really appropriate or even interesting. Yes it’s your account, but unless your only follower is yourself then you should consider how what you say will make others feel. Do you really want to come across as a drag and bring down everyones day with your constant rants?
At times, unpleasant topics may have to be discussed and you may want others to be aware of issues close to your heart. This is ok, and in this case I simply advise to not overdo it. You can post about an issue that concerns you, but don’t post about it every hour on the hour.
Is this spelled correctly? Yes it’s social media, not a midterm essay, but you still want to portray yourself as an intelligent put-together lady. You can use the occasional slang as these are typically meant to be casual, fun platforms, but in general keep an eye on your spelling and grammar. Of course if it’s a platform on the more serious side, like LinkedIn, you’ll want to be very conscious of spelling and grammar.
Photos and/or images are the focal point of most of social media. Besides for word-based platforms like Twitter, photos are usually what attracts the most attention. That’s why it’s extra important to take care which photos you post.
Questions to consider before posting a photo:
Do I look presentable? Meaning not only do you look “good” but do you look presentable, respectable, sober?
Would I mind everyone in my life seeing this? This includes family, coworkers, bosses etc. Think about everyone who you’re connected with, and realistically the list extends beyond your contacts as your friends or followers could potentially share with their contacts. Even if you’re not directly connected with someone or have a private profile, just be mindful that once something is out there, it’s out there.
Is everyone else in the photo comfortable with me posting it? You should always check with the other people in the photo before posting, the exception being if it’s a large group (around 10 plus), or many unknown people in the photo. If you do post a group photo never tag anyone before asking. If you’re on the receiving end of being unwantingly tagged, then feel free to untag yourself or reach out and politely explain you don’t like your photo to be shared.
Am I posting too much or too often? Of course this will differ depending on each platform, but in general you don’t want to overwhelm your followers with a constant stream of photos. Even on a platform like Instagram where it’s common to post many images you’ll want to be mindful of clogging up your followers’ feeds. If you’re going to post often, then try to spread them throughout the day. It’s better to post 20 photos at different intervals vs all at once. No matter how amazing your posts are, people will likely unfollow you or at the very least become annoyed or disinterested.
One exception to this rule is if you’re posting something like a Facebook album. Since that shows up as one post it won’t make a difference how many photos are included. But a word of warning, you may want to edit the photos you include. Nobody wants to see the same view from six different angles. Don’t overwhelm your followers with too many details, try to think about the story you’re trying to tell, sometimes more is less.
Does this need editing? Ok, I’m not suggesting you photoshop every photo to perfection before sharing, but consider giving a slight crop or touch up if it would make a significant improvement. Remember everything you post reflects back on you, so you want the visuals you put out there to best represent you.
Is this my photo? If you found the coolest photo, image, or quote that speaks to you and begs to be shared, then be sure to give credit. You’ll want to tag or give credit to whomever you found or reposted the photo from. It can be hard in this over-saturated internet to know who owns the original credits, but do you your best to credit whomever you found it from and if anyone ever reaches out and complains simply apologize and remove the borrowed photo immediately.
Many of the same rules apply to both photos and videos, but videos can be trickier as the content is more involved.
Questions to consider before posting a video:
Is it appropriate? You’re more likely to draw emotions with a video so it’s important to be aware if it’s really something you wish to share. Consider the language being used, violence, sexual tone, sensitive topics etc. I’m not saying you must censor yourself completely, if you believe in something post it. Just take into account everyone who will see it.
How long is it? Most people don’t have the time to sit down and watch an hour long video so consider that before posting. Depending on the platform, sometimes a very short clip works even better than a long clip if you’re looking for engagement.
By comments I mean any reaction you may have to a post, tweet etc.
Questions to consider before commenting:
Do I really like this? Before you like and heart everything you see consider if you really “like” it. Of course you can be generous with your praise, but don’t go overboard and like something that’s totally not you.
Would I say this to their face? Try not to make any comments that you wouldn’t make to someone’s face, even a stranger’s. Who knows, you may meet that “stranger” someday and even if not it won’t reflect well on you.
Is it worth the response? You’ve seen it happen, friends getting in full blown twitter wars or taking part in fifty thread Facebook debates. Just don’t get involved. Of course social media is meant to be social, meaning it’s a place to share your ideas, but don’t get too heated. If you want to have that sort of conversation with someone message them privately. If you want to join a touchy topic then be sure to share your thoughts in an authentic yet considerate way.
Am I adding anything worthwhile with this comment? If you’re commenting as a means of opening up your online network, which is a great way to go about it, then make sure your comments are thoughtful and specific to what’s being shared. For instance if someone shares an Instagram photo of a place you’ve always wanted to visit, instead of just commenting “Great pic!” say something like “So beautiful, I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba, how was the food?”
Within most platforms there’s a messaging function. This has it’s own set of etiquette rules apart from your public posts.
Questions to consider when messaging:
Would I be very upset if this became public? Although you may be messaging a friend privately I suggest always being weary about what you discuss. Of course, most likely nobody will ever see what you write, but god forbid you type it to the wrong person or it accidentally gets made public. I may be being paranoid here, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Just like your public posts your private posts have the ability to stick around forever.
Can I keep up? It’s convenient having various streams of communication, but it’s wise to consider if you can keep up with every platform. It’s not so bad if you stop posting here or there, unless it’s a business account of course, but you don’t want to be considered rude by not responding to personal messages. Decide which platforms you will use for private messaging. If someone messages you on a platform you don’t typically use then provide them an alternative contact which you check more often. If you do use a particular platform for messaging try to respond within a consistent time period. If friends are used to hearing back from you within a day, try to respond within a day.
Networking is the reason most people join social media. It’s an amazing way to not only stay in touch with current contacts, but meet new people. Just as with any in-person networking there’s certain etiquette for digital networking.
Questions to consider when networking:
Can I unfollow/unfriend them? This can greatly differ depending on the platform. It’s a lot less mean, and noticeable to unfollow someone on Twitter than unfriending someone of Facebook. Unless a Facebook friend is a stranger, someone you’ll never see again, or someone you’ve had a falling out with it’s usually better to block their posts vs unfriending them. Unfriended someone is the digital equivalent of a slap in the face. Some platforms have more of a personal tone than others. For example it’s not unlikely to have many followers on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter whom you don’t know personally.
In general, try not to follow or friend anyone you think you’ll want to unfollow later. This also includes avoiding those follow unfollow tactics sometimes used to gain followers.
Can I follow/friend someone? Again this depends on the platform. I wouldn’t friend a stranger on Facebook, even if we have a mutual friend. But Instagram, yes, follow anyone you like. Just consider how you use the platform, do you use it for personal friendships or for publicly connecting and socializing. If someone’s account is private and they don’t accept you, then let it be. On the flip side feel free to to decline anyone you don’t know or whom you don’t want to include in that particular social circle.
How should I initiate a connection? A good way to form online friendships is to actively engage in other people’s posts. Like their content, comment on their photos, retweet and share their stuff. Don’t go overboard and appear stalkerish, but show that you’re interested in who they are and what they’re about. Although it’s good to show your support in different ways comments typically seem to be the most effective way of forming a more solid connection as they’re on the more personal side.
HOMEWORK: Try to incorporate some of these practices into your social media activities. And if you have any more suggestion please share them in the comments!