The 'Me' in Social Media: The ONLY Online Etiquette Rule You'll Ever Need


My social media “creds” are all over the place.

I was a very early blogging adopter, didn’t “get” Twitter for years (then got hooked), and consider Facebook a giant bore.

All that to say: I don’t think of myself as some kind of “guru,” even though part of my “real” work involves managing other people’s social media accounts.

I certainly don’t have some Grand Unified Theory of online etiquette and best practices.

In fact, my one “rule” is about what you might call expectation management:

Don’t expect anything in return.

That is, whatever you say or do online, never expect or demand apologies, admiration, understanding, cooperation — or overnight wealth, fame, or results.

And that way, as the old joke goes, you’ll never be disappointed.

Bear in mind that right after I post this article, I will go on to violate all my own online etiquette “rules.” If  you google hard enough, you’ll be able to dig up all kinds of “own goals” I’ve scored.

What can I say?

I may spend most of my day hooked up to a machine, but I’m still human.

How many press releases, invitations, and announcements have you received that left out THE most important detail, like the address of the event, or even the date?

Even seasoned publicists make this gaffe.

They’ve temporarily forgotten to step outside their own heads and think like their intended audience.

Likewise with social media.

The biggest, most embarrassing mistakes occur when you forget the basics, and lose sight of mundane details because you’re caught up in big-picture excitement.

Did you really mean to “Reply All” to that email? Did you use “CC” instead of “BCC”?

Did you send out that rude tweet using your personal Twitter, or — ooops! — your corporate one, or worse, your client’s?

(I’ve done all that, and not that long ago, either.)

Yes, there is a lot of intentional nastiness on the internet, but some of that negative, depressing white noise is really a product of accidental human error.

Here’s a (fictionalized) example of one of my prize-winning screwups:

I started a Facebook flame war because I stupidly thought a guy — a pretty famous guy with lots of “friends” and a short fuse — was praising the IRA (the Irish Republican Army) when he’d in fact been talking about Roth IRAs.

So I exploded at him. He exploded back.

To their credit, some of his friends quickly and correctly speculated that I’d simply screwed up my acronyms.

I was tempted to run and hide, but I forced myself to apologize, taking full responsibility for my hot head and weird interpretation of his status update.

Here’s the key:

The fellow I’d accidentally dissed didn’t accept my apology immediately. It took him a while to mellow out. For all I know, he took to the wider web and called me a moron.

However, I let it go. I’d done my part.

You can’t control another person’s reaction to your reaction.

So if you’re the one at fault, say you’re sorry right away. (I know: it sucks.)

No excuses (except, maybe, “Need more coffee!” which, as long as it’s typed before 11 a.m., generates a modicum of sympathy.)

When appropriate, ask what you can do to make things right — then promptly shut up.

Don’t expect an award or acknowledgement of your magnanimity.

After all, that wouldn’t be very magnanimous, would it?

I don’t blame him for wanting to keep that sweet Aflac gig, but Gilbert Gottfried apologized for his “controversial” tsunami tweet all wrong.

By “comedian” standards, he hadn’t done anything THAT bad (although by “corporate” standards, he sure had.)

So obviously his apology was insincere.

And worst of all, it didn’t save his job, which had surely been the “reward” he’d been expecting.

(Language warning:)

So try asking yourself:

Am I tweeting this tip or news story because I sincerely want to help people, or because I expect praise for how generous I am (and think I can grab a few more “empty calorie” shorter-term Twitter followers in the process)?

Am I trying to sell something (especially something I don’t really believe in) but pretending I’m not? Sounds like spam. Don’t.

Am I trolling for cheap sympathy, cash, or a moment’s attention?

Notice all those “I’s.”

When we’re focused on “me,” we forget all the “you” stuff:

  • sending that email to the right “Bob” (and only him)
  • accusing @Bob of saying or thinking something he didn’t (because you’re in “holy self-righteous anger” mode)
  • posting or forwarding breaking “news” without checking that you’ve got your facts straight, because you want to be first, and this “news” confirms your personal worldview

This is especially true if you do the ultimate selfish thing and operate under a butt-covering anonymous pseudonym that gives you an unfair advantage:

You get to do all the accusing and insulting, without getting caught.

Until (as is practically inevitable these days) you are.

That sad tale above brings us to all those “social media cost me my job” stories.

What almost all of them have in common is a person operating in complete “me” mode:

Everyone will agree with ME that this nasty private gossip is hilarious/George Bush is Hitler/I’m an important person in a VERY big hurry.

Someone once defined good manners as “doing whatever prevents the other person from feeling uncomfortable.”

That is: it’s not really about memorizing lots of rules and pedantically using the “right” fork — but purposely using the “wrong” one, if someone else already is.

Anyhow: if you run your online activities through a reverse “what’s in it for me?” filter, you can save yourself a lot of grief.


Related at PJ Lifestyle:

If I Were Queen: My First 3 Acts Upon Becoming Your Beloved Empress For Life

7 Laws for Public Decency When I Rule the World