Seven Things I Shouldn’t Need to Tell You about Social Media (1 – 3)

About a month ago I signed up with Twitter and I have to say that I’m totally addicted to it. I had wondered what anyone could possibly say in 140 characters or less; it turns out that with clever use of links, one can say quite a lot. Even the short quips can be amusing, informative or a pointer to explore elsewhere.

The one thing I don’t always love about Twitter is that it’s a much more open platform than other social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. This is good because it enables ‘Tweeple’ to follow almost anyone they fancy. It’s less good because it means some annoying fools may follow you. But that’s not limited to Twitter, just easier. Even on supposedly professional networking sites such as LinkedIn there are some jerks.

Some behavior seems so obviously wrong that nobody should need to be told not to do it, but they do. So here are seven reminders about how to be nice on social media platforms. (Today we’ll consider the first three; the other four will be here Thursday.) They apply to almost any interactive virtual space.

1. Don’t Lie
I received a Tweet thanking me for a Direct Message I’d never sent to a man I don’t know and whom I don’t follow and who doesn’t follow me. Mistake? I looked at his timeline and discovered that he’d sent the exact same message to about 20 other people, all at the same time and using an automated Twitter client. Not a mistake–an outright lie. He got reported as spam. (By the way, I’m not against Twitter clients; I’ve been using HootSuite almost from the start. I’m just against automating dishonesty.)

On LinkedIn, which has a more formal process for inviting people to connect with you, I’ve received invitations from people I don’t know who claim to be a “friend” and use LinkedIn’s boilerplate message. While I’m willing to connect to people I don’t know in real life, I want to know why we’re connecting. Did I answer a question for you in a forum? Do we have a common interest or mutual friend? Did we work at the same employer, even if we never met? And use the option for “we’ve done business together” or something like that. Don’t tell me you’re a friend if you’re a complete stranger.

Bottom line: Telling a lie is a bad way to start a relationship. Don’t do it.

2. Don’t Hide
If you’re going to join a social or professional networking site, why disguise yourself?

Different sites have different rules about this. LinkedIn is strict, requiring all accounts to use a person’s real name. Facebook and Twitter allow members to use nicknames, company names, etc. But even if you’re not using your real full name, say a little something about who you are. Post a photo or picture that either is you or says something about you.

Bottom line: When participating in social networking, the social is every bit as important as the networking.

3. Don’t Cuss
OK, we sometimes cuss a little. People do that under stress or during moments of strong emotion. But don’t overdo it and risk offending people. Used sparingly, strong language has the ability to emphasize what you write (especially in a medium like Twitter, where you have very little to work with), but to maintain the effect it must be infrequent and appropriate.

One of my early followers on Twitter was a young woman (to judge by her photo) who used the ‘f-word’ in her bio. Not a Tweet–her bio! A little profanity in an update tells your associates you’re having a bad day. Putting the f-word in your bio suggests you have a low opinion of yourself, your followers or both. I blocked her.

Bottom line: Nothing you post on the Internet ever really goes away. Watch your language.

My other four “Things I Shouldn’t Need to Tell You about Social Media” will be published Thursday. Meanwhile, please leave a comment with your examples of things people shouldn’t have needed to be told.

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