Posted by: Bret Simmons | March 7, 2010

Social Media Etiquette

Oddly enough, I have never had any really big problems (yet) with anyone in any social media community that I am active on. Online, the people in my communities are exceptionally well behaved.

Offline is another story – the same old story of unprofessional behavior. I’ve met a number of people online that won’t do me the common professional courtesy of returning my calls or answering my e-mails. Warm and funny online, they can be cold and rude when you run into them in person. I think they are making a big mistake, because what goes around always comes around, and with online communities the cycle times are shrinking. If you are an arrogant asshole in the real world, more people are going to find that out faster than ever.

In business, social media is a tool we use to meet and build relationships with new people. Strangers become friends and friends become customers. Never forget that most deals will still be done in person or over the phone, so brush up on your basic rules of professional courtesy.

In his book “The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media,” Paul Chaney lists ten guidelines for social media etiquette provided by marketing consultant Beth Harte (pp. 81-82):

1. Be real, honest, authentic, transparent (it’s what customers/prospects/the community wants).

2. Provide valuable content, conversation, help, and information, and your community will raise you up.

3. Be accessible. Members of your community (customers, prospects) want to know that they can have a conversation with you and that you will talk back and answer questions.

4. Generate conversations that others can join, and invite others to participate.

5. Listen to other people and their opinions (you just might learn something).

6. Ask questions. Usually you are asking what others have been thinking

7. Help other people, including your competition (perceived or not), and have conversations with them. Most customer problems/challenges are industry problems/challenges.

8. Put other people first.

9. Listen to your community and learn.

10. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Relationships are fundamental to good business. Online or in the real world, treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself.



  1. Great post Brett. I’m going to re-post this tomorrow on our Business Empowered network as a good starting point and reminder of common sense, best business practices etiquette for our new community.

    • Thanks for doing that for us, Debra! Bret

  2. Not really a big fan of this list of ‘tips’. It’s pretty vague and generic. Every single one of these tips are equally relevant in plain old normal life, not just in the ‘social media’ context (eg. ‘put other people first’). As a result, these are not ‘social media tips’…they’re just ‘tips’.

    I remember when email first started, there were some very pragmatic ‘tips’ that helped people to use this new medium (eg. don’t use all caps, keep the number of recipients to a mimimum especially taking care with ‘reply all’…).

    It would be great for someone to come up with a ‘real’ list of ‘social media’ tips. Maybe the problem is that the area -‘social media’ is just too broad. Social media includes blogging (including commenting), Twitter, Facebook, forums, networks. All of these have their own idosyncracies and dynamics that call for their own ‘tips’. Taking the collection as ‘social media’ becomes so broad that the only way to offer advice is to give tips on being ‘social’ which is pretty much what you have here.

    • Welcome, Bruce! I’m with you on the lists thing. But for some reason people seem to like them. I found these suggestions to good suggestions for basic professional courtesy, which I find lacking in a lot of my real world encounters. Thanks! Bret

  3. To clarify, I like ‘lists’ as much as the next guy. I also like this list as a list of good ‘social’ etiquette. I just think it misses out on something distinctively ‘social *media*’ oriented. Thought maybe your message is the key thing you need to be good at ‘social media’ is to be good at ‘social’ stuff in generall.

    • Concur, Bruce. That certainly is part of my message, but I think you have to be even better at the basics when you step into social media. Thanks for the clarification! Bret

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