Introducing Rabushka's Rules: Social Media Etiquette Series
I recently had a very frank conversation with my 18-year-old brother after I came across his Twitter profile for the first time. Maybe this was the overbearing big sister in me taking over, but I felt like it was my personal duty to give him the "social media is big, and it's not going away" speech that my generation has drilled into my head. I was shocked to find out, all via his Twitter feed mind you, that my shy and reserved little brother had become the life of the weekend parties, had developed quite the potty mouth AND, to top it all off, was a week away from getting a tattoo on his back of Super Mario Brothers. (This was the same brother who very recently ran out of our doctor's office waiting room crying and hiding under desks in the hallway to avoid a routine shot.)
I'm not being judgmental here. In fact, I would support any decision of his that he was truly passionate about; however, none of these new "decisions" he was bragging about to the Twitterverse were HIM. I didn’t know where this was coming from, but the bigger problem was that he didn’t understand the consequences of this cool-man identity (slash immature 18-year-old attempt to fit in) that he was putting out there. He didn’t get that he was shaping his reputation with everything he tweeted, no matter how trivial a sentence seemed at the time...it all was a reflection of his person.
This shouldn’t be a newsflash because in my opinion it's very, very old news. So, old newsflash people: the virtual you is you. There is no faking, deceiving, hiding or avoiding it. Whether you’re an avid philosophical poster or you simply upload albums of your family vacays, everything that comes from your profile(s) embodies a form of you: your values, friends, beliefs, affiliations, opinions and experiences. That’s a pretty big deal. Yes, as I’ve found out, it’s hard to convince a social media newbie about the impact of social media before they’ve experienced the positive and negative consequences of their actions and interactions over time. Long story short, I am no Winston Churchill when it comes to speech giving, so my big sister advice went in one ear and out the other.
My brother remained silent on the other end of the line until I was done, said ‘okay’ and we ended the call. I was very pleased with my etiquette EDU session until I logged on to Twitter to see he had been live-tweeting about our conversation the whole time:
"If you have a problem with me, #1 way NOT to fix it is to stalk my Twitter then lecture me about it. #sorrynotsorry"
"Going on 15 minute phone call with my sister...She really just said: 'the virtual you' in reference to Twitter. #sorrynotsorry"
I may not be able to convince my brother of the value of social media etiquette yet, but there's no doubt in my mind that he will learn in due time because he went too far, or didn’t think before typing.
A MORAL COMPASS GONE SOUTHThanks to my colleagues and friends, I've been inspired to start a blog series about social media etiquette as it pertains to PR and marketing professionals. Although my brother’s story has nothing to do with marketing or PR, it’s still a good example of how social media is simply a way to communicate with others. It’s just humans talking to humans, and sometimes we PR people forget that small, but important fact. By putting too much - or not enough - brain power into strategy, we ultimately don’t represent ourselves or our businesses the way we mean to. Unexpected audience backlashes are the bane of our existence, and when they arise from a message we post, we end up scratching our heads wondering how we got negative feedback when we put so much thought into the strategy. Unfortunately, it happens. So much of PR is experimentation and trial and error. You’re not always going to get the responses you expected, however, there is one thing you can control: How you treat others on your respective platforms.
Some very useful skills we've been using as behavior guidelines for centuries have faded away as we've become an industry dependent on the Internet. It seems as technology has advanced, our moral compasses have weakened. Has the fast-paced environment that social media fuels made us forget the social standards and etiquette we have spent years building offline with traditional PR initiatives?
I wish I could say that was an exaggerated generalization, but unfortunately, I have had way too many experiences with inconsiderate or oblivious professionals on social media. Don’t get me wrong, businesses are learning how to play nice faster than the individual, and social media has been a godsend to companies, organizations and communities alike by helping us manage our brands and participate in discussions with our consumers, employees, industry peers and even competitors. But, while social has forever changed the way we communicate as a society, it has also begun the decline of social behavior standards as we know it.
Some of you may think you have it together on social, some may not care, and some may be making a digital mess of themselves as we speak. How you choose to run your social media accounts is your business. However, it's important to understand the impact your words and interactions have on others as well as the probable long-term effects they have on your professional reputation and the reputations of those you interact with.
WHAT NOT TO SHAREIt wasn’t long ago that our social profiles were completely off limits in our professional life, and we were free to post beer bong pictures and controversial rants without any work-related consequences. But that’s no longer the case, especially for marketing and PR professionals. The ‘you’ that posts Facebook statuses on Saturday night and sends random tweets at three in the morning is the same ‘you’ that’s reaching out to media contacts during the week. We have to be aware of that. That said, there’s a big difference between choosing your words carefully and holding back who you are so you don’t offend anyone. If you believe in something strongly, voice it. That's the power of social. Just think about it first.
Hopefully, most PR professionals know not to publicly post pictures of themselves passed out at the bar, but to really come across as someone who understands social, you have to be even more diligent. Ask yourself if what you’re saying benefits anyone. Does it help them or provide a mutual service? Is anyone gaining anything from your latest status update or Instagram photo? We’ve all been tempted to rant or post obnoxious selfies on our personal profiles or, similarly, brag about a company achievement on a brand page that we manage. But, does anyone really care? Remember, social is a two way street, not a soapbox. The key here is this: consider other people. It’s one of the most important phrases in PR, marketing and life.
I understand you can't make everyone happy while staying true to yourself or to a brand message. It’s literally unattainable and unhealthy to try to keep all toes un-stepped. But if all you have to offer is your disdain for people who wear turtlenecks, or the music you’re #np [insert-eclectic-emo-band-here] or, my personal favorite, the image play-by-play of the three course meal you just cooked...syndicated on every platform you own… then, maybe it’s time to adjust your approach.
How you present yourself is a translation of you as a person and you as a professional. There is no splitting, and there is no hiding anything. So, be cognizant of the content you’re posting and how people will perceive it.
THE THREE GATEKEEPERSAt the end of the day, social media has a Jerry Maguire "help me help you" purpose to it. It's designed to allow professionals with the right intentions to thrive. I'll follow you because I find you valuable and because you care. You’ll follow me back if you find me valuable. Those who interact for selfish gain, want to boost their ego or seek to cause upset (as well as those who aren't active) simply become irrelevant in most cases. The rest of the useful, purposeful, funny and interesting noise drowns them out.
One of my personal life mottos (an Arabian proverb I stumbled upon a couple years back) gives great context for presenting yourself on social as someone who really understands and respects the mediums: the words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers.
I probably sound like a broken record, but think about what you post on a daily basis and ask yourself this: was this for me, or did I actually provide value for someone else? Am I someone that other professionals would want to interact with, or am I driving them away by broadcasting noise?
Etiquette Tip: Self-awareness - come back down to Earth with the rest of us self-aware professionals, and look at yourself from our angle. If you still draw blanks as to how you are perceived on social/treat others, just ask someone! My only advice is to ask someone you know will be brutally honest with you - perhaps a co-worker you trust or a best friend in your field who gets it.