Social Media Etiquette & Ethics: A Guide for Personal, Professional & Brand Use.

With 73% of the world’s Internet users active in social media, 83% of Fortune 500 companies with social media accounts and 92% of recruiters using social media to find candidates social media is too important not to carefully consider your actions. Social media brings together our personal, professional and working lives in a way no other medium has before. How do we navigate this social landscape where our worlds collide and brands communicate like people in one-on-one conversations with consumers?

Etiquette is the proper way to behave and Ethics studies ideas about good and bad behavior. Both combine into Professionalism, which is the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior expected from a person trained to do a job such as social media marketing. Because social media blurs the lines between our personal and professional lives it is useful to look at actions in social media from three perspectives: Personal (as an individual), Professional (as an employee or perspective employee) and Brand (as an organization). To simplify the discussion I have created questions for each category in the Social Media Etiquette and Ethics Guide below. Click here to download.

freesocialmediaethicstemplatePersonal Social Use

If you think what you do in social has to do only with your personal life, there are facts you should consider: 60% of employers use social sites to research job candidates, 41% say they use social networking sites to research current employees and 26% have found content online that caused them to reprimand or fire an employee. Even if you try to keep your social profiles completely private 41% of employers say they are less likely to interview someone if they find no information about that person online.

The top types of content that turns employers off should not surprise you: Inappropriate photographs/videos, drinking/using drugs, discriminatory comments, bad-mouthing a previous company or fellow employee, and poor communication skills. The good news is employers can find information that causes them to hire a candidate including: background supports job qualifications, a professional image, personality fits company culture, a well-rounded range of interests, and great communication skills.

What about ranting? Rants blow off steam and make you feel better right? Research has found people’s moods decline after reading rants, and after writing rants they became more angry, not less. Forum moderator Bill Horne describes ranting as “watching others being burned at the electronic stake as they abandon logic, courtesy, common sense and self-respect.” In the end no one feels better. Recruitment professional Kate Croucher says about candidates, “If they are sharing lots of interesting things, and making insightful comments or forming strong opinions, and interacting with others in a positive way, it shows their ability to rally people behind them and develop effective relationships.”


Before you post or comment in a personal capacity consider:

  1. Is it all about me? No one likes someone who only talks about themselves. The same applies in social media. Balance boasting with complimenting.
  2. Am I stalking someone? It is good to be driven and persistent but be careful not to cross the line into creepy. Don’t be too aggressive in outreach.
  3. Am I spamming them? Not everything or even the majority of what you post should ask for something. Don’t make everything self-serving.
  4. Am I venting or ranting? Venting and ranting may feel good, but research says it doesn’t help and no matter how justified you feel, it never presents you in a positive light. Do not post negative comments or gossip.
  5. Did I ask before I tagged? You had a great time and want to share those memories, but your friends, family or employer may have different standards than a friends. Check before you tag people in posts.
  6. Did I read before commenting or sharing? Don’t make yourself look foolish by not fully reviewing something you are commenting on or sharing with others. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  7. Am I grateful and respectful? Don’t take people for granted. Respond and thank those who engage with you.
  8. Is this the right medium for the message? Not everything should be said in social media. Consider the feelings of the other person. Some messages should be given in person, by phone or email.
  9. Am I logged into the right account? There are too many corporate examples of embarrassing posts meant for personal jokes that went out on official brand accounts. Always double check which account you are on. Don’t post personal information on brand accounts.

Professional Social Use

As seen above, social media has blurred our personal and professional lives. As an employee or contractor you should consider how your social use impacts your employer. When hired you should always refer to the company’s social media policy, but here are some general guidelines to consider. Not only should your social media not hurt the company, but many companies today see your active personal social media use as a medium of advocacy for the brand. Also, anything you post now may impact your professional image as a potential employee at another company or organization.


Before you post or comment as a professional consider:

  1. Does it meet the Social Media Policy? Most organizations have official social media policies that you probably received when hired. Don’t assume you know what the policy says. Many employees have been fired for not following company social media regulations. Make sure you know and follow employer or client requirements.
  2. Does it hurt my company’s reputation? No matter how many disclaimers you put on your accounts such as “views are my own” certain content and behavior will negatively impact your employer. If your bio states where you work, your personal account represents your employer.
  3. Does it help my company’s marketing? Employee advocacy is an important strategy. Have a positive impact on your company’s image and when you can advocate for your brand in social.
  4. Would my boss/client be happy to see it? You may not have “friended” your boss or client but a co-worker may have and your post is only a share or screen grab away. Even private accounts are never fully private. Talking bad about a boss, client, co-worker or your company in general may not only hurt their feelings, but put doubt in perspective employers minds that you will do the same at their company.
  5. Am I being open about who I work for? It is good to post positive content about your employer and it is nice to receive gifts, but if you are trying to pass it off as unbiased opinion that is wrong. Be transparent about your financial connections.
  6. Am I being fair and accurate? Everyone is entitled to their person opinion, but if your opinion tends to always be unfounded and seems to have an agenda it will reflect negatively upon you. Criticism is welcome when it is constructive and opinion is backed by evidence.
  7. Am I being respectful and not malicious? People can get very insensitive, judgmental and angry in social media posts. That does not convey a professional image. Don’t post what you wouldn’t say in person. Even an outburst in person fades in memory, but a malicious post is there forever.
  8. Does it respect intellectual property? Not everything on the Internet is free. Check for or get permission to post any company or client brand assets and content.
  9. Is this confidential information? As an employee or contractor you are granted access to privileged and confidential information. Don’t assume it is fine to share. Do not disclose non-public company or client information.

Brand Social Use

For those who are responsible for creating and sharing brand social media content there are additional considerations to ensure you are helping to meet business goals and following laws and regulations. With 92% of S&P 500, 100% of Down Jones companies active on social media and 91% of retail brands using two or more social channels chances are your company is participating in social media through brand accounts.


Before posting or commenting as a brand on a social account consider:

  1. Does it speak to my target market? Social media is unique from traditional marketing and requires a different perspective to be effective. Be sure to focus on your target’s wants and needs not yours.
  2. Does it add value? Social media only works if people view and share it. Make your content educational, insightful or entertaining to grab interest and draw engagement.
  3. Does it fit the social channel? Don’t post content ideal for Twitter on Instagram or Reddit. Each channel has its own culture and community. Make sure each post fits the channel’s environment, mission and policies or standards.
  4. Is it authentic and transparent? Trying to trick people into clicking a link or making a purchase will get you nowhere. Don’t hide or exclude any relevant information.
  5. Is it real and unique? Bots can automate tasks and be a great time saver, but use them for the right actions. Don’t use auto responses and create anything that could be perceived as spam.
  6. Is it positive and respectful? It may be fine to talk trash about competitors or complain about customers in the office, but not in social media. Don’t badmouth the competition or customers.
  7. Does it meet codes of conduct? As professionals we are part of trade associations that set standards of conduct. Be sure you are meeting these ethical standards such as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics.
  8. Does it meet all laws and regulations? Government has been catching up with social media and have issued regulations and laws you must follow. See guides on requirements like the FTC social media endorsement guidelines.
  9. Does it meet the Social Media Policy? Most likely your brand or a client’s brand has a social media policy. Ensure you follow your own company standards.

The last consideration in all social media action from a personal, professional or brand perspective has to do with listening. A recent study showed that listening can influence up to 40% of a leader’s performance. Listening improves relationships and social media is based on relationships with friends, colleagues and customers.

The last question to ask before posting or commenting in social media is:

10. Have I listened twice as much as I am talking? Do you fully understand the person, organization or situation you are commenting about? We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Taking the time to pause and listen has saved many a person or brand from putting their foot in their mouth and given valuable insight into creating successful social media efforts.

This guide just touches the surface of social media etiquette, ethics and professionalism. For formal legal advice you should consult the official documents or more in-depth resources. The lesson here is to take the time to ask questions and think before you post.

For more insights into the big picture in social media strategy consider Social Media BookLogoStrategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution. Free Preview: bit.ly/QuesenberryFreeSample EBook: bit.ly/QuesenberryEBook Instructor Exam Copy: bit.ly/Quesenberry

A Simple Guide to Calculating A Social Media Marketing Budget.

You have worked hard in researching and developing a social media strategy and plan, but how much will it cost? Budgeting is an important part of social strategy and probably needed if you want your strategy to be executed. Few managers or business owners will approve any effort without first knowing the cost. Understanding expense is also an important step to calculating return on investment (ROI).

Free Social Media Budget Template

To help make the budgeting process easier I have created the Social Media Budget Template shown above. I have broken down costs into five expense categories and divided each category into in-house costs (to be performed by employees) and outsource costs (to be hired out). I also suggest calculating the percent of each line item under a category and the percent of each category out of the total budget to understand where you are spending most of your money. As you understand how each category is contributing more or less to overall success you may want to adjust percentages to match contribution level. Each item and category is calculated as a monthly expense and percent of total per these categories:

Content Creation covers in-house or outsourced time to write and design plus any fixed costs such as stock photos or video production. Estimate time to create the content needed for the strategy in a month. You can get an idea of how much you need from a Content Calendar. For in-house employees divide salary into an hourly rate. For outsourced help calculate by their hourly rate or their cost per piece or project.

Social Advertising is paid outsourced costs for reach per social channel such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Again, start with a Content Calendar and estimate how many posts will be paid native ads or promoted/boosted posts. Then calculate costs based on current rates per social media network. Because much of social advertising works on a bidding process many managers set per day limits. Thus, this category is estimated based on spending per day, per network multiplied by the number of days you expect to be running social ads in a month.

Social Engagement is the cost for employees or contractors to listen and respond to brand talk per channel. Listening and engagement are important activities in social media. They cannot be planned ahead of time, but you can estimate how much it may cost based on current activity. You could go back to or perform a Social Media Audit to get an idea of the level of customer activity on brand social media channels. Are there hundreds or even thousands of posts everyday day or a few dozen? From there estimate hours per day needed to engage all or a percentage of those customers per channel. Multiply number of hours by employee or outsourced rates.

Software/Tools covers monthly costs for social media monitoring and other automation software services. These software services and tools can help save time and thus money in other categories such as content creation and engagement. There are a lot of free tools, but to get access to advanced features and enterprise level service many organizations have to pay. This budget category is broken down into monitoring, scheduling and analytics as a first step. You may find it useful to add additional categories such as consumer research, automation, or scheduling software. Some tools may have one time costs but most are billed as monthly access fees.

Promotion/Contests are costs for prizes, discounts, etc. Besides buying reach through native ads, many businesses build audience and engagement through special offers, discounts and contests. Whether they are executed through a Facebook app, hashtag or unique offer code promotions, contests, sweepstakes, coupons and discounts have hard costs associated with them. In this category estimate those expenses per campaign. For example, you may have a summer campaign and a holiday campaign or campaigns that happen around specific holidays. If you have a social campaign built around a live event, don’t forget to include those costs as well.

Finally, add totals per month, per line item and category. Also calculate percent of each category and category percent of the total budget. This social media budget template is a good way to calculate how much a social media strategy will cost to execute, but how do you know if the total is too much or too little overall?

One way to put total social media budgets into context is to compare to competitors. In a Social Media Audit you may have uncovered insight that a main competitor is much more active in social media and seeing business success as a result. Your strategy would be to increase your social activity to compete and your budget is an estimate of what it costs to match that level of engagement.

Another way to put your total social media budget into context is to compare to industry standards. In an analysis by Content Factory they estimate that outsourcing professional social media marketing can cost anywhere from $1,000 per month to $20,000 per month. Admittedly this number is very broad. Another approach is to look at typical percentages of overall marketing spending and social spending. In other words, take your existing marketing budget and estimate social media spending based on current standards.

Nick Rojas of The Next Web points out that businesses spend an average of 10% of revenue on marketing. Yet, this could vary by industry. For example, B2C products companies spend an average 16% of revenue on marketing. For social spending a CMO survey indicates businesses now spend an average of 9% to 13% of their marketing budget on social media (expected to increase to 21% by 2019). Thus, a general guideline would be to take your marketing budget as a percent of revenue (such as 10%) and then calculate a percent of the marketing budget (13%) dedicated to social media. If your estimated social media marketing budget from the template above is significantly off from this general number you may want to go back and adjust the plan. Or start with the general estimate then go to the budget template to see what level of social engagement you can afford.

Budgeting in social media can be complicated. But taking a step back and calculating costs based on categories and in relation to marketing spending averages can simplify the process. If you are budgeting against a solid social media plan tied to real business goals with the right metrics in place a return on investment (ROI) will be justified.

For more insights into the big picture in social media strategy consider Social Media BookLogoStrategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution. Free Preview of the Detailed Contents, Forward, Introduction and First Chapter: bit.ly/QuesenberryFreeSample EBook: bit.ly/QuesenberryEBook Instructor Exam Copy: bit.ly/Quesenberry