Social Media Etiquette
Good manners never go out of style.
Being brought up by a bevy of southern belles has made me the queen of social media etiquette. You may wonder what my gracious grandmother, (who died rather recently at the grand age of 103), knew about computers. Zip. Zilch. But she understood manners, the art of communication and the value of building lasting relationships like nobody’s business. She wholeheartedly believed that staying connected with people results in true riches and her motto was, “you have to make the effort.” So what does the wisdom of someone who was a century old have to do with social media?
Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. Technology has given us the capability to navigate on a global scale, download and upload information instantly from almost anywhere, text, send emails and a full menu of digital options. Though we each have nearly unlimited capabilities as powerful transmitting stations, when it comes to processing and accurately discerning the intent of personal communications, we are often feeble receiving sets. In our haste to increase our technological fitness, we have allowed other aspects of meaningful communication to atrophy.
Honest communication is the foundation of every relationship and each exchange can serve to do one of three things: knit people together, unravel and fray the relationship or lastly, simply facilitate the connection through clearly conveyed information. The channel you choose for conveying your message can influence how you are perceived.
In pursuit of relationship building, there are numerous channels for communication but I’m going to divide it into six channels:
1) Face to Face – There are libraries full of books, reports, periodicals and guides dedicated solely to mastery in this area. It would take a volume, not a white paper, to discuss best practices in verbal and non-verbal communication.
2) Snail Mail – Hand-written notes are far from out-dated. In fact, they’ve become rare enough that increased value is placed on them. Taking the time to write a note, put it in an envelope, add a stamp and get it in the mailbox conveys you’re serious about the message.
3) Phone – It’s pretty hard to get to school age without learning basic phone manners. However, since I’ve been called on to teach courses to employees on phone etiquette, it seems that some mothers were not as mindful in their training as mine was. Of course, the arrival of the age of the cell phone has ushered in a need for an updated rule book. The major rule is one of simple common courtesy; give the person you’re with your full attention. Interrupting a face to face interaction to answer a phone or reply to a text message is bad manners. Period.
4) Texting – Since this involves 24/7 access through someone’s cell phone, I recommend that you text only with permission. That’s a personal recommendation for what I still consider to be a personal method of communication.
5) Email – One would think that in 20 or so years of email availability that people would be proficient and observe best practices. Not so. For email best practices, I can make a quick list based on the biggest mistakes I see. What drives me crazy is that I see them almost every single day. a) If you’re going to forward an email, be clear that it’s something the recipient is actually interested in. If it passes that test, then personalize it by adding a note. If you want to be sure they open it, remove the FW: from the subject line. I typically delete all emails that I see were forwarded to a group. I don’t have enough time to review all my email, much less yours. b) If you’re mailing to a group, always use the blind carbon copy function (bcc) so you are not sharing private email addresses. Another huge consideration is it is prudent to disable the ability for people to select “reply all” either purposely or accidentally. I have seen more disasters from this tool than any other in email. c) The cardinal rule pertaining to email as relational communication is NEVER fire off an email in haste when you’re angry. I wouldn’t even type a draft and save it for fear that it could get sent accidentally. Handwrite a note to vent some of the anger out of your system and then shred it. Wait 24 hours and then call the person. Following this advice can save your hide, so make note of it.
6) Social Channels – We’re still in the pioneering stage and the Wild West is an apt comparison. Social Media Channels are proliferating like rabbits these days, but I’m simply going to give brief descriptions of the largest and most commonly used channels with a few best practice suggestions for good measure. The thing many people haven’t grasped about social media is the basic rules that guide communication in person still apply. It’s supposed to be a dialog – it’s not all about you. If your agenda is primarily self-aggrandizement, you will do more harm than good by using these tools. I liken the expected behavior of these channels to social situations you are likely familiar with.
Twitter – Like a large public event, as in a concert. Come as you are. Learning how to share ideas, thoughts and favorite resources in just 140 characters is an exercise in brevity. That’s an unexpected bonus of Twitter; daily practice in writing copy that is short and compelling. Retweet what others share that is of value and interest to you and look for opportunities to engage in conversation with others.
FaceBook – A Big Backyard Barbecue. Casual dress. My mom always said ,”don’t write anything down you don’t want others to read.” With more than 500 million active users, this is especially true of FaceBook. It’s a great way to stay connected with people and share a little bit of your personal life. Just beware that digital footprints are not erased.
Linked In – A Virtual Business Convention. Business Attire & Behavior expected.
A simple summary of best practices in relational communications is this: If the message you are delivering is personal, involves emotion and the relationship is worth keeping, face to face is best with a handwritten message or phone call as a second choice (if distance is a factor). The phone is also useful since in verbal communication, the subtleties in tone and inflection are part of the message. Never use email for personal and meaningful exchanges that can alter the landscape of a relationship. Trust me. I can tell you of long-time friendships severed, people resigning from jobs and numerous debacles that resulted from misunderstandings started by using the wrong method to deliver a message.
The quickest route to choosing the best channel in a business relationship is to ask. Most people have a preference and are happy to tell you what works best for them. It’s still wise to apply the considerations I’ve covered to ensure clear communication as the relationship progresses.
It’s not always convenient and at times, it’s costly to be the one to bridge the gap to ensure effective communication. Honoring others through an applied understanding of the nuances of communication can insure that your business grows and your life is enriched with the most valuable treasure of all – the love and respect of others.
Social Media simply reinforces the fact that good manners will never go out of style.