Courtesy in social media

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In some ways social media is a new world, even though it’s based on what people have done for millennia: conversed with each other. Courtesy still has an important role, although the rules online are not always so clear.

The online world and social media are both new and evolving. Some traditional forms of courtesy seem appropriate, but we have to develop other forms of etiquette as we go along.

Here we have tried to draw up a code of courteous behaviour for social media. Perhaps you agree with it, perhaps you don’t. What are your suggestions? This could be liable to change.

Being social online . . .

1. Be open, be visible

In the real world, people like to meet face-to-face to see who they are talking to. On many social media sites, we can complete user profiles and upload a photo to give a better sense of who we are. It’s courteous to use these to show that we are real people.

If your social media account is for a business, it’s still possible to show the human face of your organisation.

2. Stay safe online

We all have to keep our online safety in mind, so it’s good to establish what personal information we are comfortable giving out and what we do not want to publish. Everyone will set their own, different boundaries and we should respect these.

3. Welcome followers when you can

Greeting new followers or connections personally is a good way to establish relationships, but with hundreds or thousands of connections it’s not always possible. If you can find time for a personal greeting, many people appreciate it.

4 .Use automation sensitively

Automating contacts and messages can be very efficient, although many people do not like this approach.

If you do use automated tools to schedule messages, use them sensitively and target their use to avoid annoying people.

5 .Not today, thank you

People don’t like being sold to at business networking events and social media is no different. If you’re using it for business, build relationships with people as you would in real life.

If you publish a constant stream of adverts or links promoting products or services, people are likely to block or unfollow you.

6. Support the community

It’s not just about what you want to achieve, but also about helping others achieve their aims. Where relevant, pass on others’ messages to your contacts, respond to their requests and become a useful member of the online community.

7. Mind your language

Opinions will differ, but we prefer polite language. If you’re using social media for business, many will find swearing not only offensive but also unprofessional.

If people are already working under tough conditions, it’s one more thing they can probably do without.

8. Respect others’ reputations

While business and social lives tend to blur these days, it’s important to consider the effects of what we write and any photos we post.

Mock jibes or abuse of friends might seem funny socially, but someone on the receiving end could find them uncomfortable or damaging if bosses or clients see them.

Strong characters can laugh these off, but others might not be able to so easily.

9. Don’t explode

Social media can play a powerful role in bringing to light injustice or wrongs, especially when committed by institutions.

Sometimes it can also used be used to blame or name call in a fit of anger. But once a message is sent, it’s too late to stop it. Even if you delete your status, it could be cached somewhere. Very often anger is directed at the wrong target or just not deserved. This is dangerous when we assume the combined roles of judge, jury and executioner.

We must use these powerful tools calmly and in the right circumstances. If we act hastily, it’s easy to get it wrong.

10. Know your limits and respect others’

Some people talk incessantly, while others are quiet. What is chatty behaviour to some can seem over-bearing to others. If contact is one-sided, persistent and insensitive, people can feel stalked or bullied. We must not over-step what are acceptable limits for others.

11. Don’t check everyone in

Some people are happy to post their precise location and check into sites whenever they arrive or leave a place. That’s fine, but respect the privacy of those who don’t want to broadcast their every movement publicly. That’s their choice.

12. Accept diversity

People from all over the world, from different cultures and social classes and in different age ranges use social media. That’s what’s brilliant about it.

It also means we encounter people who think differently to us. Sometimes we can learn from it, sometimes not. We have to recognise and accept it, even if we cannot agree with some people.

13. Embrace debate

Social media can fuel robust debate. This is one of its most stimulating features, especially on micro-blogging sites such as twitter when views need to be expressed in just 140 characters. Challenging views in reasoned argument and with respect for other points of view is a powerful privilege and we should value it.

Being social offline . . .

1. Right place, right time

Many of us can now stay in touch online all the time as long as we can receive a mobile phone signal. Things are different in real life. Often face-to-face meetings need to be just that, not face-to-phone. There are some times when using a smart phone, tablet device or laptop are inappropriate. This differs from person to person.

2. Confidentiality

If you are with someone, consider whether they would prefer your full attention or are happy for you to dip in and out of the online world. There are some meetings, meals, public events or activities where many think it rude to tweet or post to facebook. It’s difficult to set rules, with different generations not necessarily agreeing, but do consider other people or you might look up and find they have gone while you were online.

There is a practice of sending tweets and updates from meetings, conferences and other events. Often this is acceptable, but it will depend on whether topics or activities can be discussed publicly or are confidential. We should satisfy ourselves, whatever the legality (eg in court or similar situation), that it is acceptable to the host or participants. If we are guests, our hosts just might not like it.

3. Avoiding bumps

Focusing on a mobile or tablet takes our eyes away from everything else. This can be dangerous when we’re walking down the street or carrying out other activities. It’s not very polite either if we bump into other people or accidentally damage their belongings.

4. Staying human

Supermarket check-out staff and other employees are already invisible to a lot of people. Messaging or typing through a shopping transaction must be very demeaning for the member of staff being ignored. Just because they work in a shop or other establishment does not mean that they do not work hard to provide us with good service or do not deserve a ‘hello’ greeting or ‘thank you’ at the end. How would we feel if everyone ignored what we did all day?

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Courtesy toolkit

See the other polite prompts in our please and thanks courtesy toolkit.

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