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Social Media Technology

The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Etiquette

Etiquette dictates much of our social lives, from greetings to table manners. As social media continues to transform business marketing, it’s important to understand the unspoken rules of interacting with others online. While every platform and online community will have its own norms, these business owners and social media experts shared their tips and pet-peeves for social media etiquette.

Employ the “Nana Meter”

Jennifer Porter, Owner of Satsuma Designs, has a simple metric for keeping your posts inoffensive. Use the “Nana Meter” – look at your content and ask yourself if you would be comfortable sharing it with your grandmother, grandfather or another older family member. If it would put them off, it could put off your audience. Your professional account shouldn’t have any aggressive or age-inappropriate posts, as that could reflect poorly on your business.

Porter’s advice for fixing the problem is to “consider revising [the post] until the tone or language is gentler and more inclusive.”

Avoid overpromotion

Your social media account exists to sell your product or service, and you should regularly feature that in your posts. At the same time, few accounts can get away with constantly pushing out advertisements. Followers are looking to get value from your content.

Sophie Woods, Owner and Social Media Insights Manager for Live Stream Shopper, emphasized this tip. “Audiences, fans and followers are not here to follow an attention-seeking social media brand. They’re here to engage with interesting content and likable personalities.”

Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Owner of Nolah Mattress Stephen Light shared similar advice. “Businesses need to incorporate 20 percent, at most, promotional content in their social media feed,” he said. “The rest should be value-filled content that aims to keep your audience entertained or educated. Businesses that only post promotional content would notice a slow growth in their follows count since social media users negatively perceive promotional content.”

Use hashtags carefully – not blindly

In the early days of social media, it was common to see hashtags on every single word of a post, making it a cluttered mess. Now, it’s usually only seen by inexperienced accounts. Hashtags are useful but should be used sparingly and intentionally. Link to specific events or general topics covered in your posts, such as #womenintech or #femalefounders. The number of hashtags to use varies by platform, but most accounts utilize one or two per post.

The most important aspect when using a hashtag is to make sure you understand its meaning, as Shukti Sarma, Head of Content Marketing and Brand Planning at BrandLoom, points out. When you see a trending hashtag, read a few posts to gather how it’s being used. Incorrectly tagging a post is a quick path to backlash.

Seem like common sense? Many accounts have drastically misstepped when trying to use a hashtag. One of the most infamous examples is DiGiorno’s advertising pizza with the hashtag #WhyIStayed – a tag discussing violent domestic abuse. The reaction was severe, and nearly seven years later, it hasn’t faded from public memory. More recently, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio thought that the hashtag #HereForCharli was meant to celebrate her. In reality, it was for musician Charli XCX after the death of a close friend.

These are extreme examples, but they underscore how careful you need to be with hashtags. Research first, post later.

Stay professional, and don’t overshare

This rule of social media etiquette rule applies to every account, personal or otherwise. Avoid posting when you’re in a bad mood and likely to say something rude. As CEO of MyCorporation.com Deborah Sweeney explains, any post can be screenshotted and shared without your permission.

“Employ a less is more mentality,” she suggested. “Don’t hare too many details surrounding your personal life or feel that you need to keep up with others. Share only what you feel comfortable talking about and the content that others have come to expect from you as a thought leader in your industry.”

Respond to others promptly and kindly

Many customers will use your social media accounts to interact with your business, either through direct messages or comments. Stay friendly when you reply but remember that you are representing your business. Here are a few guidelines.

Bryan Philips, Head of Marketing for In Motion Marketing, has a simple rule to keep in mind: “No matter what the customer says, always keep the mood positive. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen businesses interact negatively with customers because they gave a bad review or listed a gripe with the company. Even when a customer is wrongheaded and being belligerent, the best thing you can do for your business is approach the situation with positivity, graciousness and model care to that customer that is out of this world.”

Marketing Lead at Icewear, Harpa Grétarsdóttir, echoed this, adding that timely responses are also important. “Imagine yourself as a customer service representative. People view social media as a fast communication platform and the failure to respond to their comments may discourage them from buying your products and/or services.”

Avoid overstepping professional boundaries

As an entrepreneur, you’ll likely end up interacting with other businesses, publications or public relations representatives. You may want to reach out to these accounts to pitch your product or an idea for an article. You may look up their social media accounts and think, “if I message them directly, I can stand out from the crowd!”

Brand Strategist Blaire Brown calls this a misstep.

“After working in PR for several years, one of the hot topics editors would bring up consistently was how brands and individuals would send them direct messages to their personal Instagram accounts pitching products and article ideas. Let it be known: this is a big mistake!” she explained. “Editors remember people that break this unspoken rule, and the last thing you want to have happen is to be blacklisted from a publication that speaks to your niche audience. Keep it professional and send editors an email instead with your amazing products and brand news– you can thank me later!”

Learn social media etiquette through doing

One of the best ways to truly understand the ins and outs of social media etiquette is to become truly immersed in it yourself. You’ll pick up on habits and good practices from the accounts you follow. More importantly, you’ll discover exactly what pushes you to hit ‘unfollow.’

Have a personal pet-peeve or recommendation that you want to share? Comment below!

About the author

Laura Grant

Laura Grant is a recent graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring, and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day.

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