The old days when manners involved eating with elbows off the table and using “Sir” and “Ma’am” in polite conversation have long gone. There’s a whole new set of rules nowadays and they keep evolving. Remember when it was considered the height of rudeness to talk on a mobile phone in a restaurant? Look how common it is now! And no one really bothers to ‘police’ it or comment about it. As for networking and social media, I’m as guilty as the next person of making faux-pas so the following is certainly not intended to be a holier-than-thou rundown of engagement etiquette. I’m interested in your comments though!
Invest time: Social media and networking take time. Think of it as being a new kid at a new school or a new employee in your office. You won’t be embraced immediately; people have to warm to you. Building your following will take months so keep your patience in check and don’t expect miracles.
Plan to give: Social media and networking are about engagement, not sales. Listening is an important skill in any aspect of business, but just as important in social media, is not talking about yourself too much. Offer help, give advice, provide links to resources, answer questions and be on the lookout for other opportunities that cause you to be considered a giver rather than a taker.
Aim to build quality relationships: Be generous, polite, approachable and welcoming in your social media and networking relationships, as you would in person.
Consider the Internet permanent: Avoid public gossip, arguments and opinion slanging. Remember that once your comment is out there, it’s out there for good.
Be yourself: If you can’t be yourself, then you’d better work damn hard to be who you really want to be! Seriously, it’s so much easier to be authentic than to try to portray yourself as someone better, smarter or more popular. And it’s really hard to sustain any kind of illusion. Give yourself a break and be you.
Find your fit: For better or worse, social media and networking can echo the social divisions that you experienced in high school or in some workplaces. There are ‘clicks’ and you may feel embraced by some and spurned by others. Frankly, we all DO fit better with some than others. Finding your fit doesn’t mean you can’t mingle wherever YOU want to be; it just means acknowledging the level of comfort you feel amongst those with whom you feel most aligned.
Suggesting friends: Just because you suggest a friend on Facebook, doesn’t automatically guarantee that the people you introduce will become Facebook friends. Understand that sometimes, people want to actually meet and know someone in person before befriending online. Also, don’t take it for granted that the two people are compatible in the business sense. Everyone is busy. It becomes important to filter the posts, tweets and other incoming messages in order to actually receive and notice the ones that matter.
Autosubscribing: It’s always courteous to request a person’s permission to subscribe them to your newsletter or blog feed. Autosubscribing is not only impolite, but it’s also unethical and in fact, illegal under the SPAM Act. Don’t risk alienating others, even if you do have the world’s most popular newsletter.
Posting others’ photos on Facebook: ALWAYS ask permission before posting photos of other people on Facebook. You really don’t know what could be happening in their personal OR business life that they may want to keep private, and exposing them to the world could be detrimental.
Being cute on Facebook: New Facebook users are often enthralled with the plethora of novel applications. Trying to engage others in them is an up to date version of the old disease that was forwarding chain and joke emails. Consider also that if you’re using social media for business, your entertaining diversions may be frowned upon by those in your circle. Keep your Farmville, Mafia Wars and other paraphernalia for your personal page where you can enjoy it with those outside of your business reach.
Signing others up for groups: There are only so many groups a person can belong to. Not all of the ones suggested to them are appealing but some feel obliged to remain subscribed so as not to offend the inviter. Simply remember that if you sign someone up for a group, they may choose to unsubscribe and if you’re prone to taking things personally, you may feel very uncomfortable.
Forget the autopilot: You’re a human being, right? Then act like one. Autoresponders are fine when they perform a function such as welcoming a new subscriber, but then newsletters are not designed to be an instant form of communication. Twitter on the other hand, is designed to be exactly that. If you set your Twitter account to autopilot by sending scheduled tweets and automated welcomes to new followers, then your followers will soon cotton on and leave you in their dust.
Using foul language: Dropping the F-bomb or, arguably worse, firing off a C-bomb can be social media suicide. Dig a little deeper and mine your vocabulary a little. There are other ways to get your point across without stooping to gutter language which will almost always offend someone.
Drinking and tweeting: Kind of like drinking and driving but the damage is not physical. Think before you tweet or post on Facebook. Give yourself a cool down period before reacting to a provocative comment and never engage on social media if you’re under the influence of a substance, a mood swing or a bad day in general.
Taking things personally: In a word … don’t. Conveying a tone of voice is virtually impossible in text. What you may assume is intended as sarcasm may actually be a genuine comment. If in doubt, send the other person a message in private and ask them to clarify. As for unfollows and unfriending, life’s way too short to dwell. Adopt the “maybe he’s just not that into you” creed and move on. You can’t be all things to all people so develop a thicker skin.