Don't forget your social media etiquette

By Jake Hawkins

We all grew up with reminders from maternal figures on how to operate politely in civilized society. If you were anything like me growing up, you probably had your hand slapped on more than one occasion with a quick jolt and whisper, “You forgot to say please!”

About the author: Jake Hawkins is a social media and content strategist at Intrinzic.

About the author: Jake Hawkins is a social media and content strategist at Intrinzic.

Proper etiquette is important to put your best foot forward in any situation … even on social media. While you certainly shouldn’t append “ma’am” or “sir” to Facebook comments, or “thank you” after every like (please don’t do that), there are unique etiquette norms that must be applied when using social media on behalf of your organization.

Thank you for not smoking

Just as you would no longer walk into the office and start smoking without expecting consequences, there are some things you simply don’t do when engaging others online.

  • Don’t argue

Take it from the past mistakes of others, engaging in virtual arguments on behalf of your brand is probably the worst thing you can do. It will make you look unprofessional, childish and rude.

If someone says something that is inaccurate, it is best to thank them for taking the time to comment and point them to a source that provides clearer information to sort out any confusion. If someone states an opinion that isn’t favorable to you or your organization, just ignore it and work hard to generate other discussions that are more positive for your image.

  • Don’t delete

Once something is out there, it’s out there, and deleting something rarely changes that. This comes in two forms. There’s content you generate and content that users generate. In both cases, it is generally a good rule of thumb to delete something only as an absolute last resort, if ever.

In the case of user-generated content, unless it is patently defamatory against an individual, illegal or threatening, it should never be deleted. (Side note: if it is any of those things, you should report it before deleting.) Deleting something that you disagree with, or don’t want others to see, is the quickest way to anger others and ensure a screenshot of the content in question achieves notoriety.

When it comes to your own content, observe similar caution. If you post something and immediately notice a mistake, go ahead and delete and retry. Occasionally deleting something immediately (less than 60 seconds) after it is posted because you notice a mistake is generally OK (though closer proofreading would eliminate the need), but deleting something is poor form. If you seriously regret a past comment, tweet or status, it is best to address it proactively and transparently with new content, not try to hide it.

Pardon my reach

While not quite as stringent as those above, ignoring these niceties may just cause someone to give you a disgruntled stare.

  • Don’t be overly self-promoting

Effective social media requires time and money and can – and should! – generate some sort of return on investment. This isn’t generated by pushing spam and sales pitches onto customers on an hourly basis.

Any credible advice on creating engaging content agrees that success is driven by copy that builds your reputation, engages your audience or furthers a grand narrative. The moment you tell someone outright to buy your product is the second they hit the “unfollow” button.

  •  Be sensitive

Insensitivity can come in a variety of forms, accidental or otherwise. Avoiding insensitivity takes vigilance. An otherwise perfect post that is prescheduled can become highly offensive if it hits moments after a national disaster or highly publicized death. To counteract this, stay abreast of current events and keep the day’s scheduled posts in mind.

Another potential sensitivity pitfall can come from piggybacking on social media campaigns for social or charitable causes. Generally, as long as you are purposefully participating with or advancing the cause as an organization, it is OK. Hijacking the topic for commercial reasons, however, breaks social media etiquette norms.

A somewhat recent example comes from the Ice Bucket Challenge. Many celebrities and business leaders posted videos participating in the challenge with assurances they would also donate to the cause. That works! It wouldn’t work nearly as well, however, if you were the CEO of an ice distributor encouraging others to use your ice when completing the challenge.

Mind your Ps and Qs

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are dozens of other things you must consider when engaging in social media. Just like everyday manners, though, you learn through socialization and interacting. That’s why the best social media practitioners are constantly reviewing case studies, keeping up with trends and looking at their feeds throughout the day. Unlike the non-virtual world, everything is out there for you to see … it’s OK to look into other companies’ conversations. In this case, it’s fine to be nosy.