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Social Media Etiquette & Tips

For most, social media is no more complex than any social or communications event.  Many find it easier.  All rules of kindness, diplomacy, message, audience and delivery apply.  Used properly, social media can teach, make you laugh, improve social skills, reconnect with long lost friends, find a job, grow a business, explore new cultures, build relationships, enhance wellness, save time and save money.  It is not only a “real life” but can also enrich your life and enhance productivity. As with everything in this world, not everyone “gets it.”  It is a complete myth that you don’t have time for social media.  Used well, social media creates more time in your busy day.  Used improperly, the same facets to life can be adversely impacted. 

We recently addressed this topic at Loyola University, and it has become popular at our own newly emerging facebook page. The following guidelines are offered to ensure getting the best outcomes from the social media experience.  These are relevant to both users and to employer training in proper etiquette. 

5 Rules to Getting the Best Out of Social Media…

Rule #1 – Be discrete and filter your comments.  Remember it is the world wide web, and privacy controls are not 100% effective.
Rule #2 – Learn and use the privacy controls.  They help substantially.  Understand privacy limitations and the licensing you authorize by using a certain site.  It’s very easy to protect your privacy but only if you invest the 5-10 minutes necessary to research and apply knowledge.
Rule #3 – Research the topics, guidelines, options and expectations to a certain site before you participate.  These are available at each site and differ from one site to the next.  Knowing helps you select the right forum and keeps your experience on track.
Rule #4 – Understand that each social media site or application is a business in itself, creating jobs with need for compensation and need for sustainability, job security and hopefully job growth.  It is easy to anticipate what will happen next if you understand the objectives.   
Rule #5 - Apply the “golden rule” at all times.  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Kindness and courtesy are expected.  Respect others’ privacy.  Stick to the site’s guidelines and respect how others’ use the site if within guidelines.  Avoid or be careful with controversial subjects including but not limited to politics, religion and sexual innuendo.

Do Not Insult or Attack

When you befriend or connect with someone, you imply a social contract of mutual respect and courtesy.  Negative energy is now out of bounds.  Insulting and attacking your friends in social media not only results in the insult/attack itself, but it catches them with guard down and in a highly public forum.  Re-read your comments to ensure they are not misinterpreted.  Trust shall be difficult if not impossible to recover.  Delete, recant or apologize if something gets by that you regret or did not intend.  Understand that de-friending can be an insult.  Should you de-friend someone due to corporate policy, tell them why to avoid insult.

Control Privacy for Yourself and Others

Remind yourself constantly that it is the Internet, as we all forget from time to time in the comfort of it all.  If you don’t want everyone to know, don’t post it.  Without full use of privacy controls, social media posts are likely to land at or around the #1 ranked page for you or others on the Internet.  Search engines can then link to employer, family, schools, charitable causes, other people and organizations.  Guide yourself accordingly. Privacy controls are extremely but not entirely effective.  Every individual has a right to privacy… controlling the perspective of his or her employer, family, neighbor, banker, pastor and any other stakeholder who can form a bias or purport action based upon social media. 
You are legally responsible for any damages incurred by others due to your actions… on line, in person and through any form of media.  Without specific permission, any information, name reference or pictures/videos of others are both illegal and unethical.  This concept is by no means limited to social media… but social media can have immediate widespread distribution.  While a site will protect itself through disclaimer, you are still responsible and can be sued for damages when tagging or posting photos, videos or content.  Create notifiers or prohibit altogether others’ ability to post/tag photos of you. 
Don’t be intimidated by these potential problems, but don’t take unnecessary risk either.   We don’t stop crossing the street because there is traffic, but we learn to look both ways beforehand and we learn to not push others into a vehicle’s path.

Observe Topic Boundaries and Avoid Frequent Complaint

While you cannot create change without stirring the pot at least a little, constant complaining and negativity will hurt your relationships and ability to succeed with audience and credibility.  Additionally, respect how others use the social media site.  Embrace differences.  Keep politics, religion, negativity and all controversy off of sites not specifically targeting to those topics.  Keep business on business sites, personal on personal sites; stick to specific topics and/or causes in their respective forums.   Avoid crossing boundaries.  Universal charitable causes are typically welcome in any general forum … just don’t wear out their welcome. 

Follow the Money for Answers

Nothing in this world is completely “free,” and this is no exception.  Each of these sites is costly to develop and operate.  Advertisers, membership fees and specific application/gaming fees are popular revenue sources.  Ownership of content, development, features control and level of advertising is dictated, of course, by the sponsors of these platforms.  Arguments are emerging regarding free vs. paid membership.  You may wish to entirely avoid sites pretending to be entirely free, as you are likely to expose yourself to spammers, malware and/or sale of your personal info.  We’d rather know who is getting paid while safeguarding our systems and privacy. 

Choosing a Social Media Forum

The primary consideration to site choice is the intended use.  The first choice is “business” or “personal.”  It is easiest and safest to draw a line between the two, although great advantage can be realized by those who learn to successfully mix the two.  It is essential to know and adhere to topic boundaries at each site.  Blindsiding others with topics they don’t want will create failure.  With appropriate judgment deployed, random and creative banter can be the most interesting, desirable and memorable content you deliver.  A little consideration goes a long way. 
We use each of the following for different reasons, audience and with different approach/expectations.  The writers herein have no affiliation with any social media site or vendor.  While this white paper is complimentary, our business interest is ongoing education and consultation with companies.  One of many hot topics right now surrounds social media.  Our firm encourages employers to address social media, creating policies and encouraging practices which protect everyone’s interest, company-wide.  

facebook
Originally targeted to college students, then high school students, facebook is intended to reconnect or maintain connections otherwise difficult to manage in a busy world.  No longer strictly by invitation, features have been changed, removed and added over time.  Not originally part of the fabric, businesses are now present, primarily as advertisers to consumers.  This site is used for personal relationship building, socialization, reconnecting, reciprocity, a sense of community and meeting new people through gaming, common interest and mutual friends.    Age range is unlimited and multi-generational.  Social sites such as facebook can provide a forum for busy productive people to enjoy positive energy, wellness and socialization without abandoning a productive life.  As with everything, abuse is of course alive and well.

LinkedIn
Used entirely with a professional business focus, LinkedIn also began building by invitation only.  LinkedIn is designed for business promotion, professional networking, job search, discussion forum and to use business “connections” as a toolset.  Specific connections are visible or invisible to others as a matter of individual strategy and privacy setting.  Currently both paid and unpaid memberships exist.  The extent to which you post on LinkedIn is directly proportionate and related to your professional position.  Additionally offering opportunity to showcase company websites, blogs, publications and twitter accounts, LinkedIn currently holds more than 60 million registered users in more than 200 countries.

Twitter
Used for both personal and business purposes, Twitter ignores relationship building and succeeds or fails based entirely on the quality and keywords of information.  “Tweets” are text-based posts of up to 140 characters delivered to “followers.”  Account holders can “lock” their timeline for privacy to only followers with some but not entire privacy.  Without such lock, a “tweet” can immediately find itself the #1 ranked item by search engine for the author.  Re-tweet exposure can be substantial.  Twitter offers both facebook and LinkedIn interfaces.
Blogs (Weblogs), Discussion Boards, Forums and More
Endless and constantly emerging/disappearing, the Internet is full of opportunity to comment, blog, post, vote, upload and express yourself.  Each individual site is likely to offer description of topic, questions controlled by the site or existing discussion threads to follow.  Choose accordingly and stick to the format for the site.  Each will likely offer legal disclaimer and instructions.  Read them and comply. 

What You Should Post/Not Post

Ask 10 people and you shall receive 10 different answers.  This is a draw for most social media users and an advantage to the concept. The differences between the posts of one and another users is a matter of among others… personality and timing.  Witty banter that insults no one is always welcome.  Do not expect to interest everyone with a post and do not expect to be interested with every post you see.  Attempt to avoid repetition.  What would you say at a party?  Who is your audience?  Same considerations apply.   Be yourself at your best whenever you can.  Sites will typically provide discussion forums, content, games and/or applications that are good points of exchange.   Most social media is not about the conversation but rather a more brief exchange of ideas.   Chime in only as you wish.  Sound judgment will help you.  If people are interested, they will typically let you know.  If not, find something else to say or a new room/time to say it.

Boundaries:  Business vs. Personal

Actively mixing business and personal relationships is always a risk and warrants consideration and boundaries.  Social media is no exception.  The ability to successfully mix the two, however,  can be your greatest advantage. What if your boss, client or investor befriends you on a social site?  This problem is largely solved by rule #1.  If you are concerned about its visibility, do not post it on the world wide web.  While it is extremely beneficial to use privacy controls and selection rules, again these are not entirely effective.

Preparing for and Handling Abuse or Disagreement

The rules for social media are the same as for any communication, in person, written, electronic, or telephone.  One great thing about social media is that you can more easily avoid, delay or rehearse your response.  Use these opportunities to ensure your message is exactly how you want it before it is out there.  When you build quality relationships through social media, you have also likely improved or practiced certain aspects to in-person social skills as well. Be nice, don’t attack or insult.  On the Internet as in all phases of life, communicate with the assumption there are no bad people, just bad acts.  Social media should not be anti-social.  It will work best for you if you stick with positive energy.  Be careful approaching controversy.  It is controversial because people disagree passionately.  You will undoubtedly insult and aggravate at least some of your friends… so be prepared for the fallout.  People disagree on how to “keep it light” and as always, “teasing” and thoughtless communications are inconsequential to some, the “end of the world” for others, and somewhere in between for everyone else.  Controversial communication creates conflict including disagreement on severity, how to interpret and how to handle.  Be nice and remove the point of conflict. 

Social Gaming Etiquette

Gamers provide a great deal of revenue to social sites, and their contributions to subsidizing everyone’s use should be respected.  At current time, facebook gaming posts are extremely easy to hide if you do not wish to see them.  A simple hover and click on the hide button (currently immediately to the right of the post) will hide every post to an entire application.  Therefore, etiquette between gamers is more essential for discussion. 

Gamers - please consider that your gaming friends have little or no opportunity to hide your individual posts without hiding you or the game altogether.  Peppering the feed with low value posts impedes another’s ability to find the posts actually necessary to gameplay.  Additionally, monopolizing the feed with items of little or no value/interest to others creates the same social impact as monopolizing a conversation.  Often, less is more… and quality here typically outweighs quantity.   

Game developers – remove the temptation to destroy gaming experience by removing the options to do so.  Consider controls on frequency and volume of such posts per user. We know you need to promote your game, but you probably wish to keep gamers playing, too, right?

Social Applications, Groups, Polls and Gifts

These items can be great “ice breakers” and turnkey socialization tools.  With these items you can reach out to someone without other consideration as to what to say.  What users rarely consider is the extent to which profile information is accessed and shared with undisclosed recipients.  Consideration should also be given to system performance when these applications are allowed, as they may be running in the background while not visibly in use.   It is typically quite easy to de-authorize these applications when no longer desired.   It is important to read the disclaimers before using these applications, and it is important to courteously understand why someone may not accept your gift or invitation.  This decline is not an indictment of friendship gesture but rather a de-selection of the system performance impact invited by the application.   Choose applications carefully, enjoy those you choose, respect others’ rights to choose for themselves, and remember… nothing is free.
 
Please visit AskHRS.com or contact HRS for employer tips in creating social media policies to include anti-harassment and intellectual property risk management.  

 

 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, November 22, 2010