Lisa Hoover

Rules of social networking, revisited

By Lisa Hoover
April 13, 2009 11:09 PM EDT

Last week I wrote about how rules of social networking are beginning to evolve as more people incorporate LinkedIn, Facebook, and the like into their personal and professional lives. Though I was merely looking at why and how these rules are emerging, some commenters wanted to know more about the rules themselves and I'm happy to oblige.

Social media "experts" are already batting around plenty of informal -- and sometimes conflicting -- rules of etiquette, so I've winnowed them down to five that are oft-repeated and commonly occur across most social networking sites.

  1. Although it may not always seem like it, social media is not a popularity contest. Adding value to your social network of choice is not about how many contacts, followers, or "friends" you can accumulate, it's about useful interaction among community members. It's easy to assume that someone with 4,238 connections on LinkedIn or eleventy billion Twitter followers must be Someone Really Important but often it's just someone trying to game the system.

    In the same vein, don't arbitrarily connect with other users just to inflate your own numbers. LinkedIn is a terrific way to keep in touch with business contacts but is it really necessary to someone you haven't talked to in 23 years to your network? For true social interaction, link with a manageable number of people. For some that might be 30, for others 3,000; just make sure you can hear individual voices above the din.

  2. Reports are beginning to surface that some celebrities don't actually use social media tools as they claim. While it's unlikely many people thought Britney Spears was actually using Twitter on her own (it's actually a gaggle of staff), it came as a surprise to a lot of folks that one of the most vocal advocates of Twitter hires stand-ins. It's fine to promote your business or brand via social media, but don't register a personal account at networking sites if you intend to turn it over to the marketing department. Be yourself online. Literally.

  3. Remember, everything is not about you. Of course, there's an element of self-promotion involved in joining a professional social media network, but keep it subtle. There's nothing wrong with mentioning your side business on Etsy or a newly-published article you wrote for a trade magazine, just be sure they make up only a small portion of your routine interaction with others. Constantly crowing about your achievements while ignoring the successes of others is a sure-fire way to get roundly ignored.

  4. Don't abuse the built-in features of social networking Web sites. LinkedIn lets you ask your contacts to write letters of recommendation on your behalf, but don't spam your entire network with requests. Be judicious in who you ask and, by all means, reciprocate the favor. It's easy to post pictures of your friends and colleagues on Facebook but, for Pete's sake, don't put up pictures of the boss drunk at your last company party unless you want to find yourself on the unemployment line. It seems like elementary advice but you'd be surprised how often things like that happen.

  5. Keep what you say, do, and link to relevant -- or at least warn people when it isn't. If you typically use social bookmarking sites like Digg or StumbleUpon to share work-related articles with other professionals in your industry, don't take up their valuable time posting YouTube videos of puppies. When it comes to status updates at social networking sites, it's fine to occasionally brag that your favorite team won or say happy birthday to your spouse, but if you use these sites in a professional capacity people who follow you won't care that you touched up your roots over the weekend. 

Opinions on the rules of social networking are like noses, everybody has one. What do you think is the number one rule of social networking? Let me know in the comments.