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How to Practice Social Media Etiquette


Are there really rules for etiquette on social media?

As children we are all usually told to mind our P’s & Q’s. Etiquette is crucial whether its online, offline or otherwise – and very little changes throughout our lives. Social media like any other form of communication has its own nuances about how you should behave properly online.

How will it benefit me/our organisation?


Social media can be extremely beneficial for businesses and individuals. It is effectively cost-neutral and if executed correctly a well-targeted form of marketing.

  • A good ratio of sharing to promoting your own content is 3-4:1 as a minimum (the more you share about other valuable content i.e. less marketing messages, the more you get in return).
  • Be sure you only share content that adds value to your community – content which they’ll find useful.

Whist sharing your own content online (marketing), make sure it is not the only activity. Those who only share their own content are transparent and audiences online look at that as purely selfish and switch off quickly. If you share valuable content most of the time, people do understand that at some point you will want to share your own content/information.

How to build your brands reputation online:

Social media increases the scope and reach of your marketing activities significantly. It is also a great way to develop a ‘human face’  to the brand, tell your own story and ultimately sell your products/services in a much softer manner.

For your brand to become a respected source/expert within your industry you must add value with engaging content, be supportive and eventually others will treat you with respect. The following guidelines should be considered;

  • Listen first, talk second. When working on any brand, in order to understand the context of conversations and learn about our audience properly as a rule of thumb, we usually set aside a period of a couple of weeks to a few months where we actively listen. This is beneficial both for the brand in terms of helping you find out who you want to engage before you do – the industry’s key influencers and for understanding content that it relevant and engaging to your audience.
  • Engage key influencers. A great way to get your social media platform off the ground quickly is to engage those who are already well-respected individuals within your industry. Simple interviews or guest blog content offers (free of charge) are a great way to get them involved and helps to promote them to a new audience. From your business’ perspective, it gives you access to a dedicated and more importantly a targeted fan base quickly.
  • Be helpful, expect nothing in return. If you behave consistently like someone who is constantly willing to help others, others will help you without hesitation. Remember the mantra, “Treat others like you would like to be treated.”
  • Be professional. Social media and any mentions of your brand name on any social media platforms are indexed by search engines. If your brand appears unprofessional at any time, it can damage your credibility with potential customers and strategic partners searching for potential providers of your product/service in your industry.
  • Set expectations for your followers. Be clear about what you are adding to the ‘conversation.’ Providing a framework from the beginning in your bio, info and profile summary sections are a good way to do this. The key is to stick with guidelines you have outlined in these sections consistently.
  • Be reliable. Now you’ve set expectations, they need to be met consistently. Take for example, two businesses selling identical products. Company A engages with its community online constantly and is supportive of those who are a part of its fan base. Company B does not seem to be consistently engaging with its followers or answering queries when they arise. Which company would you consider to be more reliable?


Things to consider when demonstrating effective etiquette:


  • Say “hello,” and don’t forget “goodbye,” either. Imagine as if you are at a business networking events for those who operate in your industry. You wouldn’t come to a logical conclusion in a face-to-face conversation and just walk away would you? The same rules apply online also.
  • Be clear with people throughout. Social media is a transparent mechanism, people will soon know whether you are a trustworthy/knowledgeable source within your industry. Clarity is especially important as within a limited message field i.e. twitter, things can often be misunderstood/misinterpreted.
  • Be honest. If you make claims akin to a second hand car salesman or a rogue estate agent, people will soon switch off. It will certainly warn off followers quickly and the damage to your brand will be clear for all to see.
  • Be careful what you say – think before you speak. An example which highlights the importance of using your brain before you publish online follows, these are extreme examples and I hope they don’t apply to any of you. Say for instance if you made false statements about competitors or discriminated anyone, why wouldn’t you expect consequences? People make rash decisions saying things online which they believe do not impact them. Truth is, if you do anything that comes across as deceptive you could face legal consequences as if you had done those things offline.
  • Sharing is caring. If someone shares your content, thank them. If it’s possible, engage them in a conversation about the topic – enhancing your reputation as a specialist.
  • Reach out. The worst thing you can do is get stuck in a ‘social bubble.’ Engage with those outside your network – tell them about you and make it punchy. A great exercise for this is the renowned 15-30 second elevator pitch. Also those who are still following you, but you haven’t engaged with recently should be paid some attention from time to time. It will make both audiences feel valued and thus, more engaged with you and/or the brand.

Some quick tips for Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter

  • Only attempt to connect with people you actually know. Linkedin is self-policing, those who try to connect with loads of contacts that they themselves don’t know get a poor reputation within the Linkedin community.
  • Personalise invites. Linkedin sends a standard template when you request to connect. If you personalise it with, for instance, one fact about your relationship/relevant background to them, the more likely they are to recognise the value of the proposed relationship and connect with you.
  • Don’t buy a paid for account unless it’s absolutely necessary. Linkedin initially started as an interactive job board, the premium version is not essential for most. For the most part, the primary functionality is available in the free version anyway.
  • Listening first – again. If you listen and even get polling online, it can help you determine the content which is of most interest to your audience before you speak.
  • Keep private things private. As Facebook is very much in the public domain (yet it’s often perceived as private at the same time), there are numerous examples of how private (often extremely personal) information has ended up in the public domain. It has been reported over the last 12 months widely about how common it is that potential employers are finding out how people behave on Facebook before proceeding with an interview or even more crucially a job offer. If you say the wrong things, it could damage your professional reputation.
  • Separate business and pleasure. One of the most important things on Facebook is to separate business and personal content. It is worthwhile setting up a second personal account with your business’ name at the end of yours (which can be changed if necessary later on), to keep the audiences separate.
  • Status updates encourage conversation. As highlighted above, it’s about delivering valuable content so consider for instance, the industry as a whole or issues which affect it. This way the community values the content and additional revenue is more likely to materialise in the longer term as a result.
  • Tag pictures meticulously. It gets individuals more aligned with the brand and where possible, get branding in the pictures. The branding itself will show up in their albums  as tagged and can be an extremely effective brand awareness tool.
  • Vary your content. Providing different types of multimedia has been proven to engage audiences more effectively. So even if you haven’t produced videos yourself consider adding some relevant YouTube or StumbleUpon content too.
  • Sharing is caring – once again.
  • Keep it personal. Social media savvy people aren’t stupid, if you use an automated programme it removes the personal aspect completely. If used constantly, it will surely put off would-be brand advocates.
  • Thank people. When you get new followers, thank them and use their name in the direct message thanking them – adding the personal touch once again.
  • Never be aggressive. If you have a problem with an individual or organisation, keep it neutral as you never know how any potential customer might interpret the message in the future.
  • Don’t retweet unless you’ve read it yourself beforehand. Headlines can be deceptive. Unless you’ve read it, how can you put your stamp of approval on it?
  • Only provide the finest content.

Final thing to remember:

Tie it all in with other marketing/promotional activities. How will people know unless they are told?

Include images/tags/addresses of your social media presence in your email signatures, business cards, printed marketing material and where possible on your website. The more people who operate in your industry that know you’re on Linkedin the better.

Join The Conversation

  • Aug 22 Posted 5 years ago Robin Hensley (not verified)

    Hi Michael.  I agree that it’s of utmost importance to separate business and pleasure on Facebook.  As Nicky mentioned, you can create a page in your business’ name and keep that professional while still having your own personal profile for friends and family.  But with the advent of Google+ and its evolving features, do you think the division between business and pleasure will be more clearly defined or more blurred?

  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Michael Thomas (not verified)

    Hi Jane,

    Very interesting point. Do you think the increased clarity would enhance social media's credibility as a potential marketing avenue to avoiders? 

    Social media enables us to quickly and easily determine whether others are reputable like never before. This unrivalled transparency doesn't necessarily mean that things would change too significantly in my view. 

    On the other hand, I certainly understand your point of view on that in relation to the tone aspect specifically. Linkedin is a great example of an avenue where people make real business connections, in a much more 'professional' tone.

    However, you could argue that 'professional' networks with real people as opposed pseudonyms slifle the individual creative nature of social media. What are your thoughts?

    Speak soon,


  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Michael Thomas (not verified)

    Hi Lily,

    Much appreciated :). And in that spirit may I say a genuine Thank you for your comment. It always massively satisfying to recieve any form of praise/thanks, especially from fellow marketing peers.

    Best Wishes,


  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Michael Thomas (not verified)

    Hi Shirley,

    Thanks so much, its really nice to hear such good feedback. I often find one of the most challenging aspects is to provide content which a rookie won't get overwhelmed by, whilst still providing information that other marketers value. Certainly the issue of etiquette is an aspect that even the most advanced social media marketer may often overlook when using a vast array of social media avenues.





  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Michael Thomas (not verified)

    Hi Nicky,


    Thanks very much, I am pleased you enjoyed the article. Feedback is always appreciated, thanks for pointing that out too, will certainly keep that in mind.


    Best Wishes,


  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Jane Lockett (not verified)

    I think if individuals posted their real names, and not pseudonyms, the tone of postings would change.   Technically, it's possible to validate the accuracy of names and individuals posting.

  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Nicky Kriel (not verified)

    Love this article.

    There is one small point I would like to comment on, however; advising people to set up two personal profiles contravenes Facebook's terms of use.  You are only allow to have one Facebook Profile.  You can always set up a Facebook Page in your own name and/or your business name and keep that professional.  The advance of that is that your posts will be searchable on Google too.

  • Aug 18 Posted 5 years ago Lily Lee (not verified) Good tips. True, many forget simple greetings and thank yous especially on business page.
  • Aug 17 Posted 5 years ago shirley wilson (not verified)

    Very comprehensive post with lots of great advice. I think often people are afraid to put themselves out there on social sites because they are unsure of the proper etiquette espeically with each site having its own culture. But you are right even with all the little nuances of each site the basics stay the same. Thanks again...I'll be sure to share!

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