social media etiquette can make or break your personal brand: the 5 golden rules to live by

August 5, 2015

observing these rules keeps you engaged with professional connections

It’s a dilemma in today’s hyper-connected world: you receive a request to connect on LinkedIn from someone you barely know professionally — do you accept? In another scenario, you just completed your first marathon — should you share photos with your professional groups? Perhaps a colleague is posting updates so frequently that it borders on obsessive — do you speak to them about over-sharing?

There’s no getting around it — social media is a big part of our daily lives. More and more it’s how we connect both personally and professionally. It’s great for networking and even more useful for discovering professional opportunities, career advancements, and even old acquaintances. However, as it becomes more integral to our careers, it can also be a source of miscues that may annoy, or even offend, those you are linked to.

Another complicating factor is that etiquette on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter differs. So when it comes to social media for business intent, what do you do when unfamiliar situations arise?

As with any professional setting, social media requires an accepted level of conduct. Simple, right? Not really. That’s because unlike societal norms most of us are familiar with, what’s considered acceptable behavior in social media is still evolving. Furthermore, user sophistication ranges from the guru to the newbie — with older users typically less caught up with current practices. It’s no surprise, then, that social media gaffes, especially tweets, often make for good news headlines.

It’s a safe bet that a professional acquaintance, or maybe even yourself, has pushed the boundaries of what is considered proper business social media etiquette. This reflects poorly not only on the individual but possibly also his or her employer. In some well-publicized cases, poor judgment has led workers to be fired for what they have tweeted or shared online. While these are rare cases, they do highlight the potential fallout from bad social media etiquette.

You most likely will never suffer such poor lapses in judgment, but lesser offenses can still potentially damage your professional standing among peers. So while you might not need a crash course in social media etiquette, a review of current best practices can help you expand your circle and professional influence. Consider the following rules as a guideline:

Make it personal. LinkedIn is the No. 1 global channel for professionals, and it’s a great tool for networking and sharing relevant news and information. To be most effective, personalize your connection requests. At the same time, make sure your profile is updated so that other members see value in connecting with you. Conversely, requests from members whose role or relationship are unclear to you should raise a red flag.

Although Facebook is the largest social media channel in the world, it’s less useful as a professional network. Still, millions of business connections take place on Facebook, and if you decide to connect with colleagues and peers, remember that content posted here tends to be much more — and possibly overly — personal.

Similarly your business account tweets should focus on your profession. Sharing completely irrelevant opinions or content can quickly lose you followers.

Maintain a professional brand. It’s important you maintain a professional brand on all of your business channels. Unless your line of work is to offend and upset, your posts should be informative and engaging. The use of insults and salty language doesn’t go over well. That doesn’t mean you can’t be thought-provoking and controversial, but raising the ire of your followers for the sake of creating an argument is trolling in its lowest form. It will hurt your following in the long term. Remember, the goal of having a social media presence professionally is to elevate your brand, not denigrate it.

Make it valuable. Do you offer content that your followers value? You should because it demonstrates your thought leadership and an understanding of their needs. Posting content that is neither engaging nor relevant is a sure way of turning off your connections, so always ask yourself whether your next post truly adds value to those around you or you risk tuning them out.

Less is more. Are you tweeting every five minutes during the day? Unless you are in the business of updating basketball scores or some other live event, there is no need for an abundance of posts. On LinkedIn, status updates should be limited to around two a day; Twitter and Facebook are more appropriate for ongoing shares. Keep the previous rule in mind: it’s all about value and not volume.

Don’t forget attribution. Passing off other people’s content as your own — purposely or inadvertently — can definitely hurt your personal brand. Whether you are retweeting, sharing someone else’s research, or reposting, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Being a thought leader doesn’t mean you always have to originate great thought; being well-connected with other well-known experts demonstrate the market awareness leaders often exhibit.

While there are many more rules you should obey in the social media world, being mindful of the above etiquette will give you a good foundation for building your professional brand. Your connections and followers are invaluable, so make sure you invest the time and effort to nurture and grow these relationships.

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