Business Social Media Etiquette Pt. 1: "The Clichés" and Always/Never

Posted by Bridget Beirne
April 30, 2013

The first installment in our series on social media etiquette.

Daniel Post Senning remembers that his father grew up without a television. He wonders what his kids will think about his younger days- no internet! No cell phone! A completely different world. But then he reminds us that although things change, they definitely stay the same. He also remembers the constant, instant communication of jumping on the phone with his friend Julie immediately upon returning from school. And guess what? “If we’d had texting, we’d have been texting.” Or lighting up social media, no doubt.

With social media, the more things change, the more they stay the same. With the new frontiers of communication presented by Facebook, Twitter, and  LinkedIn, we still need to conduct ourselves according to the principles of etiquette- consideration, respect, and honesty.  While we may connect in an instant, exchange information in a flash, and build relationships with every single click, a set of guidelines are necessary for presenting our best cyber-selves.

Over the next few weeks, we will be devoting some of our Ovation Blogs to the emerging study of social media etiquette.  Here, we’ll start with an overview of the networks in general, and some best practices.  Since we are forging through some new territory, we’ve turned to two experts to guide our path.  Daniel Post Senning is the great-great-grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post. With the Emily Post Institute, Daniel’s specialty is tech and social media etiquette; however, he also teaches courses in business and children’s etiquette. The publication of his new book, Manners in a Digital World- Living Well Online is sure to become a seminal resource on the topic.

Dawn Stanyon is the President and Founder of Professionality Consulting. Dawn makes it her goal to connect major corporations with soft skills experts like herself. Her relationship building skills, brand imaging expertise, and business etiquette certification from the Emily Post Institute makes her a valuable resource in building self-awareness of both our business and personal social media presence.

The Clichés

If you are active in social media at all, you’re most likely well aware of the “big three”: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These three tend to dominate the scene, yet they function in three very different ways.

When presenting on social media etiquette, Daniel often starts with a slide that simply says business social media etiquette“the clichés”- a sweeping statement about each network that we hear all of the time because it is, in fact, true. In a broad sense, these clichés are the definitions of the various networks:  Facebook is the social network, LinkedIn is the professional social network, and Twitter is like a conversation. Bearing these guidelines in mind can help us when it comes to what information we’re posting, and where we’re sharing it. 

This thought process will carry over not only with content, but with tone.  Just as you might not speak to your boss the same way you would to your best friend, the TONE of your posts, network to network, will be different.  In the future, we’ll be going more in depth with each of the big three networks- for now, the clichés give us a way to simply separate them out for ourselves.

While we'll be focusing on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, Dawn shares this thought: "Social networks are today's communication highways. You can do just fine never going on the highway – but you can get where you want to go much faster if you jump on. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the roads just about everyone is taking – but we all know that Google+, YouTube, and a variety of other sites can be equally important." So, while we'll be discussing the road MORE traveled, be brave and feel free to explore those less traveled roads, as well.

Always and Never

We asked our experts to share some overall best practices for social media etiquette- some things that we should always do, and some things that we should never do. Here’s what they had to say:


1. Embrace it!:  As far as Daniel is concerned, having a lots of communication options at your disposal is an empowering thing. “A diverse communication diet means we’re connecting to new people in new ways.  As a Gen Xer or a Boomer, your willingness to participate will make you more accessible to the next generation coming in.” As the old trope goes, acceptance is the first step, and embracing the world of social media communication is the beginning to building new relationships, personally and professionally.  That being said:


2. Think about the relationship: When it comes to social media (not to mention communication in general), Daniel reminds us that the communication tools should service the nature of the relationship: “The same as encouraging college students to have personal stationery and write thank you notes," we need to be aware of which method of communication is best suited to the intended recipient.  Always let the relationship dictate the communication. Knowing whether or not to communicate with someone digitally, and which social media network is the right outlet to use if the relationship dictates, is a must.


3. Know your brand!: This is important for both your personal and your professional personas, but especially important to remember in business. Dawn reminds us to know exactly what our brand is, and to put it forward with confidence and credibility on a consistent basis. And, she adds, "Keep things positive (unless negativity is part of your brand)." So unless you're selling a snark factor, always try and put forward that positive truth.


1. Never be seduced by an illusion of privacy: “Everything online is potentially public and permanent, “ Daniel says, and mentions that oftentimes when we are communicating digitally we are in a physical space where we have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”, which aides in lulling us into a sense of safety. We’re in our office, or our bedroom- “These are the places we belt out tunes in private!” However, thanks to the nature of the digital world, these places are also inherently public.

For example, Daniel points out that we often see this false sense of security when it comes to our cell phones:  “You’re sitting in the doctor’s office, calling your spouse with information. Suddenly, everyone knows about your gall bladder surgery!”  The same goes for social media. You may think you’re having a private conversation- in actuality, you’re not.

Dawn sums it up this way: "Nothing. Is. Ever. Private."


2. Beware of the Overshare:  Daniel notes that oversharing takes two forms:  you’re either sharing too much volume-wise, or your content is just too personal.  “For many people in a data rich world, the task is filtering out what’s important.” The way to help your oversaturated followers do this is by monitoring the amount and the nature of your content.


3. Never forget the etiquette of mobile devices: Or, “beware the cell phone security blanket! When you are in a new space, it can be a comfortable place to go. You’re meeting someone in a bar, you sit down to wait for them, and instantly the phone comes out. What might have been a 10 minute conversation with the person sitting next to you is now lost in your phone.” Often times, we check in with our social networks from our mobile devices to avoid connecting with the world around us.

Daniel shared an experience he had on the subway in Chicago. A gentleman he met noted how everyone was on their mobile devices. He mentioned how when the Bulls were winning, he felt that it was fun to take the train- everyone was talking to each other about the game. However, now that people reach immediately for their cell phone security blanket, that sense of community is gone. The social media etiquette lesson here? Don’t let the social network replace your human one!


Check back here for the next installment of our social media etiquette series in an upcoming Ovation Blog!


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