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 it 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.

Personal 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. 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.
  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 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.

To consider the bigger picture in social media marketing Ask These Questions To Ensure You Have The Right Strategy.

Is Facebook’s Privacy Policy Friend or Foe?

If Facebook ruled the world … we would walk a mall and would be able to see everything our friends have purchased. Sally picked up a nice leather corset, Jim bought a book on impotence and I see that Tom is constipated. Is this an exaggerating? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring the open graph to your life. It sounds like the Googlegrid predicted in EPIC 2014.

To me is 350 million user question is What do people value more – privacy or personalization? And will Facebook’s bid to control the web be at the expense of people’s privacy backfire?

Facebook’s latest announcements have attracted the attention of Congress. Last Sunday Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Federal Trade Commission get its privacy settings on social-networking sites guidelines together quickly. This came days after Facebook announced its plan to gather affinity data from all across the Internet with the new Open Graph platform. Facebook stores your Internet activity data and can push it to partners such as Pandora or Yelp to personalize website experiences, or to publishers to fuel recommendation engines.

This brings back memories of 2007 when CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to apologize for Beacon, a feature for users to share online activities outside Facebook. Bloggers’ responded with increased skepticism of Facebook’s new data collection and privacy settings.

Mashable responded with instructions on hour to disable Facebook’s “instant personalization,” a process to some appears difficult. Are the privacy threats real? Or is this simply a public relations mishap?

Somebody’s Watching Me

Did you ever have the feeling that somebody is watching you? Tracking your every search, click and purchase online? ISPs collecting web traffic data can make web ads even more targeted and effective. On the other hand it is kind of creepy. Some even say that it is the ultimate invasion of privacy. This is called behavioral targeting, which has been a very controversial subject. And many companies that practice it have faced litigation by privacy advocates.

We found out last week that a privacy lawsuit against behavioral targeting company Adzilla and its partners was recently settled. Adzilla stopped operating in the U.S. in 2008, but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. They did agree that they will “require opt-in consent of consumers or any consent that may be required to avoid violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act” should the company resume ISP-based targeting in the U.S.

This settlement leaves the issue unresolved as to whether it’s legal to target Web users based on data purchased from Internet service providers. NebuAd (now out of business) still faces a lawsuit for working with ISPs to collect data about users’ Web-surfing activity in order to provide targeted ads.

What makes this issue even more interesting is that the FTC, who normally sets advertising deception and privacy standards, came out with a 48-page report on behavioral targeting last year and really set no standards. Instead, they decided to let marketers self-regulate behavioral-marketing privacy issues, rather than introduce government regulation.

I believe rather than the FTC trusting marketers they are simply confused and don’t know what to do. The government has traditionally been behind when it comes to new media regulation and I think they are simply taking a wait and see position. I guess we’ll have to let the courts work out the standards and hope the industry picks up the regulation ball.

Are Bloggers More Sensitive To Spin?

Think about it. Most bloggers are not professionals and do not get paid for what they do. Mommy bloggers are blogging about their life. Professionals or consultants or freelancers may blog to promote themselves but in general do not get paid to generate blog content. (This is of course discounting the blogs started by professional news media outlets). Most bloggers write about what they are interested in. Follow them, learn what they are interested in and them give them the facts and resources– they will add their own spin.

Mommy bloggers called for a PR blackout this past summer after feeling the pressure to cover and review products that were sent to them for free. In the challenge they said, “With the allure of giveaways, reviews, and blog trips, Mom Bloggers have turned from what they love the most, their family, into working directly as public relations for their captive audience.”

This came on the heals of the new FTC requirements that bloggers disclose when they are being paid to review products. Fines for violating the new rule could run up to $11,000 per post. You can’t blame them for being a little shy of spin. They are mostly amateurs writing about what interests them. They are not professional journalist schooled in ethical and legal standards.
Sony Electronics recently did a blogger outreach with a personal spin–they targeted tech blogger dads. Instead of simply sending them gear they created the DigiDad project. This project encourages the bloggers to use the products as dads to document a field trip with a camcorder or use Sony’s new dSLR camera to snap family portraits (Brogan, 2009).

When you do something by choice you are less likely to put up with the spin. This demands a new approach from a PR perspective.

Does that make sense?