Electronic Etiquette: Social Media Manners

You’ve thrown a party to celebrate a milestone birthday and—sometime between the champagne and the crudités—you make a speech about the wonders of, well, you. You boast about giving up simple carbs and the time you shoveled your neighbor’s driveway without being asked. And watch how many push-ups I can do!

You wouldn’t do that, but you may be committing equally boorish behavior on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Peter Friedman, founder and CEO of LiveWorld, a user content management company, coaches companies such as Starbucks, Mattel, Kraft and McDonald’s on social-media strategy, and he shares some tactics for making sure you aren’t an online party pooper.

Whether you’re a Fortune 500 corporation or a small business, Friedman believes the same principle should guide social media interactions. “Social media is your brand’s party online,” Friedman says. “You are the host… [so] ask yourself, How would I behave if this were a party I was throwing?”

Friedman gives these additional tips for being a skilled social media host:

Don’t talk only about yourself. Promote your brand and “foster engagement and dialogue among your customers.” This means sharing non-brand information that will start a conversation—maybe post a tweet, something like, “Here’s an interesting stat from today’s Wall Street Journal.” 

Create a warm atmosphere. “In our view, a brand can’t be too personal or too social,” Friedman says. (OK, posting photos of you doing Jell-O shots actually is too personal, but common sense applies. By now everyone knows that human resources departments scan your social media presence before hiring, right?) “The point of social media is to be social,” Friedman emphasizes. This is especially easy for a small business. Introduce the key players in your company as real people, not just titles: “Our chief designer Liz is a marathoner who works at a treadmill desk.” Let them know you’re interested in more than selling by posing questions unrelated to your business (perhaps about a current event) or only marginally related to it (for instance, if you sell barbecue equipment, ask your Facebook friends about their Memorial Day plans; you also might offer a recipe for a rub or sauce).

Admit screw-ups. Mistakes happen, both in parties and in business. Instead of ignoring a stumble or hoping it won’t be discovered (and for sure, it will be), “own it and embrace it,” Friedman advises. Apologize, if that’s appropriate, explain what you’ll do differently next time, and offer free shipping or a discount on the next order.

Mingle but don’t get manic. You can’t insert yourself into every conversation at your party, Friedman says—nor should you. The same is true for Facebook and Twitter. If you post too often, you’re filling up your page with too much you. “If 10 people have made the same comment, you don’t need to respond to each,” he says. Regarding tweets: Three a day is the sweet spot. You want to achieve “cascading influence,” Friedman says, meaning that effective tweets that will be widely re-tweeted. And remember that it’s good etiquette to thank people for re-tweeting. It’s also wise to respond to Facebook posts and shares.

Don’t argue with your guests. At your party, your uncle complains about the cilantro in the guacamole. Online, a customer disparages a new product. Don’t respond defensively or combatively. “Most people just want to know they’re being listened to,” Friedman says. Ignore or respond carefully to negative comments; sometimes others active in the social media sphere will rise to your defense or otherwise defuse the criticism.

Also remember that you might even learn something by listening… such as your uncle being right about the cilantro.


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