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Six Concepts Brands Should Understand About Social Media Etiquette

Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th EditionIn my work as a social media community manager for various companies, I spend a lot of time on the different platforms, and, oftentimes, even my less-than-delicate sensibilities are shocked. It’s no surprise that people on the Internet are ruder and cruder than they are in real life – they feel protected by the lack of face-to-face interaction in cyberspace. Nonetheless, when I see the expletive-laced, all-caps, or just plain aggressive posts some people make, I can’t help but think, “Do you email your mother with that keyboard?”

Not only that, but some brands seem to feel that social media is their own personal sales playground. Companies with carefully executed TV, radio, and print ads as well as eye-catching promotional campaigns think nothing of spamming fans on social media with sales pitch after sales pitch, ignoring questions and customer service issues. They’d never do this in person or over the phone, so why is it OK to be rude on social media? It’s not.

Lately, I’ve been desperately seeking politeness, so I turned to the definitive source – Emily Post. More specifically, an updated version of her most famous book: Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated, by Peggy Post.

The book is dictionary-sized, but it’s definitely a great reference to have in your home for situations ranging from how to behave in the office to how to wait in line at the ATM and how to politely turn down a wedding invitation. Here, I’ve taken some of the tips for everyday etiquette and applied them to social media for businesses.

Standard Courtesies:

The Posts recommend using standard courtesies when presenting the “public you.” For companies and businesses, let’s just consider your Facebook and Twitter accounts to be the public you as well.

  1. “Keep your voice volume to a reasonable level.” In social media terms, this means don’t post in all caps, with 10 exclamation points. Your fans followed your page because they like your brand – half the battle is won! You don’t need to sell to them – you need to engage them. Don’t post excessively, and think carefully about whether your post is relevant, fun, and social. Talking loud and often in person isn’t always the way to engage, and it won’t work on social media either. With engagement, sales and/or employee applications will come.
  2. “Keep your language clean.” It should go without saying, but many people post curse words, foul language, and even direct threats on public forums like Facebook and Twitter. If your brand’s fans are posting aggressive complaints or foul language, don’t stoop to their level. Many companies find themselves in a terrible position when they unleash their snark on fans. For a primer on what not to do, see Nestle – it caused quite a ruckus last year. It’s hard to tell in writing if you’re being snarky or not. So unless it’s a really strong brand identifier for your company, keep the sarcastic comments to a minimum, even if they’re in jest. The risk of offending someone is too high. In addition, do your fans the courtesy of writing well – grace them with grammatically correct and fun-to-read posts.
  3. “Stay courteous.” Don’t hijack other conversations happening on social media with an unrelated topic! You wouldn’t walk up to a group of people and interrupt them with a total non-sequitur. (Or maybe you would – in which case, stop doing that!) Why would you do the same on Facebook? Also, wait your turn. If fans are starting a conversation on social media, wait a while before jumping in. It’s kind of like when you’re in a great chatfest about last night’s TV shows with co-workers – you’re OK with the boss joining in, but when he/she does it too soon, the conversation tends to wither and die. If a brand responds immediately to every comment, it is taking away opportunities for organic engagement and potentially preventing itself from uncovering a brand evangelist!
  4. “Don’t automatically take it personally.” If you’re in charge of a social media account for your company, don’t take rudeness personally. Give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and respond with patience and grace.
  5. “Take responsibility for your own actions.” Don’t pass the blame. Just as you’d excuse yourself or acknowledge a faux-pas at a dinner party, if you make a mistake on social media, own up to it. If you incorrectly attribute something, make a spelling error, or post the wrong link – whatever it is – it’s best to quickly acknowledge and correct the error.
  6. “Don’t ignore or delete people.” I’ve taken liberties with this one, if you couldn’t tell. But really, you wouldn’t ignore someone who spoke to you in public, why would you do so on social media? You certainly wouldn’t block them or magically delete them either! Acknowledge them in some way. (Unless their comment is spam. Feel free to totally ignore spam!)

By and large, Emily Post’s rules for etiquette consist of common courtesies we all know we should be following – whether you’re a company page admin or an individual user. Why is it that so many people don’t? Compared to past etiquette rules, we have it easy. We don’t have to wear gloves, we can address whomever we choose, hold hands in public, and giggle with reckless abandon. (All these were actual admonishments given to debutantes in the 1920s!) Compared to the constricting rules of the past, treating people with basic decency is a snap.

Treat others with kindness, and you’ll be rewarded in social media as you are in your offline life. Good conduct breeds popularity, so post with politeness. Especially when you are trying to attract top talent to work for your organization.

Aside from the items listed above, what other ways do you think companies can be more courteous online?

Kristin Clifford

About Kristin Clifford

Kristin Clifford is a marketing professional and pop culture enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter at @kristincliff.

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Kristin Clifford
Kristin Clifford

Thanks ML! I think everyone would benefit from reading Emily Post. Etiquette is becoming a lost art.


Great post. I've been called down and banned from forums for being polite, patient and anwering questions. I guess the mods need to read Emily Post!


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