Social media is an amazing tool as well as a source of entertainment, news, information and more. Even if you are not on your social media accounts a lot, what you do so can stay with you. In fact, anything you post on Facebook, Twitter or any other account can impact your professional and personal life. And if you are friends or followed by people from both aspects of your life, it’s important to keep your postings to things that are appropriate for both. Your boss, for example, may not be impressed at the sight of you sucking beer straight out of the keg at a party over the weekend.
In addition, don’t think that just because it’s the Internet you are somehow anonymous. The rules of polite society should, in many ways, still apply.
1. Don’t Be a Tattletale
This was true in school and is true in social media, as well. Just because you know someone’s secret doesn’t mean everyone has to! Keep confidential information confidential — this goes for work and friends. If your company is working on something new and exciting, let it be up to the company to decide when to tell. If one of your friends is pregnant or getting a divorce, keep it to yourself until you hear otherwise.
2. Don’t Violate Copyright Laws
It’s fun to post quotes, pictures and other amusing things on Facebook or Twitter — but make sure you attribute them properly. The informal nature of social media does not mean that you can repost someone else’s poem on your blog without proper attribution. When in doubt, use quotation marks! And if you don’t know who wrote something or took a picture, ask your friends; usually, someone knows.
3. Don’t Assume Anonymity
Just because you post something under a different name, don’t assume no one can find out who you are. As humans, we are notoriously bad at covering our tracks, and unless you also understand the nuances of IP addresses and other tracking technology, be careful what you post online. Many times, a post from a phone or laptop, even under an anonymous account, can be linked back to the owner of the cell phone or the account holder of the Internet service provider.
4. Don’t Be a Bully
Unfortunately, even adults need to be reminded of this entirely too often. Don’t use ethnic slurs online. Don’t sling personal insults. Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in person, at work. Just don’t. If you would do those things at work, you might want to consider professional etiquette lessons. Or anti-bullying classes.
5. Don’t Friend Strangers
If your only intention is to sell them things, don’t friend people you don’t know. It’s rude. And you will lose your credibility quickly. Besides, if the only things your real friends see online are your posts trying to sell stuff, you might lose them too.
6. Don’t Send Out Game Requests
Or other timewasters to all of your friends. If you and a few friends like playing Scrabble or other games online, make sure you keep the invites and requests to that specific group. Some people are very annoyed with game requests and will unfriend even their bestie for doing this.
7. Don’t Post Angry
Or intoxicated, upset, over-tired, jet-lagged or otherwise compromised. Do it one time and you’ll see why. Don’t do it at all and you’ll have a happier following. In general, no one wants to see a person who constantly posts negative things. Try and keep most of your posts happy, light, funny or inspirational. If something tragic happens in your life, and you’d like to receive prayers or help, use social media for that. But remember the boy who cried wolf — if you’re always posting sad or negative items, when something truly bad happens, most of your friends might just scroll past.
8. Do Publish Positively
Remember, what you post might be around for a long time — or searchable for a long time. Make sure your posts are positive and reflective of your best side. People who have tried to delete bad or wrong posts often lose because others can take screenshots of that horrid thing and it will stay around forever. Delete doesn’t always mean erase.
9. Do Check Your Online Profiles
Keep your online profiles consistent. If you have social media accounts you no longer use (remember MySpace?), delete them or update them accordingly. Make sure each of your profiles shows information you want the world to see.
10. Do Take Responsibility for Your Online Actions
Did you rant online? Are you genuinely upset with a company for some reason? If you say something and you stand behind it, then stand behind it. Don’t retract or recant. People will often admire your willingness not to retract your story as long as it’s honest and not posted in a hateful way. If you do make a mistake and say something rude or bully-ish, then own up to it, apologize and move on.
11. Do Add Value
Whether you are a blogger, real estate agent, doctor or other professional, try to add value to what’s already out there. Do you know of a great new home in the area for your neighborhood peeps? Post it. Read about a new treatment for a disease? Let your followers know. Did you write a great article on the benefits of reading great articles? Share it. People crave information; if you have some, let your friends know about it.
12. Do Show Consideration
Always err on the side of kindness and consideration. If you’re not sure if someone wants particular information posted, don’t post it. Always think about how you would feel if someone posted that type of information about you without your knowledge.
13. Do Think First
Before you post something, think about it. Do your friends really care what you ate for breakfast or how long your bike ride was? Really? Unless you ate at a famous chef’s restaurant, made a cake so unusual and unique that it just begged to be shared or rode your bike from your house to a city far away, assume that some information can be kept to yourself. In the words of the editor of my first book, “you may care about that, but no one else does.” It hurts, I know, to think no one else cares that you ate two scrambled eggs for breakfast, but really…really?
14. Do Tag Gently
It’s fun to tag our friends in our comments, thoughts, posts and pictures, but be gentle. Unless the comment or picture is directly related to that person, avoid the tag. Your friends don’t want their notifications loaded up with tags anymore than you do. If it’s important, tag it.
15. Do Check for Grammar
You don’t have to be a grammarian, but really, do you want to look like you’ve never read a book — even on a Kindle? How you post (and that includes your grammar and spelling) is a reflection on you and how much you care about what others hear or see from you. If you are posting in a professional capacity, always run your post through a spell and grammar check first. Professionals should always be seen as capable and intelligent. No one wants to go to a doctor who posts, “come n c me 4 grt medicul attn.”
16. Do Participate Online
Nothing is more irritating than being friends with a person who only posts about themselves or their business and never “likes,” comments or replies to anything anyone posts. I have a number of Facebook friends who seem to sit back and just lurk, or even just assume that because they are popular or well-known in their business, that they are too good to “hang out” with the rest of us. Get in there. Wish someone a “Happy Birthday!” Like someone’s pictures. Offer up a little advice. No one likes a lurker.