Social Media Etiquette

I follow a lot of companies on Twitter and Facebook. Especially technology companies that put out frequent updates and are good about keeping customers informed of said updates, and bugs, promotions, beta tests, etc. In a nutshell, I think it’s pretty cool to engage with the companies this way.

I was absolutely tickled when a few months ago one of those companies had the following post on their Twitter page “Yo Quiero Taco Bell.” No, it wasn’t Taco Bell. And it was so completely out of the blue it made it laugh out loud. I shared the link with a couple of people, but by the time they logged in the post was deleted.

Knowing someone at the company, I reached out and asked what was up. Apparently the employee who runs her Twitter feed thought she was posting to her personal Twitter page, not the company’s. Blame it on automatic log-in. To me, and I’m sure the thousands of other people who follow this company on Twitter, it was a minor hiccup that was cause for momentary amusement. For this poor employee, it was evidently a really bad day after the CEO happened to see it.

Social networks have become the mother-in-law of business. Some love and embrace her, others begrudgingly include her because they don’t have a choice. The fact is that most business have to deal with social media in some capacity ― both from a business perspective, and also knowing their employees use it personally and professionally. And, that’s where the company’s brand can either soar or be terribly tarnished if social networking is mismanaged.

Now that we’re almost a decade in to social media and have a pretty good understanding of the benefits and potential pitfalls, it’s a good idea for every business to apply some social media etiquette.


There’s an entire generation of employees who regard social media as second nature. Businesses would be remiss not to set up some policies and recommendations inside the company for social media use.

For starters employees should be wary of “friending” business associates to their personal social networks. This includes clients, vendors, colleagues and most of all, bosses. According to staffing firm Robert Half, “only 10 percent of bosses said they would be ‘very comfortable’ friending their direct reports.” Additionally, about a third of executives surveyed for this study were even remotely comfortable with employees connecting on Facebook with clients.

There are certainly industry-specific exceptions where the client would expect that kind of transparency, but most industries don’t follow that logic. If you and/or your employees do friend clients on Facebook or other social networks, bear in mind the adage that anything they wouldn’t say in the office or in front of a client shouldn’t be said on a social network that’s viewed by these same people.

Speaking of what’s actually posted to social walls, every employee in the company understands that personal content is for personal pages and professional content is for the social networks associated with the business. And if clients, colleagues or vendors are part of their online social circles, the content being posted has to be geared towards what’s appropriate for them over what’s appropriate for friends.

When it comes to the company’s social networking pages, you can’t control every social conversation, but you can set guidelines. Make a list for all employees of what can and can’t be promoted through the company’s social networks.

The “thumbs up” list might include things like company announcements, updates to products, how-to’s, and links to relevant industry articles and blogs.

The “thumbs down” list will probably include political statements, unprofessional language and negativity towards competitors. And every company should designate just a few people who have permissions and log-ins to the company’s social networks. The daily content being posted on these pages is a reflection of the company’s brand and culture, so make sure it’s positive.

Finally, understand that for the most part the same rules of professional etiquette at in-person meetings transfers to the online world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace the culture and get creative. This is the new water cooler; some of the best, more important conversations that affect your business are happening here. Join in.