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.

Free socia media ethics and etiquette templatePersonal 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.

Why People Are So Angry On Social Media And In Their Cars And What You Can Do About It.

The other day I saw a woman verbally assault an older lady for changing lanes. The outburst was so loud I heard it driving in the opposite direction. It was also physically violent with shaking fists and offensive gestures directed at someone’s grandmother. Why can we be so mean and nasty when we’re behind 2-tons of steel when acting this same way in person would be unacceptable?

WebMD explains that road ragers don’t view other drivers as a person. Psychologist Ava Cadell says, “Road ragers don’t think about other people on the road as real people with real families.” We see this in social media as well. Research has shown that online anonymous commenting breeds mean-spirited and sometimes downright nasty attacks. People who intentionally post negative messages are referred to as Internet Trolls.

Why all the intentionally negative comments? A new study “Trolls Just Want To Have Fun” found online trolling can be a form of sadism. They post comments or messages to start arguments or get an emotional reaction from others. I’ve been telling my son, in the context of middle school, if someone calls you a nickname you don’t like, the last thing you want to do is get mad saying, “I don’t like that!” That will only make them call you it more! Apparently we can revert to middle school when we get behind the wheel or a smartphone.

Brands can become the target of all this hatred and it can seriously hurt business. Dimensional Research reports 86% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews and most of these negative reviews happen on online ratings sites. What can marketers do?

There are new online reputation-management services, but The Wall Street Journal says many are falsely claiming that they can remove bad reviews. Yelp warns to stay away from services offering to remove negative reviews or otherwise boost your ratings for a fee saying it can’t be done. Angie’s List agrees saying that bad reviews can not simply be wiped off the site. Instead, Google suggests reducing the visibility of negative content by publishing useful, positive information and not trying to game the system.

eInsurance gives us insight into dealing with road ragers that could also apply to trolls. They advise that it takes two to start a fight. So don’t confront or over react to highly negative comments. William Comcowich of Cyber Alert gives similar advice saying “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” Avoid the following types of responses to negative commenters:

  • Emotional responses. If a post makes you angry, wait an hour before responding. Once a negative response is out on the Internet, you can’t take back.
  • Wrong information. Negative commenters live to prove you wrong. Make sure what you say is true and up-to-date.
  • Lengthy explanations. Long responses trying to prove you’re right merely give the attention they want and provide ground for new arguments.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore legitimate complaints from customers. If you honestly made a mistake, acknowledge it in a short and friendly manner. Humility and fixing something can go a long way towards turning a foe into a friend.

Of course there are exceptions. Some have grown tired of the power of ratings over their business and are fighting back against the rating sites. Botto Bistro has started a campaign to discredit the restaurant’s Yelp rating. It is running ads encouraging its customers to leave one-star reviews for 25% off any pizza to become the worst-rated restaurant in the Bay Area. As you can see below, the one-star ratings do come with somewhat sarcastic negative reviews that leave an overall positive impression.

Whether you are dealing with an angry driver, commenter or middle schooler, it is best to try and diffuse the situation.