Seven Things I Shouldn’t Need to Tell You about Social Media (4 – 7)

On Monday I posted the first three of seven types of online behavior that seem so obviously wrong that nobody should need to be told not to do them. This morning I’m back with the other four.

4. Obey the Rules
Regardless of what anyone tells you (including me), you should read the rules, policies and privacy statements of any social media websites you register with. You need to know what you are and are not permitted to do on each site, and also what others may and may not do to you. The rules are different on each site so you need to check.

For example, LinkedIn promotes itself as a networking platform for professionals and they expect corresponding “professional” behavior. This includes using your real name and photograph (if you include one) in your profile–no nicknames, no cartoons or pictures of your kids. Facebook and Twitter are more social than professional and allow you to use nicknames, your company or organization name, and nearly anything that isn’t likely to be considered obscene or offensive. Still, if you are using Twitter or Facebook to promote yourself professionally–and especially if you link between either of those and your LinkedIn profile–you’ll want to keep it businesslike.

Other common policies include prohibiting “spam,” roughly defined as bulk e-mail promoting a business, service or product–or, worse, spreading malware. Some sites limit the number of people you can include when sending internal messages to limit spamming. Many also prohibit “scraping,” the copying of data (usually names, e-mail addresses, websites and/or user-generated content) for use outside the social media site, especially by the use of software to automatically copy data from a site.

Bottom line: Knowing the rules of a social media site can help you stay out of trouble.

5. If You Can See It, So Can Others
I’m always surprised when people behave badly in public, especially online where it’s so easy to see someone’s history.

In the example I used in (1), a stranger tweeted me supposedly in reply to a Direct Message (DM) I’d sent to him. Not only was it easy for me to review my own sent DMs and confirm that I’d never sent a message to him, I could view his Twitter timeline and see that he’d sent identical messages to at least 20 other people. He was a spammer, pure and simple, so I reported and blocked him.

Social media sites maintain enormous historical records on their servers, which are easy to find using a site’s own search function or a search engine like Google. That makes it simple for any moderately proficient user to review your past behavior and pass judgment on it–and many will.

Bottom line: The Internet never forgets. Remember that other users can see your past activity and many will look, especially if your present behavior raises their suspicions.

6. Participate
Now that you’re here, do something. I hope my first five warnings haven’t frightened you away, but rather given you some guidelines for dipping your toe into social media (if you haven’t already) or making your participation more social.

I’ve seen LinkedIn members with only one or two connections and Twitter members with no tweets! “I’ve just joined Twitter,” may look like the trite first tweet of a newby, but it’s a hundred times worse to write “I’ve been on Twitter for two months and this is my first tweet.”

As the great sage Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” When you’re getting started in social media, read, follow and learn.

If you’re not sure what to do after joining a social networking site, begin by reading and following others. Invite friends and connections cautiously, starting with people you already know. As you learn and become comfortable, you’ll relax and begin to expand your participation. You’ll also find your personal style, whether out-going and gregarious or closely focused on a few people or interest groups.

Bottom line: The key to social media is user participation. Don’t just sit there staring at your screen!

7. When in Doubt, Act Like You’re in the Real World
I could add a lot more, but it all comes down to behaving yourself.

Be polite, be friendly, reciprocate. When in doubt, ask for advice on etiquette. I’ve found that experienced social media users are happy to share their experience and opinions with newcomers. (Look at me!) Just as each site has its own formal rules, there’s a sort of corporate culture that develops on networking sites and even within sub-groups on those sites. Other users are your best guide.

Would you walk into a room full of strangers and start yelling? I hope not! Neither should you join a social networking site and immediately start posting lots of messages to strangers. And don’t type in all uppercase; that’s considered shouting. (Limited use of uppercase for emphasis is acceptable, especially on sites where you cannot use bold or italic fonts for emphasis–but use it sparingly.)

Would you immediately launch into a sales pitch with every new person you met? Then don’t do it online, either. Would you show up for your first day of class in a bikini? Then be careful about your profile photo. And as I recommended in (3), watch your language, at least until you figure out what is and is not considered acceptable in whatever online group you participate in.

I’ve actually met a few people in person whom I first met virtually. By the time we shook hands we had already formed opinions about each other through our online interactions. The line between the “real” and virtual worlds can be pretty thin.

Bottom line: Our first impressions of other people are increasingly happening online. Treat virtual relationships like the real thing–because they are!

Do you have other examples of bad behavior on social networking sites? Leave a comment with your examples of things people shouldn’t have needed to be told.

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