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The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook: Appendix A - The New Community Rules

by Tamar Weinberg

I originally posted the “Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handboook” on my blog at techipedia.com[113] in December 2008. It became so popular that I have included it here as an appendix.

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Social media mimics real relationships in many cases. Would you do the following in real, face-to-face relationships?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may need a refresher course on social media etiquette—and perhaps real-life etiquette also. Here are some egregious sins that you must not perform on social media sites. Avoid these violations and learn how to manage and maintain online relationships on a variety of popular social media sites.

Facebook

  • Adding users as friends without proper introductions. If you’re looking to make friends, tell people who you are. Don’t assume they know you, especially if they don’t.

  • Abusing application invites and consistently inviting friends to participate in vampire games. Many call this spam.

  • Abusing group invites. If your friends are interested, they’ll likely join without your “encouragement.” And if they don’t accept, don’t send the group request more than once by asking them to join via email, wall post, or Facebook message.

  • Turning your Facebook profile photo into a pitch so that you can gather leads through your Facebook connections. Thanks, but no thanks. Facebook is about real friendships and not about business—at least not primarily.

  • Using a fake name as your Facebook name. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across with the last name “Com” or “Seo.” I’m not adding you unless you can be honest about who you are. Once upon a time, Facebook deleted all of the accounts that portrayed people as business entities or things. I wish Facebook would employ the same tactics again, because I’m not adding a fake identity as a friend.

  • Publicizing a private conversation on a wall post. In case it isn’t obvious, Facebook wall posts are completely public to all your friends (unless you tweak your privacy settings). Private matters should be handled privately via email or in Facebook private messages.

  • Tagging individuals in unflattering pictures that may end up costing your friends their jobs. Visit http://www.valleywag.com/tech/your-privacy-is-an-illusion/bank-intern-busted-by-facebook-321802.php to read about a particularly embarrassing incident for one Facebook user who had his picture posted in this manner. Avoid the unnecessary commentary also, especially on your childhood pictures that portray your tagged friends as chubby and not so popular. Further, if your friends request to be untagged, don’t make a stink of it.

Figure A.1, “The number of pending requests I have on Facebook” shows the number of pending friend requests I have on Facebook.

Figure A.1. The number of pending requests I have on Facebook

The number of pending requests I have on Facebook

That said, there’s one other rule that some individuals follow, and thus one more sin to add to our Facebook list. I know this isn’t the case for all individuals, so your mileage may vary:

  • Forgetting that some individuals won’t network with you on a “personal” space like Facebook without knowing who you are, even with the proper introduction. If you’re looking to establish a professional relationship with someone, consider LinkedIn. Otherwise, consider building up a rapport with an individual before randomly adding her as your friend. Some people require face-to-face meetings before they invite you into their private lives. After all, Facebook was a tool that college students were using before it was open to the public,[114] and some still use it as a purely personal and not a professional tool. LinkedIn is seen as the more professional of the two.

Considering the previous example, I pose a question on Facebook etiquette. Is it appropriate to let these requests sit in pending mode or to reject the friends outright? In many instances, these requests are probably better off sitting indefinitely (and it’s healthier than the rejection). Plus, in the future, you may want to respond to that friend request positively.

Twitter

  • Following a user and then unfollowing him before he has a chance to follow you. Or unfollowing him as soon as he follows you.

  • Mass-following everyone so that you can artificially inflate your numbers as a success metric for influence (and maybe then submitting a press release[115] about it).

  • Consistently using your Twitter stream for nothing but self-promotion and ego. Profy highlights this phenomenon quite well at http://www.profy.com/2008/11/04/quick-tips-for-twitter-spammer-follow-1000-people-give-away-5000-books.

  • Requesting that your friends retweet your tweets on a consistent basis. This is much more bothersome when the request comes via IM or email and not on Twitter itself. The bottom line: if your content is good enough to stand on its own, it will be retweeted. There is no reason to make a personal request (and if it doesn’t stand on its own, it usually doesn’t need to be retweeted).

  • Not humanizing your profile. Twitter is also about real relationships. Add an avatar and a bio at the minimum. Let people know who you are. To take it a step further, make it easy for people to contact you outside Twitter if necessary. This is especially important if someone on Twitter needs to reach you but can’t direct message you since you’re not following her. If she’s making the effort, it’s probably because she really wants to talk to you. (Was it something you said? Usually.)

  • Streaming only your blog’s RSS feed on Twitter. If you’re following anyone who does this, feel free to take my advice and unfollow him right now. He won’t engage with you, so why engage with his narcissistic self-promotion?

  • Using Twitter to repeat personal and confidential correspondence. If you’re not happy with the way an email communication progressed about a private matter, take it up with the person involved to square things away. Certainly, don’t broadcast your dissatisfaction with the turnout to your entire Twitter audience. It looks unprofessional for you and makes you appear untrustworthy.

  • Leveraging your Twitter connections to send spam via direct messages to those who follow you. Two days later, you may wonder why they don’t follow you anymore.

  • Abusing Twitter hashtags during a crisis.[116] It’s a shame that the Mumbai attacks happened, but this was not the opportunity to capitalize on your CRM software.

  • Using your Twitter feed as a chat room for conversations that are exclusive in nature and not as a broadcast medium. It’s nice that Twitter lets you use the @ symbol to talk directly to individuals, and that’s fine in moderation. As a friend recently said to me, “I’m tired of my Twitter feed being a [private] conversation between person X, person Y, and person Z.” Why don’t the three of you get a room? Twitter user cheapsuits sums it up nicely when he says, “The tweeps that talk everyday to each other about banalities get old.” The emphasis here is on chat rooms that exclude other individuals in conversations that do not provide value. At all. Ever.

LinkedIn

  • Gathering all the email addresses of users you are connected to—even locating email addresses of LinkedIn Group managers—and utilizing this mailing list to promote your own company or service offsite. For example, I manage a few LinkedIn groups, so my email address is far more visible on the site than I’d like. I’m not connected to the LinkedIn individual who spammed me, but he still took the liberty of using my email address for his personal gain in a completely unsolicited fashion. Perhaps this individual lost sight of the fact that LinkedIn is a professional network and not a spam facilitator. Even so, recipients should still be required to opt in.

  • Asking for endorsements from individuals you don’t know or who didn’t do a good job in your employ.

  • Writing a recommendation for someone and then firing her just a few days later.[117]

Social News—Digg, Sphinn, Mixx, Reddit, Tip’d (and a Whole Load of Related Sites)

  • Submitting only your own articles and posts to social media sites.

  • Consistently “taking” (asking for votes) but never giving back. Social news is about reciprocal relationships.[118] Even if the people you are asking for votes of will never actually ask you for votes, a random IM that pops up saying, “Digg this for me,” is far more obtrusive than saying “Hey, how’s it going?” and having a real conversation first.

  • Sharing the same story repeatedly with your friends. Can we say spam? And if you are still being shared with by these members repeatedly, why haven’t you unfriended or blocked the offenders on your IM programs or social news sites?

  • Submitting a story that is completely off-topic. It’s important to understand the communities you contribute to and to understand the rules of the sites that you target.[119] Your story about celebrity cell phones simply does not belong on financial social news site Tip’d, no matter how you try to spin it. And when I, as a moderator, tell you that that the submission is not appropriate for the audience, especially as it has no relevance to the subject matter of the site, don’t argue with the decision.

  • Using the comments field to drop links, especially to related submissions that were made after the fact.

  • On social sites where buries are public (though professional in nature), assuming that it’s personal. In a recent instance, a “bury” on a popular social site upset the submitter so much that he resorted to an unprofessional attack on the person who buried the story by blogging about her. Sadly enough, the bury reason (which was public for all to see) was not at all about him but was about the content itself. In social media and in relationships in general, you should be disagreeing with the statement. That means that you as the submitter shouldn’t assume the burier talking about you as the person who made the statement and implying that the statement is a reflection of a character flaw. The burier didn’t like what you said and disagreed. Grow from it. Don’t turn it into something personal when it clearly isn’t.

FriendFeed

  • Using the service completely for self-promotion. If you’re going to claim your social media profile on that totally awesome service, either don’t share your feeds at all or interact on a semi-consistent basis. Please? FriendFeed is a service, but it’s also a community.

  • Cross-posting on all social sites using a site like ping.fm. I don’t need to see the same message from you on Twitter, FriendFeed, your Google Talk status, your Facebook feed, and on your dog’s scrolling LED collar. Keep the spam broadcasts to a minimum. It’s obvious on FriendFeed when this facility is abused.

YouTube

  • Asking someone repeatedly to watch your crummy video, subscribe to your channel, and give you a five-star rating.

  • Forcing people to subscribe to your YouTube channel by applying an iFrame exploit.[120]

StumbleUpon

  • Sending more than one story to your network daily. The key to success is moderation. Excess converts to spam.

  • Submitting and reviewing only your own articles. Do you self-promote this often in real life?

  • Submitting a story from another social news site to StumbleUpon for more visibility and eyeballs. Once upon a time, I stumbled upon a Digg submission of a Sphinn submission of a blog post. Seriously? Why don’t you just submit the blog post directly instead of using the other sites as conduits? This infraction goes for all social sites that accept submissions, and not just StumbleUpon.

Blogging and Commenting

  • Commenting on other articles and using the name “Yellow Brick Plumbing.” Isn’t your name actually Alan? There’s no SEO value to these comments (they’re nofollowed by default), and all this approach does is makes you lose credibility in the eyes of the blogger. This isn’t the way to network!

Definition

A link that has a nofollow attribution means that search engines won’t actually place link authority when traversing through websites. By default, links are not nofollowed, but due to the heavy spam impacting blogs, all comments have this designation. You can turn it off with certain plug-ins, but it’s not recommended.

  • Using content from another blog without attribution. Sometimes a specific blog will get an exclusive. Then another blog will write on the story using the original blog post as its “source” without attribution. Even popular blogs will rip off stories from lesser-known blogs in their space. Don’t let greed get in the way of your own blogging habits, and make sure to link out where appropriate.

  • Sending a pitch to a blogger requesting a link exchange even though your site has no relevancy at all to her content. I write about social media, people, not about beer bongs. And, well, they say that social media is the new link exchange, so instead of asking for an old-fashioned link (which might have worked in 2002), consider using a more viable strategy for this modern time period.

  • Turning a blog into a flame war against someone you don’t like. Scott Hendison recounts how forum spam turned into a heated battle that may end up going to the courts, and how the individual responsible for the abuse is not slowing down.[121] If you’re wrong, acknowledge the wrongdoing and don’t use other blogs to tarnish someone else’s image.

Other Social Sites

  • Joining a new social network and then inviting everyone you’ve ever emailed in your lifetime to the service by submitting your entire Gmail address book when the service requests it. Reading the fine print is wonderful—and you should never volunteer your email account’s password to the social site anyway. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that your email account password should not be the same as your social profiles, and that’s not a question of etiquette—it’s common sense!

Finally, a Word on Social Media Etiquette in General

You’re leaving your digital signature on the Internet right now. Think about the consequences of your engagement on any social site. Racial slurs, criticisms without warrant, and blatant abuse don’t work in real life, and they likewise have no place in the social media channels simply because you are far more anonymous on these sites. If you were living in New York and you walked up to a stranger with the same foul-mouthed comments that are rampant on many social media sites, you may never make it home. Consider how your comments will be perceived before you actually post them and think about logic before emotion at all times. Above all, think about maintaining a certain level of professionalism, since people can use whatever you make “permanent” on these sites against you. Not all blogs will remove a comment after you’ve requested that they do so, simply because you were angry when you wrote it. Before you hit “post,” realize that this will be a permanent reflection of your identity and that it may never be erased. It may even be used against you.

Conclusion

Remember that social media communities are real relationships and real conversations, and you should treat them as such. It’s not a me, myself, and I mentality. It’s about the collective, the community, and the common good.



If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of The New Community Rules.

Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.