One phrase that adults today constantly heard while growing up was “observe etiquette”. They were, as kids, always informed that they must be of good behaviour in their personal and professional matters to excel in life. Thanks to technological advancement, we now have social media in place. Therefore, we now have social media etiquette to conscientiously think about and adhere to it to the letter.
Due to the instant power of communication that social media has, etiquette on the platform is interwoven in both the personal and individual lives of individuals and that of every organisation’s management and fortune. Indeed, any gaffe on social media can be gut-wrenching for an individual’s life and career.
Our readers will, therefore, through this piece, understand the meaning of social media etiquette, know why it is important and get tips on how to maintain decorum while online.
Before the meaning of social etiquette is explained, this piece will be a refresher course for all those struggling to remember what social media and etiquette stand for?
Social media is a platform that is made active by the various activities of human beings, who are the users and producers of the content eventually disseminated to other users in the online community through certain technological mechanisms.
On the other hand, etiquette is the set of conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society, particularly with emphasis on accepted social behaviours that accord with the conventions and norms observed by a society.
Therefore, social media etiquette simply means a set of conventional social rules regulating the conduct of personal and business behaviour online. It is deemed the guidelines that individuals and organisations are expected to adhere to to maintain and preserve their reputation online.
Simply put, social media etiquette is the ground rule or norm that defines how individuals should act on social media platforms. They are the dos and don’ts of how people are expected to behave online, which are similar to rules that guide human relationships in a social setting. These etiquettes can either be spoken or unspoken or written or unwritten, but they must strictly be adhered to in whatever form they are.
As stated in the prologue, social media etiquette is critical for individuals, businesses, and organisations, and they must observe them accordingly. This is because a single mistake can be a detriment to an individual or organisation’s aspirations, business goals, character, and standing in society.
There are various reasons why it is pertinent to be of good behaviour on social media and online, generally. They are:
Legal and security issues
Posting sensitive information on social media is likely to put an individual or a group of people in harm’s way or cause nuisance to society is considered offensive and punishable by law in virtually all countries of the world. Also, unfettered stalking and denigration of persons, especially slur posts that impugn and defame the character of individuals, are prohibited by law.
Indeed, there have been instances of people who have been sacked or forced to resign their appointment from their workplaces or been arrested by law enforcement agencies for disregarding the rules concerning ethical conduct on social media. In addition to the laws of the land, social media platforms have privacy and compliance laws, and organisations inform their employees at the inception of employment about their social media policy.
A blunder can cost an individual or organisation a lot in terms of your reputation and customer base. Therefore, individuals and organisations must ensure that people who interact with them on social media deem them as respectable and professional brands. A good impression, especially a first impression, always matters for brands and individuals, who are also brands themselves. People and organisations with proper manners and social skills stand out and are always preferred whenever a business opportunity arises.
The primary reason why individuals and organisations set up social media accounts is to engage people and espouse or promote their thoughts or businesses, respectively. To achieve such an aim, social media users must have to keep the tone of their conversation and engagement respectfully. Even when attacked, the response must be polite, civil, courteous, and, more importantly, educating. That is the only way individuals and organisations can win the respect of people and are then able to initiate more purposeful conversations.
Empathy/Acknowledgment of mistake(s)
No matter the purpose of setting up a social media page, the persons who operate the platforms are human beings who are emotional people. Therefore, while maintaining the purpose of your social media accounts, understanding the expectation of your followers portray individuals and businesses as empathic people. Sympathising with people in difficult moments and providing counsel are important because they help social media users grasp the complexity of human interaction and their followers’ requirements and needs.
Also, being empathetic means acknowledging errors/mistakes when committed and making an unequivocal apology to the person, people or group involved. It is pertinent to do so because errors are a constant feature of the characteristics of human beings who operate social media pages and platforms and a sincere apology remedies the problem hitherto.
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Being polite, courteous and consider1ate on social media allows individuals and organisations to be focus-oriented on their goals and objectives. By being focused and not diverting their attention, individuals and organisations concentrate on reaching their important goals and implementing their strategies into measurable, tangible achievements.
Knowing that the “Internet doesn’t forget”, even when posts are deleted but brought back to life by screenshots taken by sometimes overzealous ‘detectives’, individuals and organisations can utilise the following tips to ensure that they are not on the wrong side of social media etiquette:
Content should be rich in value
All content shared on social media by its users should be of value. Whether it is on a relevant issue, a planned or spontaneous matter, the content of every message should be well-defined. Individuals and organisations should share interactive, compelling, and educative content with their audience.
The inclusion of trivial details in public social media posts or private messages does not depict the account owner as a serious, responsible person.
Scrutinise every content before publishing
This is perhaps the most important etiquette to observe on social media. The posts and messages that individuals and organisations post are largely seen as reflecting and representing their thoughts and position. Therefore, you can be humorous but stay away from insensitive statements.
It is important to read every message before clicking “send”. Check for typographical errors and grammar mistakes. Also, social media users should not publish posts when they are tired, angry, or emotional, as it may be difficult to retract the messages published at that time.
Separate personal and professional/business pages
Those who own businesses or those in charge of an organisation’s page(s) subsequently operate multiple social media accounts on one or more platforms. One of the pages or accounts they use is certainly theirs, while the other is work or business-related.
Therefore, it is not wise to conflate personal thoughts and business messages on a single page, especially on the pages of businesses or organisations. There have been numerous instances of social media handlers who forgot to switch pages from their organisation’s professional page to their personal own, and ideas that ought to be on the latter were seen on the former. Such a disaster damages the reputation of a brand.
Interact with your followers/audience
One of the most important reasons for owning a social media page or account, aside from showcasing an individual’s lifestyle or promoting a business, trade, or an organisation’s showreel, is to interact with the audience.
So, it is not enough for social media users to provide helpful content to their audience. It is always best to interact and engage them consistently, especially for businesses and organisations. Respond to inquiries and questions on the various social media platforms on which you operate an account, and be civil and courteous in your responses.
Avoid sharing personal information
While attempting to be engaging with your followers, it is important for social media users not to share any personal information online. Be it employees or personal individuals; they must be cautious in sharing personal information online.
Such a person will not only be deemed as an irritant by other users but will also be putting his or her image, reputation, privacy, and security in jeopardy.
Post messages, but at intervals
This piece has highlighted that social media users should consistently post messages on their various accounts/pages. That helps the page to remain active and not be considered spam or fake accounts by the algorithms of social media networks.
However, it is important to state that the messages should be posted on accounts or pages at intervals. It is good to be present regularly on multiple social media networks, but the pages/accounts should not be overlooked with content. Except you are handling a bog’s page, about five to ten tweets, two-three Facebook and Instagram posts, and a LinkedIn post daily is enough. This helps provide a sense of semblance and ensures that the pages are not overcrowded and congested.
All social media platforms have their own rules and community guidelines. It behooves every user – individuals and organisations – to understand each platform and its best practices. Users should not know what is permissible and what is not permitted by reading the terms and conditions of each of their preferred platforms.
And since these practices constantly change as new features emerge, every user should be aware of all recent trends.
Be civil when responding to criticism
It is only natural that some people who are human beings will not always concur with whatever you are doing or have reservations over you as an individual or a business organisation. When such uncomplimentary remarks are made, you have to respond as the social media manager of your page.
So, it is pertinent for social media handlers operating both individual and corporate accounts/pages to keep their tongue-in-cheek while responding to criticism. Do not be too defensive and go overboard with your response; instead, respond gracefully by being open-minded, apologising when necessary, and proffer solutions.
Be original by avoiding plagiarism
Plagiarism is abominable not in academics and the creative industry but also in the online world. Originality means that every social media user should be able to craft the messages they intend to post publicly. With social media a critical part of the online world, which is now a “global village”, every post made public can be seen, even by those who lock their accounts.
Being heckled over content theft by social media users does no good to any individual or corporate brand; instead, it might harm their reputation. Such an action can even lead to legal repercussions via intellectual property laws. Suppose you are posting content created by another person/page/organisation. In that case, all you need is to ask for permission to re-post or acknowledge/attribute the source in your post rather than trying to play smart by owning it.
Avoid unnecessary begging for followers and bragging
At the inception of opening your individual, business, or corporate organisation’s social media pages, it is expected and permissible to ask fellow social media users to follow your page to build up your base. However, a slight that irritates most people is that some users, after a while, still request people to follow them by typing “ifb” or begging people for likes or retweets. Such an act feels very cringe, especially when such persons cramp under multiple posts and type “ifb”. It is a cardinal sin and turns people off or away from your page.
Also, bragging to your followers by showing off excessively is a no-no. You can talk about and showcase your achievements and stories, but you are not expected to rub them in people’s faces.
Hashtags are a very component of social media posts and usage. They come in handy when connecting you to other people or aiding the search for the discovery of your brand or organisation. However, overusing them by spamming is a big mistake. They portray you as desperate and, therefore, reduce the value of the content or message posted.
So, it is better to selectively and intelligently use hashtags. Using hashtags relevant to your post is even more appropriate, and it will help it gain online visibility.
Carve a niche for your page
Social media provides the platform for individuals, businesses, and corporates to strengthen their brand image. Therefore, social media users must use the platform to carve a niche for themselves, either as individuals or organisations. Build a positive brand image and be known for a specialised or particular subject matter and style of content. This helps you grow the page, which is then renowned and respected as an authority on such subject matters.
It is great to have a presence on multiple social networks as it helps to enlarge your visibility. But it is advisable, especially for businesses and organisations, to focus on specific social media channels, as focusing on all of them at the same time might be a risky thing to do. Making such a gamble means that you might not deliver quality content on the pages, as you will be left confused while trying to craft or tweak messages to suit every platform.
The sensible thing to do is to find which networks your existing and prospective customers are most active on. When that is done, focus on the particular(s) social media platforms where your target audience is largely domiciled.
Avoid complaining about your job or business
Some individuals try to use or mirror their social media pages to reflect their lives, and it is not entirely a bad thing to do. But what is quite resentful to do is to be bad-mouthing and going on a rant about their jobs, especially for paid employees. If you are upset or have any concerns about your job, utilise the appropriate channels to make the complaints instead of belittling the company on social media. Instances of people being fired due to their comments regarding their workplace posted on social media abound online.
The same also goes for businesses and/or organisations. Businesses and organisations face turbulent times, but publicly complaining about the conduct of customers/consumers or the failure of transactions, or the perceived inability or high hardnesses of regulatory authorities portray such entities as unprofessional. Furthermore, publicising the complaints rather than attempting to solve them through the right channels may also escalate matters.
Stop unnecessary tagging
This piece had earlier mentioned that social media users should not engage in the unnecessary begging of followers and other earned media metrics. This also applies to tagging on social media posts. Not everyone may be in favour or like the particular content to which they are tagged.
Before tagging someone in a post or photograph, try, as much as possible, to confirm if they are comfortable with or approve of it. It is also not a bad thing to seek permission before tagging anyone. While tagging in posts may seem harmless, its use for unsolicited, unapproved content may upset some people and could cost you friends, fans, or followers.
Complete your profile page/bio details
Ensure that all necessary details on your profile page are inputted at creating the social media accounts/pages and are updated regularly. Provide all the crucial information that people need to know about you, especially your full name or business name, phone number, email, profile photo, and address (for businesses).
You never can tell when your details may help facilitate an unexpected business deal or transaction or even help you in an emergency.
Every social media user – whether individual, business, or corporate – must be truthful and honest at all times. Honesty is the bedrock of all human relationships. When you are completely honest about the information you share on social media, there will be less trouble for you to face, and more people will be willing to interact with you.
In addition, with all manner of information being posted and circulated on social media, the most important takeaway anyone reading this piece should take is that they should not share any message or post without verifying and authenticating it. The circulation of false messages does not only harm one’s reputation, but they also, at certain times, cause a societal uproar, which then further leads to unrest, mayhem, and a total or partial dysfunction of society.