Posted by: johnocunningham | November 28, 2009

Social Media: Seven Etiquette Rules

The number of social media platforms, tools and users continues to grow exponentially while the social etiquette for proper use of such media has yet to be established. For those who want to use social media for business purposes, this can present some thorny questions about the best and most fruitful ways to use this new media. 

Based on my review of various social media contributors, I have put together a list of 7 guidelines for good useage that is respectful of the rights of posters and readers alike:

1. Don’t “friend” people or otherwise connect with them indiscriminately. This is a frequent source of complaints and can put those with whom you seek to connect in awkward positions (forcing them to accept a near stranger’s invitation or to offend the inviter by rejection). This is one reason that Bill Gates removed his name from Facebook – he was getting “friend” requests from literally thousands of people. Most CEOs don’t want you to solicit their friendship.

2. Respect that some people have borders between their personal and professional lives. Some people might want to connect with you for business purposes on LinkedIn but prefer not to “friend” you on Facebook. Before you attempt to cross the boundary from one world into another, you should know how your intended “friend” or business contact will feel about it.

3. Write or post responsibly. If you want to post something to the permanent billboard of cyberpace, you better think about how your musings will impact your organization, your clients, your potential clients and anyone else affected by your posting. Irresponsible or impulsive posting might result in more than hurt feelings – lawsuits have not been uncommon.

4. Know your audience. Some people who are new to a group can’t wait to share everything, but it is possible that useful information for one audience could be impractical, outdated or irrelevant to another audience. Get to know a group in cyberspace just as you would a group in person before asserting yourself in a major way.

5. Understand the limits of free speech. For some reason, people in cyberspace feel less restrained about their expression, but the rules of libel, slander, and privacy still apply (and in fact the rules of multiple jurisdictions could be involved, making cyber-expression more risky).

6. Respect proprietary rights. There are emerging legal rules for e-commerce and cyberspace in general. You should try to familiarize yourself as much as possible with rules related to copyrights, trademarks, fair use, and proper ways of linking to the expressions or content of others. These rules are evolving so periodic legal review is helpful.

7. Make sure your posts “add value.” Nobody likes a “wannabe” authority who is full of misinformation or just repeats what others say. Joining a social media conversation or group can be a form of negative advertising if you are posting content just to “get your name out there.” That is fairly transparent, and ultimately disastrous.

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