Social Media Etiquette for Professional Use

by | Dec 5, 2019

We need to establish the correct social media etiquette for professional use

We use it casually every day, but now we need to work out the best social media etiquette for professional use. Remember, your whole reputation could be gone with just one click.

Social media is now part of our everyday life. Facebook has more than a billion users every month worldwide. Twitter and LinkedIn boast hundreds of millions of active accounts. You would have thought that given that it is intrinsic to our daily lives, social media etiquette for professional use wouldn’t be necessary. But it seems that it is. A careless tweet or an ill-considered LinkedIn comment can come back to haunt us. Poor social media etiquette can damage our reputations and even cost us our jobs.

Social media is supposed to be... social. However, there are certain ways to engage with your connections and followers, and there are patterns of behaviour that can alienate those around you. It is clear that the general level of discourse in the public domain is much coarser than it once was. Online activities allow individuals with axes to grind and agendas to promote to hide behind an invisible internet persona.

Today, we are not talking about fake news or other politically driven dialogues. What we will cover is basic professional interaction. Even though it is possible to apply strict privacy settings, an ill-advised exchange can have serious repercussions.

It’s important that you use your professional social media presence as a way of building and extending your personal brand.

Social media etiquette for professional use

1. Choose your content wisely

Some of us are passionate about what is going on in the world and want to use our social media accounts to make an impact. Try and make your thoughts on polarising topics such as politics, or religion, as considered and non-inflammatory as you can. If you can’t or don't want to, think about setting up a separate account. Even then remember that there are ways to dig deep behind privacy settings. You are not a celebrity so it’s unlikely that someone will do that, but just factor in that there could be consequences.

Dorothy Dalton, CEO of 3Plus International, told me: “There is a new discussion around posting and tweeting on issues which are important to us personally. They reflect our views, values, belief systems. But to counter that, they are also an indication of deeply embedded biases and attitudes. The question is whether they are going to follow us into the workplace and impact our decision-making. Or are they a form of authentic expression separate from our professional lives? Adding a disclaimer may be enough for any organisation, but what about a legal process?”

Dorothy recounted a story of an HR Manager who had energetically re-tweeted Katie Hopkins (an alt-right commentator) over a long period. Those tweets were used against her in a race discrimination case. You should always prioritise professional priorities. Make sure you make a conscious decision, understanding that if you decide not to, there may be consequences

2. Be careful about images

In a professional setting be careful about the photos you post and that anyone else posts of you. Avoid doing anything offensive or foolish - these things do come back to haunt. Make sure you are not tagged in dubious photos. You don’t have to accept a tag if requested.

3. Give before you receive

Social media platforms are a good way to self-promote, but try and follow the 4-1-1 rule as a protocol for engagement. This was an approach developed for Twitter but works well applied to other platforms too. After you post something about you – share at least four posts or content created by one of your network contacts.

4. Don’t highjack someone else’s thread

If you comment on content posted by another person, DON’T hijack the thread by inserting your own link in a comment box. This happens frequently with inexperienced users who add one of their own links in a “What about me” way. It comes across as desperate and needy. It is a basic newbie error and a good example of poor social media etiquette for professional use. Instead, post a separate thread and add "Inspired by @xxxx." This way you make your point and compliment a colleague. If you tag her, then she is more likely to share the post.

Online networking is crucial these days, no matter how much you have on. So check out our Daily LinkedIn Routine for Today's Super Busy Women.

5. Funny to you maybe...

You may find something funny, but someone else’s joke can be hurtful. Humour doesn’t always travel across cultural boundaries so pay attention when sharing something you think is humorous.

6. Don’t feed the trolls

Don’t get involved in online spats or engage with trolls who are planted (sometimes paid) to enrage and inflame. Block, report and move on.

7. Avoid Over-Sharing

Many find the sharing of personal experiences with their online networks cathartic. The general rule is that if you have a problem, and feel the need to explain it at length, call your friends. Or maybe even try a coach or counsellor. Oversharing has its downsides.

8. Don’t mislead, misinform or misrepresent

It should seem obvious, but you are who you are. There should be no need to upsell or mislead. Your online presence should reflect the true you– perhaps a better version of yourself even, but not some fantasy of who you would like to be in another life.

9. Don’t tweet when tight

It used to be don’t dial when drunk - now online it’s don’t do anything under the influence of any substances. If your perception is altered then it’s likely that your judgement will be too.

10. Be judicious about tagging influencers

If you want to get engagements on your posts, use discretion about tagging influencers. Some might argue that they are in that position because of their followers. Others share success stories from having done that. Social media does give you access to all sorts of people, but for most of us, this falls into the desperate and needy trap.

11. Reciprocate

If you are not a celebrity, you shouldn’t have more followers than you follow. The key point about social media is to engage. Comment constructively on other people’s posts, thank if RT’d and so on. You are not an island, so to make it work you have to reach out and participate in a way that will enhance your professional reputation.

12. Be courteous and professional

Essentially, it’s about treating others as you would do in person. Social media is fast, exciting and moves at a different pace to the real world. Something that might only impact your immediate physical circle can get retweeted and shared in seconds. You are one click away from literally any consequences, and even deleting doesn’t always work. Remember the words "screen shot." It’s important to anticipate the impact of words, pictures, and videos.

Online platforms are open and democratic, but they can close ranks against you and damage your reputation just as quickly as they can make it. Following these basic rules of social media etiquette for professional use can make a difference. What would you add?

If you are having problems, don't overshare online. Get help from one of our professional and experienced Career Coaches instead. Find out more HERE.

3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Leadership and Competence Building or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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