Over time, every new communication medium develops its own set of rules. We’ve come a long way since the first social networks started emerging mid-1990s, when users were still figuring out the basics like the best size and angle of their profile pictures. By now, we have collectively agreed on proper etiquette of flirting, maintaining friendships, and even applying for jobs on social media.
Naturally, there are also rules of online behavior for digital marketers and social media managers. Some are spelled out by the networks—such as Facebook’s call for less promotional content from brands on users’ News Feeds. Others, however, take some experience to figure out, and those unfamiliar with the etiquette often find themselves in very sticky situations.
Whether your business runs a one-man social media team or an entire digital department, it’s important to outline social media etiquette standards, and make sure everyone who has access to your social media channels knows these rules by heart.
9 Essential Social Media Etiquette Rules for Businesses
Always keep your target audience in mind
Of course, the very first rule of social media etiquette emphasizes the importance of being an interesting conversation partner. Your social media channels should distribute valuable, shareable information, collected from a variety of sources, and sent at optimal times. You should always be mindful of what kind of content is most engaging for your social media audience, and what kind of content should not be posted.
Keep the kind of social media account you would follow if it wasn’t your own. Deliver the content you discuss in your profile description, and do so at good intervals, to avoid spamming your followers.
Avoid automatic messaging
At one point or another in our social media lives, we have all received this type of message: “Thanks for the follow, now check my website/blog/podcast.” But how many recipients are actually intrigued by these pre-drafted calls to action? A few years back, TechRepublic columnist Alex Howard performed an experiment on his own social channels: he sent pre-drafted messages to nearly 500 accounts, and asked for people’s opinions on the practice. While few have responded positively, most said they treated Howard’s message, along with similar messaging from other people, as spam.
Howard’s experiment shows that, while social media automation can come in really handy at times, you should avoid it in direct interactions with your audience. This means cutting back on automated Twitter DMs, private Facebook messages, or Instagram comments. Instead of attracting new customers, most of these messages can have the opposite effect and cost you newly gained followers. Auto-DMing your Twitter followers can also lead to your brand’s account being suspended, if enough report your activities as spam.
The best way to show appreciation to your social media followers is providing them with the high-quality shareable content they signed up for when they hit that Follow or Like button. If you want to recognize someone individually, use an @mention—it’s much more personal, and provides the user with exposure on your feed that they might appreciate.
Respond to comments, fast
Communication on social networks is designed to be a two-way channel where you can get real-time responses to your messaging, and social media is most effective when used that way.
Make sure you or someone on your team is responsible for monitoring your social channels for interactions, and engaging with users who reach out. If you get a high volume of interactions every day, it helps to establish an evaluation system to see which ones need an immediate response, and which ones can wait for a little while.
However, it should go without saying that all comments, especially if they are negative, need to be addressed. Ignoring a negative review can lead to the loss of a customer or a major PR disaster. Addressing negative feedback in a timely manner can help you turn a detractor into a brand advocate.
Don’t badmouth your competition
While following social media accounts of your rivals is a good way to get some valuable insights on the competition, be careful not to abuse this privilege. Playing nice with competing brands on social media goes a long way: not only can it help establish a professional working relationship with others in your field, but it also improves your online reputation in the eyes of your own followers, as well as your competitors’ social media audience.
However, this doesn’t mean you should keep mum if another brand calls you out on social media. Take time to respond to their comments, just as you would with feedback from your customers—especially if those comments are negative. Their audience deserves to hear your side of the story, to decide for themselves if the negative messaging from your competitor is worth considering.
Maximize the shareability of your social messaging
The format of your social messaging often plays as big of a role as its contents. Social media is a great sharing tool, and you want all the messaging on your channels be as share-friendly as possible. After all, the more people share your content, the higher the exposure and ranking in search results.
You can help increase the shareability of your content by sticking to the word count, adding images and videos, and using appropriate hashtags and geo-tags. For example, when composing a Tweet, consider keeping your message length under 100 characters to allow users to add RTs, or personalize the retweet with their own comment.
Tame your hashtags
Hashtags are a great tool to provide your social media messaging higher visibility and greater reach on the network. They also look very distracting when you pair a hashtag with every other word in your Tweet or Instagram caption.
It’s considered best practice to use your hashtags sparingly and pick them carefully. Your hashtags should help you join a larger discussion or target a specific audience, without forcing your audience to reconsider their decision to follow you.
If you want to increase exposure for your social messaging, consider other options. Geo-tagging your posts is one of them: on Instagram, for example, tagging a photo with the location where it was taken can often be as effective as adding a hashtag. This can also help your brand connect with other users in the area, and engage them hyper-locally.
Keep your brand accounts professional, and your personal accounts separate
This is one of the oldest tips in the books, and yet it’s an important point that some beginner social media professionals forget. Keeping your personal account separate doesn’t just mean the obvious insurance against accidentally posting to your work account instead of your personal one. It also means keeping the tone of your messaging on-brand when posting to social media channels, and making sure all your messaging contributes to the mission you have set for that particular profile.
Aside from serving different audiences, your personal account and your business account serve different purposes. This often assumes taking a neutral stance on controversial issues (unless they are a relevant discussion in your industry); avoiding mitigation of personal conflicts on business accounts; and, of course, keeping it cordial with social media accounts of other businesses.
Don’t spam your followers’ feeds
The best kind of conversation is equal parts give-and-take. In social media terms, this means keeping your social channels active without spamming your followers’ feeds. Figure out the optimal times for engagement on your social media channels, and post at those times, with a maximum frequency of one message per hour (unless something urgent comes up).
Disperse messaging across different channels to maintain all your social media channels consistently to avoid neglecting an account. A social media content calendar for all of your social channels can help you avoid any gaps, and pick the best types of content to share with your followers.
Don’t follow for numbers
With the widespread use of fake accounts and follower bots, the number of followers should no longer be your primary KPI when it comes to measuring social media success. Avoid indiscriminately following thousands of users in hopes of increasing your follower count—this will ruin your own social feeds with an oversaturation of posts. Plus, frantic following can come off as spammy, and detract from the value of your follow.
Follow accounts that produce valuable content you would consider reposting as part of your content curation strategy—such as brand ambassadors, think tanks and watchdogs in your field, active fans, and fellow industry professionals.
Last but not least, an important practice in your social media etiquette is acknowledging that your content may not work for everyone. Unfollows happen, and while you can take preventative measures to avoid a mass exodus of followers, you can’t convince all users to stay. Keep track of your unfollows, and take them in stride—but do watch out for steadily increasing numbers, as this might signal a need to change your social media content strategy.