The 5 Golden Rules of Social Media: Why Etiquette Matters and How To Get It Right

The rules of social media are generally the same as the rules for other social interactions: play nice, be polite, and try not to embarrass yourself.  In other words – follow the prescribed etiquette.

Etiquette is one of the ways we show respect for others.  It implies politeness and it helps to build relationships.

Social media is all about building relationships, so if you want to succeed at it, you need to know – and follow – the rules …

Rule #1: Be Positive

rules of social mediaMy mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

If you only follow one of the rules of social media etiquette, make it this one!

Research supports the idea that positivity improves social media engagement rates.  And building engagement is the key to success!

Brands that consistently use a positive tone have better online interactions than those who do not.

Facebook findings show that seeing positive posts influences people to post positive updates.  Conversely, seeing negative posts influences people to post negative updates, and an absence of emotion on their news feed leads them to post less overall.

One of the most interesting conclusions, based on these findings, is that Facebook users become less engaged when content on their feed becomes more negative.[Source]

And the effect of positivity is not limited to Facebook.   Twitter data shows that those with higher follower counts on Twitter have a proportionally lower percentage of negativity in their tweets than those with lower follower counts. [Source]

I know what you are thinking…

“What if the other guy starts it?”

It is easy to make happy, upbeat posts and comments when you are receiving the same in return.  It is harder to stay positive when responding to negative posts and comments.  And no matter how great your brand is, someone will inevitably have a complaint.

In this type of situation it is normal to feel angry.  You are invested in your business and someone is maligning it.  It can seem very personal.

But in the same way that you remain calm during face-to-face situations involving customer service, you must keep your cool with online complaints.

Regardless of your personal feelings, your response should politely thank them for their opinion, provide a general apology, and encourage them to contact you privately.

Example:  “Thanks for reaching out to us.  Sorry that you are having problems with _____________ (product/service).  Please connect with us via  _______________ (email address/phone number) so that we can discuss this matter and resolve it to your satisfaction.”

NEVER engage in a back-and-forth discussion of the problem in public.

When it comes to social media, my mother’s advice still holds:

Rule #2:  Blend In

rules of social media

The rules of social media etiquette are the same as the rules for face-to-face socializing.

To make friends and leave a good impression, you need to make sure your tone matches with how other people in the space are behaving.

While it is important to present a consistent brand voice across every platform, you must appreciate that there is a difference between “brand voice” and “tone of voice”

Imagine that you are speaking with someone about a new product or service. Your messaging about the features and benefits should be consistent no matter who you are talking to, but your tone of voice has to adapt.

Think about the language you would use if you were at a networking event and the person was a colleague.

What if you were in the workplace and the person was a client?  

What if you were talking about this subject over dinner with friends?

Each Social Media Platform is Unique

When it comes to tone, the rules are platform-specific.

Each platform has its own audience. And each audience has their own expectations about what they want to see on the space – and about how they want to see it!

As an example, let’s compare posting frequency norms for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Twitter moves fast.  Followers expect you to tweet multiple times a day and they will be more likely to see your tweets if you do.  Many popular brands tweet – and respond to the tweets of others – every hour.  Some tweet even more frequently!

Tip: Try posting on Twitter – and engaging with others  – at least every couple of hours for a few weeks. You will be amazed by how quickly your follower count and your engagement levels will rise.

If you posted 12-24 times a day on Facebook, you would not get the same results.  In fact, your follower count and your engagement rate might go down.

Posting that often does NOT match the expectations of Facebook users. It is an etiquette faux pas.

On LinkedIn, posting at that rate would be considered very aggressive and in-your-face.  Your tone on LinkedIn needs to be more formal and your posting frequency more conservative.  Once a day is probably enough.

The audience on LinkedIn are business professionals.  They want to share industry insights, goals, accomplishments, etc.  LinkedIn users are not there to “chat”.

Rule #3: Don’t Talk About Yourself All The Time

rules of social media

Don’t keep trying to sell people things all the time. It’s obnoxious!

Have you ever been trapped in a conversation with someone who just drones on and on about themselves?  

No one wants to be talked “at”.  And on social media, getting out of a boorish conversation is as easy as clicking “unfollow”.

Try this simple 3-step exercise:

  1. Make a list of your business posts (on a specific platform) for the last month.
  2. Cross off the posts that are actually ads for your goods and services.
  3. Next, cross off the posts showing you at events.  Or winning awards.  Or eating great lunches.  (Yes.  This seems to be something many entrepreneurs and professionals post on their business pages).

What is left after you delete the Me-Myself-and-I posts?  

If you deleted more than 20% of your posts, you are not following the rules of social media etiquette!

When you say the words “social media”, the image in your head should be ” SOCIAL media”.

Always see the giant red SOCIAL first.

No one wants to socialize with someone who only talks about themselves.

The rules of social media etiquette dictate that 80% of your posts should be adding value and brand building.  In other words, not advertising – but helping.

You should be sharing news and ideas, even if they aren’t your own.  The idea is to educate, inform, and delight.

To succeed at social media, you need to learn how to hold a two-way conversation.  This is one of the most basic tenets of socializing.

Brands that fail to follow the rules of social media etiquette – and continue to monopolize the dialogue – end up talking only to themselves.

Rule #4: Don’t Seem Desperate

rules of social media

“Please like me!” \ “Please share this!” \ “Please follow me!

Generally speaking, these sentences should be banned from your online vocabulary.  They reek of desperation.  And desperation is not the vibe you want your brand to send out.

In the non-digital world, people build popularity through the things that they do – not by simply wandering around asking people to like them.

Likewise, the rules of social media etiquette dictate that, to become popular, you need to stay positive, share great content, and interact with your followers.

It takes time, effort, and skill, to build a quality audience that is engaged with your brand.  That said, the potential long-term benefits for your brand are worth it!

There are lots of non-desperate ways to “encourage” people to follow you.  For example:

  • Make sure there are social media icons on every page of your business website.
  • Add share buttons to every blog post. And yes… your company should have a blog.
  • Insert engaging, interactive elements into your blog posts, like the “click to tweet” options in this article.  (You may want to check out some of my favourite free blogging tools, including Click to Tweet)
  • Try formatting some (but not all) of your posts as polls or simple questions that encourage engagement and sharing

And while we are on the subject of desperation…

Don’t Buy Followers. Period.

Getting your social media presence off the ground can be challenging. And discouraging. The idea of scoring instant popularity by paying for followers is tempting.

But it is cheating.  One of the unwritten rules of social media etiquette is that you are supposed to be making connections organically.

There is something “sleazy” about buying followers instead of earning them.

If the moral argument doesn’t matter to you, there are also more practical reasons not to buy followers.

The likes and follows that you purchase are not real people who are engaged with your brand. They are not going to buy your products and services, or share your content.

The followers you buy are fake and irrelevant.  And that means that the time – and money – you spend marketing and creating content for them will be wasted.

Rule #5:  Don’t Be Fake

rules of social media

When I say “don’t be fake” I mean it in the most literal way!

Like buying followers, automating everything can feel like a real time-saver.  And there are countless tools out there to help you automate your social media.

But social media is a constantly evolving landscape.   You need to be present.  You need to PAY ATTENTION.

When I talk about social media automation, I am referring to tools that automatically post content on your site using RSS feeds.  You set it up and then you forget about it.

Sounds too good to be true?  That’s because it is!

This type of automation means that you are posting content without even looking at it first. You are blindly curating content from other sites.

Like buying followers, automating all of your posts is cheating.  By definition, cheating is the polar opposite of following the rules, so it is obviously against the rules of social media etiquette.

The most obvious problem with automating your social media is that you effectively disengage with your followers.  You stop providing them with anything of value.

It is very hard to build a strong following if your only approach is automated posting.

Remember… It is SOCIAL media

Remember that it is ” SOCIAL media”.  When you automate everything, you are no longer socializing.  In fact, you aren’t even at the party!

There are also genuine brand risks associated with automated posting.  You may have set up the system, but you are not controlling what gets posted.

You may end up making 3 or 4 great posts, each linking to a really good article.  Or you may end up with posts that are irrelevant, off-topic, or even inappropriate.

An automated system does not follow local or world events.  As a result, your brand can end up posting something that does not fit the time.

For example, you could end up making a cheerful post on a day when something very sad and serious is happening.  This makes your brand seem insensitive and out-of-touch.

Not All Automation Is Bad

Please note that automation is not all bad.  There is a difference  between tools that take over your social media versus tools that help you manage your social media.

For example, I use Buffer to set up a calendar for posting.  When I am reading things online that I think will interest my followers, Buffer lets me easily schedule those articles so that they are posted on the right platform at the best time.

Tools like Buffer can actually help you follow the rules of social media etiquette by making it easier to post at ideal times, and easier to engage with your audience.

Conclusion: Following the Rules of Social Media Etiquette Is Important

rules of social media

There are lots of ways that being on social media can benefit your company.  It can generate leads, increase sales, and enhance brand recognition.

But like everything in life – there are rules.  Once you have selected the social media platforms that are best for your brand, it is important to follow the rules of social media etiquette.

✔Be positive.  Make sure your content and your activities match with what the audience wants and expects.

✔Focus on being social. Don’t just try and sell stuff!

✔And play fair.  Don’t buy followers and don’t fake it with automated posts.

Most of all, remember that it is called SOCIAL media for a reason.  If you want to rocket ahead of your competitors – SOCIALIZE!

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