But unlike a new toy, social media doesn't come with any real instructions. We unwrap it and start sharing our world with...the world. As more and more people join this new way of communicating, seeds of chaos can be planted.
Rules of engagement
Without guidelines on how to use social media, disaster is just a Tweet away. Many people—and companies—have found this out the hard way through embarrassing criticism, impulsive rants and misguided comments.
What you post on social media sites has the potential to reach more than your intended viewers. It’s dangerous to assume privacy settings protect you. Even if you’ve locked down your Facebook page so that only "friends" can view your profile, it's likely that someone who is not directly connected to you will find it. All it takes is for one of your friends to share it with their friends. A good rule of thumb, whether you are engaging in social media for personal or business purposes, is that if you wouldn’t say it loudly, in front of your mother (or boss), you shouldn’t post it online—anywhere.
With so many companies supporting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies—where individuals are allowed to bring personal smartphones, tablets and laptops to work and use those devices to access company data—it’s more important than ever that a clear social media policy for employees is in place. Your employees are representatives of your brand, and in business, perception is everything. To protect yourself from the embarrassment of a social media faux pas, create a policy that clearly states what you expect from your employees when it comes to social media use. Set clear boundaries, especially for those who are part of your brand building process.
Just like in-person networking, online relationships should abide by basic etiquette rules. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- Dress to impress. On Twitter, don’t let your profile photo remain as the generic "egg" photo. Instead, post a professional photo of yourself. This holds true for all social media sites. Your personal appearance in your profile photo should reflect the way you would dress for a professional business event.
- Introduce yourself. Your social media profiles are the equivalent of your business card, so be sure you keep them updated as your professional information changes. Want people to get a sense for who you are? Post interesting, valuable content on your social media accounts to showcase your professional expertise. This is especially true with LinkedIn; when you update your status with useful information, you’re building trust among your network—opening doors for introductions to new connections.
- Be authentic. Just like in real life, no one wants to connect with "that guy." You know the one: the guy in the sleazy suit who spends his time schmoozing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when connecting on LinkedIn or Facebook is not personalizing the message in the invitation. Swap out the default message with something like "George, I really enjoy your blog at www.xblog.com. The leadership content you share is so valuable that I’d like to add you to my professional network and get to know more about your business." This will let the recipient know how you found them and why you want to connect. In turn, they will know that you aren’t connection for the sake of just adding to their numbers.
- Listen. Building connections through social media isn’t just about pushing out content on this network or that. If you’re not taking time to listen and engage with influential people (the ones you are hoping to connect with), you’re missing an opportunity. Choose a handful of key people you want to build a business relationship with, read what they are posting, and where there is an opportunity for you to add value—jump in!
Whether you are connecting with people in the online world, or at a dinner party, knowing how to present yourself in a positive way is the same. Today, the phrase "think before you speak" translates to "think before you Tweet."
By Margaret Page
Margaret Page, a recognized etiquette expert, speaker and coach, is the author of "The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success" and "Cognito Cards—Wisdom for Dining & Social Etiquette." She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization. To learn more, visit http://etiquettepage.com, or call 604-880-8002.