Googling “social media policy” returns nearly 5 million hits – obviously a topic getting lots of attention. Modifying the search to “personal social media policy” reduces the hits by 99%. That’s relatively scant attention to how individuals could or should formalize how we conduct ourselves personally across various social media channels.
My sensitivity to this grew recently when the opportunity developed to meet a couple of people in a city I was traveling to for business. Each of them had reached out and tweeted with me quite actively leading up to the trip. Our Twitter conversations had been very friendly and both appeared quite outgoing online. Out of a real interest in getting together, I suggested a tweetup along with another local person. Given how visible they appeared to be in the community (based on their online interactions), I composed a tweet inviting others interested in joining us which included their Twitter names, the location, and the start time.
Something must have told me I was pushing the boundaries since I scheduled the tweet for the next day to allow time to think about sending it. My thoughts obviously moved on to other topics, however, and the tweet published the next morning. This led to a rapid direct message from one of the participants expressing concerns about the tweet and the tweetup’s broad disclosure.
I apologized profusely (via direct message and later phone call) and deleted the tweet, but not before it had already been retweeted and shared on Facebook. Suffice it to say, this additional round of sharing led to more concerns, and a negative spillover from someone else who saw the message on Facebook.
My initial hesitation was obviously well-founded. This tweet felt like it was in the social media grey zone, but based on cues from their online activities, I determined my new friends would be comfortable with it. My conclusion was based on very incomplete information, however, and could have seriously damaged a budding online friendship.
So how do you approach personal social media guidelines? What directs what you communicate and how you interact with others through via social media?
Since it’s clear I don’t even have all the answers for me, let alone for you, here are some questions I’m revisiting:
Can I explain who I follow / like / link to?
The answer differs by social media platform. My short answer for Twitter is “people who are intriguing.” Pretty vague, but on LinkedIn, I expect to have met someone or have a traceable tie to them. Occasionally, I’ll go through my network on LinkedIn and undo connections with people whose connection history I can’t readily recall. Facebook is sketchier for me. I’ve kept my total number of friends small, and there’s no rhyme or reason to the group. My favorite Facebook guideline was from a conference speaker who said he only friended people he “loved.” If you’re using Facebook for personal interactions predominantly, that’s a pretty clean standard.
What specifics do you share about yourself?
Some people share seemingly every detail – career, personal, location, etc. I know some people who contend this level of sharing is a part of online transparency. Not me. What I share is a single view of my thinking and professional life. If details and specifics aren’t necessary to help someone understand the context or meaning of what I’m sharing, they’re just unnecessary characters taking up precious space.
What specifics do you share about others?
You don’t have to share much content online to traipse over into potentially disclosing information about your family, employer, friends, etc. On Twitter especially, I try not to draw others into the social media fray any more than they have already done themselves. As the opening story showed, however, this is far from a fool-proof criterion. The challenge is to avoid disclosing details unwittingly in the course of having online conversations. It requires a pretty active filter, continually asking what could be read into any mention of someone else. As I’ve learned, if there’s any hint of a question about what another person would be willing to share about themselves, avoid specifics, or better yet, ask them directly what’s in and out of their comfort zone.
How often do you participate on social media channels?
Regularity and frequency are vital factors in establishing a successful social media presence. There are clearly different frequency expectations by platform. Tweeting 10 times a day might be fine, but Facebook or LinkedIn connections aren’t likely looking for updates anywhere near that frequently. It’s important however, to get to an ideal update frequency and become predictable with it over time. Nothing worse than making a splash online, building relationships, then letting them evaporate after you disappear for weeks or months.
What steps are necessary to deepen the level of interaction?
Generally, Twitter connections can seem much more sketchy than those on LinkedIn or Facebook. If Twitter interactions are your basis to get a sense of someone, what makes you comfortable deepening the relationship? Doing it in stages (i.e., email, then phone, then maybe in person) or jumping directly to an offline meeting? While I’ve moved from tweeting/direct messaging to an in-person meeting without even an email in the interim, that doesn’t make sense for everyone. Proceed with caution and the patience to build a connection over time.
How do you put the brakes on heat of the moment responses?
You see lots of passive-aggressive behavior played out online. You have to know the steps to keep yourself out of this pattern since social media interactions tend to cultivate more aggressive interactions than might be typical. Even if it’s not your usual interaction pattern, it’s important to know your potential trigger points, and harness the emotional intelligence, self-discipline, or other circuit breaker to keep you from responding harshly online.
That’s my starting point for formalizing what I’m doing after a number of years of heavy online activity. How about you? Does it make sense for you to formalize your personal social media guidelines? If so, what questions will you be asking yourself?