Social Media Etiquette: Keep it Civil, Keep it Safe

social media etiquette image of man using phone

Most people would agree that networking is an essential element to building a business or growing your career. Social media is continually changing the landscape of what it looks like to network and build professional relationships, but the rules of engagement can be pretty subjective sometimes. 

Posting unbecoming photos from last night’s party or a string of rants aren’t a good idea for several reasons, but you especially don’t want something like that to be the reason you’re passed up for your dream job.

Your social profiles are an online extension of your in-person behavior and reputation. Understanding social media etiquette and how it affects the ways others interact with you isn’t something to write off. The way we communicate online should reflect how we would interact face to face with someone – the screen that separates you from the real people behind all those social profiles isn’t a filter or a mask, when you’re using it to genuinely connect with people.

The original purpose of social media was to be social – to make connections. We aren’t limited to words anymore with online socializing, though, like in the chat rooms of old. Now, the way we share media also reflects our thoughts, ideas and personalities, and there is so much of it to wade through that the original intent of making connections often gets lost in translation.

“Navigating social media is just another chance to form bonds with people by being respectful, helpful, engaging and authentic.”

Grace Bonney 

Let’s look at how each of those descriptive words Grace uses can help us apply social media etiquette in a way that turns simple connections into valuable relationships.

Be Respectful

We’ve become so good at sharing strong opinions in social posts and comments. Unfortunately, we’ve been less good at considering others’ perspectives, thinking before commenting, and letting someone else have the last word.

With a lack of body language and tone of voice to interpret in online communication, it’s always wise to give someone the benefit of the doubt if you’re not sure what they’re trying to say, or what their intentions are behind saying it.

“Think twice before you post anything, and think a couple more times before you respond to anything negative.”

Lizzie Post

Part of improving how you communicate is developing your emotional intelligenceThis means understanding yourself and how to interact with others to build more meaningful relationships.

A key component to EQ is managing your reactions. There is a big difference between a reaction and a response. 

To have more valuable and constructive communication online, the importance of taking time to think through a respectful response cannot be stressed enough. Pay attention to the tone of your words. If you’re having a discussion and worried that your response will be misinterpreted, ask a question at the end, like “What do you think?” or “Does that make sense?” This will help them see that you’re truly interested in a discussion, rather than just stating your opinion.

Be Helpful

A social media etiquette question often raised is whether it’s okay to unfriend or unfollow someone who you’ve met in person, but whose social sharing habits aren’t helpful or constructive in any way. The short answer: yes.

If someone is in the habit of consistently posting things that don’t help foster connections or offer something of value, then it’s not necessary for you to stay connected with them on social networks out of guilt or fear that they’ll be offended. If they notice that you’ve disconnected with them, Lizzie Post suggests being honest and telling them that you simply weren’t connecting online. If they’ve asked you to explain, they should be ready for an honest answer.

Take a look at your own posting habits to gauge whether you’re using social media to help build relationships and share valuable content, or if others would be better off not seeing your posts in their feed.

Be Engaging

The benefit of social media is to engage with others when you aren’t able to do that in person. As I’ve said before, it’s all about connecting. By all means, show your personality through your profile, but make sure your posts actually help you connect with others.

According to Real Simple readers, these are the five most annoying types of posts:

  • Intentionally vague posts
  • Chronic complaining
  • Meaningless calls to action
  • Oversharing
  • Posting too frequently

Posting habits that include those five will not help anyone connect on social media. In fact, they have the opposite effect. These posts aren’t engaging and they are likely to cause others to unfollow or unfriend you, or at least hide your posts from their feed.

Keep in mind that not everything is meant to be shared on social media. There are times when it’s better to reach out to someone individually if you need or want to discuss something. Ask yourself before posting whether this question or discussion really needs to take place on a public social network.

Be Authentic

There is a reason some people choose to disconnect from social media for a period of time. It’s easy to become so immersed in online communication that we forget how to be fully engaged with the physical world around us.

It’s also easy to use social media as a mask, and that is an exhausting way to live. 

If you really want to make connections with people online and build relationships with them, don’t do them the disservice of presenting yourself as someone you’re not. They know you’re human. They know you don’t always look runway ready, and your family isn’t always the epitome of class, and your job isn’t a dream every second of every day. So don’t be afraid to be a real person.

To learn more about social media etiquette and professionalism, view our on-demand webinar with Daniel Post Senning, author and etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute.

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Krista researches, analyzes, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at the industry shifts and trends that matter to L&D and HR professionals, and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.