Essential Guidelines for Mastering Social Media Etiquette

May 30, 2021

Social media has changed the way people interact with one another in ways never thought imaginable. Not only has it allowed us to communicate and share with people all over the world, but it also comes with its own etiquette that not everyone is familiar with.

As strange as it may sound to some, how you interact with people online and on social media should follow some basic guidelines. Failure to do so may have you perceived as rude or inconsiderate or, even worse, anti-social.

The items below detail some of the most essential social media etiquette points that individuals and organizations should follow to uphold their online reputation.

Guidelines for personal use

  1. Don’t share overly important information. In most cases, social media is not a place for you to air your dirty laundry. Rather, people turn to social media as a way to share and receive news, ideas, items of interest, and opinions from all over the world. Some people may pay attention when others are sharing overly personal information, especially when it comes to something they are upset over. However, others don’t respect this. Generally speaking, when people do share very personal information, it may come across as attention-seeking or an imbalance in their personality.
  1. Don’t send messages after having a few drinks. Whether sending or receiving social media posts, most people are probably familiar with how uncomfortable messaging under the influence is. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and makes us feel more comfortable doing things that, for good reason, we may not normally do. While for most of human history, this feeling was contained within their social group while consuming alcohol, this is no longer the case – it now applies to social media as well. The moral of the story – if you’ve been drinking, resist the urge to get on social media.
  1. Don’t “wall of text” people. People are busier than ever, and not everyone has the time to read a giant wall of text, especially if it’s over semi-trivial matters. Unless you feel absolutely sure the people involved don’t mind, it is best to refrain from posting overly lengthy posts or photos of you at breakfast (which one of our friends is prone to do when she goes on holiday). Remember, an economy of words and photos is always preferable over too many.
  1. Don’t leave messages as seen. One of the most annoying feelings in social media is sending someone a message or set of messages, and receiving no reply, even though you know they have seen them. Of all the more common breaches of social media etiquette, this is one of the most disliked and should be avoided if possible. “If you don’t feel like talking to someone, be upfront about it and tell them. Although some people may feel uncomfortable doing this, most would agree it’s preferable than being ghosted” writes Hazel Brown, Communication Manager at UK Writings. Another response is to send them a plausible reason for not responding, such as feelings a bit unwell, busy with meetings or family, etc.
  1. Be polite. Just like in the physical world, being polite in cyberspace is important. One of the major complaints people have when engaging in social media is people are often rude or offensive. This effect is magnified when engaging in some form of social media where your face and name are not attached to your account.
  1. Don’t overuse hashtags. This is just as much about etiquette as it is about personal image. While hashtags are useful and allow us to find content relevant to the topic we are looking up, overuse of hashtags is both annoying and makes the offender appear childish.There is no strict rule regarding how many hashtags one should use, and undoubtedly some situations will call for many more than others, but generally speaking, don’t use more than you have to. Overusing hashtags is even worse when people spam pictures or content with hashtags that are not commonly used. Doing this adds little SEO value to the content, and if anything, makes it come across as being immature and noisy.
  1. Use spell check. Abbreviations are helpful and have become commonplace amongst most social media users. However, this doesn’t excuse poor spelling or grammar, something many people find annoying or unsettling.

Guidelines for business professionals

Social media offers an ideal platform to connect with your fellow business associates, friends and family. But as easy as this communication seems, it comes with an inevitable risk. There is always a risk of posting or tweeting a post that might offend your followers. For example, an inappropriate tweet on Twitter or an inconsiderate Facebook post can damage relationships with your followers instead of strengthening relationships.

This can be easily avoided by following certain ground rules. To help you out, Ritu Sanghvi has developed a list of social media etiquette guidelines for professionals:

  1. Keep your readers in mind while posting. This is one of the most important parts of social media etiquette to follow. When posting on platforms like Facebook or tweeting on Twitter, think about whether this content is helpful for the readers and solves their problems. Think about whether the content that you’re about to post is what people are seeking.
  2. Be careful not to post personal information. While creating a social media platform, there is a high probability that your image as a friend or a family member will be in constant conflict with your image as a professional. In this case, follow etiquette that helps you to balance the various roles you play. And try to restrain from posting or tweeting truly personal information.
  3. Be wise in choosing your followers. Each social media platform has its unique norm and syntax. And each social media community is based on a shared interest or hobby. So avoid sharing the same information on various platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Even if you’re planning to share the same content, try to tailor the content for each platform.
  4. Post content that holds value. This social media etiquette is a must-follow. Use social media platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. to post/tweet quick updates about topics that matter. By posting trivial or irrelevant content, the entire purpose of having a professional account is defeated. Get something to post that holds value – for instance, a tip or a helpful link.
  5. Be careful of the content you’re posting. This etiquette is especially for those who tend to overshare content. The want to be consistently present on various social media platforms is important, but don’t end up oversharing. For instance, on a platform like Twitter, posting a few times a day is fine, but for a platform like Facebook, one post a day is more than enough, especially if the content is trivial.

Guidelines for employees

In an attempt to grow their network, more and more organizations are encouraging their employees to use social media to share their promotions, news, and views. Obviously, then, a significant number of employees spend time on social media. For instance, an online Pew Research Center survey found a high proportion of 67% of respondents said they regularly checked social media when they were at work. However, 32% said they spent no time at all on social media at work, while 18% said they spent 0-15 minutes per day. Around 17% said they spent 15-30 minutes daily. Another survey reported that 41% of workers log on during their lunch break, although 40% said they checked throughout the day. About 22% said they checked only at the end of the day, and a further 12% said they did this during bathroom breaks. (Appears to be a multiple-choice questionnaire!)

It is not known how much of all this time was spent on personal matters and how much was spent on employee advocacy of their organization. The importance of employee advocacy is increasing with the advancement of social media platforms. But to promote this practice, employers need to design social media etiquette for their employees. These etiquette guidelines help encourage positive engagement and prevent posts/tweets that might be harmful to the organization. Here is a list of 5 social media etiquette guidelines that management should get employees to follow:

  1. Direct employees not to vent online. Controversial comments on social media about the workplace can land an employee in hot water, even if those comments are posted on a personal account and are made outside of work hours. You may take disciplinary action if the post damages the employer’s brand, damages trust in the employment relationship, or conflicts in some way with the employee’s duty to their employer.
  2. Don’t spend excessive time on personal accounts at work. Depending on their job, employees might be able to access their social media accounts via your work computer or smartphone. If time spent on checking their accounts is interfering with their work, you may need to take disciplinary action. A good social media policy will distinguish between private use of social media and the use of it as part of one’s role. What constitutes “excessive” depends on the circumstances, and may be defined in a social media policy. Motivate them to engage in positive online conversations about the organization’s activities.
  3. Encourage them to share business stories, views, news, and events. Encouraging them to share news, events, and or stories related to your organization can help it grow. By sharing it on their personal accounts, they help in building awareness and raising engagements. In motivating them to share posts/tweets, they will grow their thought leadership position among their social connections and learn to balance various types of content.
  4. Get them to list themselves as employees of your organization on their personal accounts. Getting your employees to follow this social media etiquette will help build trust and authority with search engines and among your target audience. Make them want to create profiles on platforms – like LinkedIn that reflect their designations and contributions to the business. And once the profiles are created, inspire them to share articles related to your business.
  5. Refrain them from responding to any negative comments made about the organization. This is one of the most important social media etiquette guidelines that every employee should follow. Try even to communicate and inform your employees directly to steer away from negative comments and or false information/allegations that competitors might spread on social media platforms. Reassure them that the right information/facts will be published positively. Get it clear that such situations are better handled by a person in charge of managing social media strategy and messaging.
  6. Direct them to refrain from disclosing/publishing confidential information. This social media etiquette is a no-brainer. Disclosing or publishing confidential commercial information is illegal. Get it established that any confidential information/data should not be publicized on any social media platform. This is a definite ‘Don’t’ for any employee irrespective of their designation/position in the business.

Guidelines for organizations

Some of these lines of etiquette may seem all-too obvious, but even with experience, there are certain nuanced lines of etiquette on social media overlooked by organizations worldwide. Here are 5 more of Ritu Sanghvi’s guidelines on social media etiquette that every organization should follow:

  1. Complete your profile. After signing up to create a new account on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, don’t forget to fill all the required information. Upload your organization’s logo, and enter your contact information. Ensure you provide all the crucial information that people might need to know about you.
  2. Think about your posts. Think about the kind of content you want to post. Think about the design you want to use. Think about the color palette you use that conforms with your organization’s corporate identity and brand. Use this thought process to create content that you can post and or tweet. Ensure that these posts/tweets align with your culture and purpose, and represent what you stand for.
  3. Be regular and consistent. Be timely with your posts. Don’t overshare, and don’t disappear from peoples’ awareness. How many posts are too many? The answer is that it depends from one organization to another and from one industry to another. But make sure that you post at least once or twice a week.
  4. Choose your platforms. With the spurt of social media platforms, it might seem tempting to go ahead and try out all of them. But this might be a risky thing to do. By doing so, you might end up spreading yourself too thin and might not deliver quality content. Based on marketing goals, choose and focus on particular(s) social media platforms where you know your target people are.
  5. Engage with people. Coming up with interactive and engaging content is not enough. Use social media to connect with people. For instance, see a comment, a query on Twitter? Send them a courteous reply. Use your LinkedIn account to share industry-related posts or ask for recommendations from your Facebook audience. Social media platforms are ever-evolving. And so, it is crucial to think about the words, videos, and images you want to share with your business associates, friends, and family. Social media can be an unforgiving place, so make sure to follow proper etiquette on social media while communicating with the people.
Use social media to help build your organization

More and more organizations are turning to social media as a way to tap the innovation and talent that leaders know could blossom if the right people could connect. Organizations can even use social media to solve problems and create a sense of community. Read this article to find out how to use social media to help build a better organization.

How to write a social media policy

Hootsuite have developed a free template for writing a social media policy, with examples. This is helpful if you are preparing a social media policy outlining how your organization and its employees should conduct themselves online.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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