When we're out in the real world, interacting with friends, family, co-workers and strangers, there are unspoken rules that guide us. Yet as we move our social interactions online, especially to social networking websites, do the same rules of etiquette apply?
Typically different rules of netiquette apply depending on the site.
These differences are because each site has different functions, goals, and demographics, resulting in a different culture on each site. For instance, Twitter focuses on the sending of brief text messages, and has a diverse demographic audience. On the other hand, LinkedIn focuses on keeping businesses and professionals connected, and has an older and more educated demographic.
Here are a few rules of netiquette for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, the most popular social networking sites.
Many of these rules could easily apply to sites like YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. When joining a new social media site, take some time to observe other users before jumping into the conversation, and you’ll learn how that site’s culture differs from others.
Asking a stranger to become your friend without a proper introduction is generally discouraged. Generally, Facebook users only friend people they have met in person. If you want that person to join your network, explain the reason and who you are.
Facebook is a useful platform for keeping up with what’s going on in your friends’ lives and sharing what’s happening in yours, but keep in mind that there is such a thing as too much information. Constant, unpleasant, or offensive updates can be an annoyance and cause people to block or unfriend you.
Posting uncomplimentary pictures of friends and tagging them can lead to problems. Employers and police officers have been known to review social networking sites, so be sure to ask permission when in doubt. Do you want to be responsible for a buddy losing a job opportunity?
Accepting every friend request isn't necessary. Some people are selective about who they want viewing their personal information. If you're worried about rejecting someone, leave the request alone. You may learn more about the person later and decide to accept the request.
Using your personal Facebook account to market a book, software, or any other product is frowned upon. If you want to advertise, create a Facebook page and invite your friends to join. (Remember, don't pester them!) Pestering your friends to join a fan page, group, cause or application will likely only result in annoyance, not new members. Send the invitation once. If they don't accept, drop it.
Linking your Facebook account to your Twitter account can be tricky. If you're not careful, you may spam your friends' newsfeed with too many messages. If you're an avid Twitter user and can't control the flow of messages to Facebook, unlink the two.
Failing to maintain a full and accurate profile leaves others doubting your professionalism. Provide a full work history and explain what kind of work you're doing currently.
Asking strangers to connect with you just so you can tap into their list of connections is a questionable tactic. Admittedly, there may be times when you want to connect with someone from a specific company and must go through their connections to get there. That's what the introduction process is for. If you feel strongly about connecting with a stranger, take the time to write a message indicating the reason why, or connect with them via another medium first. Many business people will ignore connection requests if you don't make present a convincing case.
When participating in groups, seek to contribute to the discussion and keep self-promotion to a minimum. Inviting members to a group outside their field of expertise will typically end in failure. Don't bother with this tactic unless you want to be ignored by the LinkedIn community.
Asking for a recommendation from a connection who you don't know well is a waste of time. A half-hearted endorsement is easily spotted and is counterproductive. Be cautious about your recommendations of others. Although you may feel obligated to write a recommendation in return, only do so if you can be honest in recommending the person.
Making a new connection only to send a sales pitch disguised as a “thank you” note is sneaky and tarnishes your reputation.
Learning Twitter's slang and the use of hashtags is recommendable. The more you understand how to properly use them, the less likely you'll be to embarrass yourself.
Stating your message in 140 characters or less can be challenging, but take the time to spell properly and minimize abbreviations, which can confuse your message. Contrary to popular belief, spelling and a clear message count.
Following a user that follows you is optional. Don't feel that you must follow everyone that follows you. At a minimum, look at the profile of the person before you decide. If their “following” count is significantly greater than the “followers” count, it's probably best to leave well enough alone, since that can be an indication of a fake or spam account. Other red flags include a blank profile or image, or offering to exchange followers for pay (which is against Twitter’s terms of service).
Constantly promoting yourself and your work will cause you to lose subscribers quickly. Strike a balance with the occasional tweet of your product or service, a steady stream of relevant and interesting content, and interactions with other users.
The occasional request for a retweet is acceptable, but repeatedly requesting to have your information retweeted is annoying. If your followers find your content interesting and relevant, they will retweet it.
Using Twitter as your conversation tool can be tricky. The occasional reply using “@” is fine, but holding a lengthy conversation using the tag isn't acceptable. To continue the conversation, you can try using direct messages, or moving to another medium such as email.
Blogs, forums, and social news sites like Reddit and Quora are all places where you can ask questions, leave comments, and interact with others. Keep your comments relevant and limit criticism to the constructive to avoid flame wars.
Social Media Netiquette
Show Some Emotion
The lack of visual and audio cues when communicating over social networks causes us to do things we might not normally do in person. Consider prefacing your actions with the question, “Would I do this in a face-to-face relationship?” By doing this, you reaffirm that you're communicating with a living, feeling human being over a relatively emotionless medium.
It's also useful to include emoticons (keyboard characters that represent faces) to provide a clearer interpretation of words. They're particularly useful for expressions of sarcasm or humor that are difficult to detect without tone of voice or physical expression.
The Psychology of Online Interaction
You may have already observed that you and your friends interact differently online than they do in person. Significant research has given us a clearer picture of the disinhibition we often show from behind the facade of our computers.
This online disinhibition effect is essentially the removal of social barriers and restrictions that would normally occur during face-to-face encounters.
But why do we act differently on the internet? Why do we experience disinhibition? According to Dr. John Suler of Rider University, a number of factors contribute to this difference in behavior. When it comes to online communication, we tend to lose the visual and auditory cues that help us decode the intent and meaning of a message.
This disinhibition can be particularly prominent in the realm of social networking, which is based entirely on social interaction. On Facebook, for example, it's common for strangers to make friend requests without an introduction, a practice frowned upon with face-to-face encounters. While the rules of etiquette should also apply to social networks, disinhibition may cause us to forget that. It can also be a factor in cyberbullying, since bullies don’t see the effects of their actions when played out over an online medium, and it doesn’t seem quite as real or consequential – though to their victims, it certainly does.
As social interaction increases in cyberspace, it's important to realize the impact our words can have. Without the visual or auditory cues we take for granted in the real world, we may forget the humanity of those who read them. Social netiquette provides useful rules to avoid offending other members of our virtual community.