Social media. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. It’s also a big part of shaping our personal brands. With so many of us carrying out a significant part of our lives online, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the unspoken online etiquette of social media, particularly Facebook.
I asked Susan Heaton Wright, voice and communications expert, for her thoughts here. She explains:
“Online conversations and networking are interesting concepts. Because you can’t hear the nuances of the voice when people speak – or their body language, you are reliant on what people actually write and the accompanied emojis or photos. In its best form, it is great. But it is a noisy place, Facebook; and rather like a busy pub or party, people show up with their own worries, levels of sobriety and emotions. But, like any party, there are people who annoy you – you know the ones who talk at you, or who aren’t interested in listening to you. There are those who make loads of noise: who are in your face; who make comments you don’t agree with; who don’t listen. They want an audience, and they are on Facebook.”
Susan’s analogy intrigued me, so I decided to take a closer look with an informal survey of Facebook users. After all, what better way to understand social media etiquette than to ask the users themselves? I specifically chose to focus on Facebook as it’s the largest social media platform, and asked two simple questions: “What do you hate seeing people do on Facebook?” and “What engages you?”. Here’s what I found:
This of course includes careless grammar but also posting pictures without discretion (some participants described this as “inconsiderate tagging, adding or sharing”). I’ve also included the posting of inaccurate information here.
“Dumping the entire night or event’s iPhone snaps on FB without editing/removing dark, blurry and unflattering photos.”
“I absolutely hate poor spelling and grammar (e.g., “your” when they mean “you’re”).”
“I hate being tagged with photos of me that are clearly unflattering.”
“Re-appropriating (not sharing) all your new (hard found) content in your private group on their own page, group or profile on the same day or within hours of your post!”
“Tagging: whether this is a photograph or post to lots of random people. If the photo has you in a compromising position it could have sad consequences – as one of my clients found. His fiancée saw a photo of him cuddling up to another woman and broke off the engagement.”
“I’ve seen a number of posts in recent months, particularly ones with political slants, that simply are not factual. It seems we are moving backwards with the widespread sharing of misinformation, and now live in Orwellian times when facts simply don’t matter. However, when you don’t check your facts and post nonsense to justify your political beliefs, you just end up looking a bit silly, or worse yet, downright ignorant.”
One respondent pointed out that the way we respond to these posts is also an important part of social media etiquette:
“Another piece of etiquette I think is important is the responses to the more nutty posts and comments. There are loads on my stream about the MMR jabs and autism. Still. I have my own views on this, and realize that any rational response or opposing view is not going to end prettily – and partly because what I would have responded might not have been construed in a positive, constructive way and my response would have been PUBLIC! Likewise, someone posted an extraordinary post saying that PTSD “like what servicemen have” is something we all suffer from – we can ‘catch’ it after a common cold…… After the initial disgust, I decided not to respond – realizing this person was not in a good place.”
At the same time, another participant believed it was important to address misinformation.
“Given the widespread misinformation as propaganda on Facebook and the damage we’ve seen it cause, especially in America, I do think it is critical to carefully and thoughtfully respond to these posts with accurate information. Hopefully by present alternative views that offer fact-checked information, we can limit the amount of harmful and insidious misinformation out there.”
Oversharing of information (or over-disclosing) was a popular pet-peeve. This included disclosing too personal information, posting too often, and posting about “every little thing”. This differs from more careful, strategic disclosures (e.g., sharing a condition or experience to raise awareness).
“Keep some things to yourself. If you wouldn’t announce certain facts to a room of acquaintances, don’t do it…”
“Over-disclosing intimate things such as certain medical conditions can have an opposite affect in that they can make people feel uncomfortable or even turn them off. What’s more, it can also come across as attention seeking. Oversharing these personal disclosures runs the risk of being associated with your illness, probably not what you want to be known for!”
“General over-sharing: there is someone in my stream who live FBs from ‘her death bed’ with some incurable disease. Then two days later, she’s arranging major deals with international clients to change their businesses. There was no filtering; it was a constant stream of communication to everyone. And more than one person has said to me that they wouldn’t work with her, because of her health issues… “
“Over-sharing of personal stuff; sharing too frequently; grandmothers who post far too many gushing posts, etc.”.
“The ‘friend’ who posts, live FBs, PMs you constantly with blanket information about themselves, without taking a breath to listen or respond to you. I have had to ‘unfollow’ those people – only to find the Live FBs then clog my stream and FB notifications – then when I manage to find how to switch off these, the darned person then starts sending posts to my messenger with ‘their day’ information. Phew, I’ve managed to mute those too…. TOO MUCH – and my first etiquette comment would be to not overshare. Please.”
This includes “spamming” with a product or service, proselyting and forcing or hijacking a conversation.
“What I find really annoying with Facebook is when people who just recently send a friend request and then start spamming your page or message you with something they want to sell. It’s a bit like asking you to get married on the first date! Also, when people constantly self- promote – I find it very “in your face” and quite a turn off.”
“Plenty of people create FB pages and groups. Wonderful. I have got a lot out a number of groups. Some people just add you to a group, GGRRR!”
“Over sharing their opinions and using Facebook as some soapbox”.
“Anything with an –ism at the end is rarely a good idea, whether (overt or implicit) racism, sexism, discrimination, etc.”
“Another annoying thing is when you get invited to be in various games – and inevitably they go into messenger and you get alerted. These blanket invitations are annoying!”
“I also hate people who use FB to overtly sell their products & services.”
“They just spam the group with their business services GRRRR! Or – and this really annoys me, when someone asks for a recommendation, of course there are various people mentioned, then someone says “The only person to talk to is X” – of course they are being supportive to a friend, but if you were in a group with these people would you be so disrespectful???”
“People hijacking posts and changing the conversation to their own agenda.”
Passive aggressive or vague posts.
This was one of my personal pet-peeves so I wasn’t surprised when this came up. This is when people make public insults, threats or express hurt or disapproval towards unidentified “friends”. This includes “vague-posting/vague booking”, which is defined as an intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or possibly a cry for help.
As one survey participant vented:
“People who air dirty laundry on Facebook or write cryptic messages to piss someone off! Fortunately, on Facebook you can unfollow people so you stay friends but don’t see their posts. I’ve done it to a few friends who keep writing nonsense – i.e. “why do people always feel like my kindness can be taken for granted! I’m a good person and I don’t deserve this – you’re lucky I haven’t gotten rid of you this time” blah blah! Stuff like that or to seek attention in some way where people comment “oh if you need to talk, call me” or “hugs” lol – things like this are personal – and a message privately to whoever – so bloody annoying!.”
“The worst is when public threats are made, “You know who you are!” type thing. I see this more frequently with younger users, but have also seen this on my feed from adult users. It’s just a bad look. Please directly message the person and resolve your issues in private.”
Losing your identity to your kids.
This one hits at the very core of personal branding. In short, this is when your own online image gets usurped by pictures of your kids or pets.
“When friends use pictures of their children as their profile picture. It almost suggests that once you have kids, you lose your sense of identity completely. Once and a while is perhaps ok, but please remember that you still get to have your own identity after children!”
“Using your kids or pet as your profile picture. You are not your kid.”
“Posting anything and everything about your kids. I don’t give a crap. And they are rarely as cute or as interesting as you think they are. Dogs are much better.”
On the other hand, people did have some positive things to say about Facebook and here authenticity and usefulness seem to be important themes:
“Being able to share good news, get advice in groups or even reach out when you are feeling down are wonderful.”
“Positive videos engage me (but not too long). I love live broadcasts – but I don’t want just any – mainly business people or women with a good message, positivity and inspiration! I like groups on Facebook – again, mainly business, inspiration, etc “
“The sense of community. The connecting (and re-connecting) with friends, and the ability to share my life with them, and vice-versa.”
“In its best form it is great: I have connected with one pupil I taught when he was 8 years old in Kenya. It is a real privilege to keep in touch with him, and my husband’s family – many of whom are based in Australia. Keeping in touch with people across the world who we know need our support with floods (my friend Jenny who is in India where there are floods), bush fires (husband’s cousin), checking people are okay (my assistant who was in Barcelona when the terrorist attack happened).”
“What I do like on Fb is interesting stories (life stories where people are real) and engaging- those would be the people that I would more likely be following. “
“I’m engaged by good news and updates supported by photos that capture the magic moments of life.”
Taking the Good and the Bad
So people really do love it AND hate it…and use it. With more and more awareness of etiquette, perhaps Facebook has the potential to become a bit more civilized of a party. I’ll end with a final helpful reminder from Susan:
“Facebook, whether you like it or not, is public unless you set up some really strong privacy settings. Sharing EVERYTHING is going to bite you in the future, because you are going to leave a virtual ‘footprint’ of your activities. Once it is out there, you can’t take it back. So think before you post; is the post something you will regret saying later? Will the photo damage your reputation or personal brand? Recruitment execs do look at your virtual footprint, including Facebook accounts, and it could impact your success in getting a job.
At my son’s school they have a rule about social media: only write on social media what you would be happy for your mother to read.”
Not a bad rule!