by Alexa Joy Sherman
More than 900 million people worldwide use Facebook. And why not? You can catch up with hundreds of people you haven’t talked to in years and keep current friends updated on your daily life. Or maybe you’re looking to market yourself with fan pages or news about your promotion du jour.
Whatever your goal, though, be aware: The more social networking you do and the longer your list of “friends,” “followers” and “connections,” the easier it is to inadvertently trip over an invisible boundary and offend someone. Don’t let that happen: Here’s how to network gracefully in the brave new social-media world.
1. DO learn the ropes.
You’re most likely to experience a social disaster as a newbie, so before you start tweeting, pinning and updating, familiarize yourself thoroughly with a site’s inner workings.
For starters, click on Facebook’s “Settings” button to check how much you’re sharing with the world. Pay close attention to the “Privacy Settings.” That’s where you indicate how visible various parts of your profile will be, including your photos, contact information, relationship status, education and work affiliations.
2. DO define your boundaries.
As your roster of friends grows, consider segmenting the list. For example, on Facebook, you can divide your friends into groups. Once you’ve created lists, you can return to your privacy settings and pare down which lists can view various aspects of your profile.
You may also consider using different sites for different purposes: Facebook for friends and family, LinkedIn or Plaxo for colleagues. “Do you really want to let the high-school class clown loose with your business contacts?” asks technology forecaster Paul Saffo, a consulting associate professor in the engineering school at Stanford University.
3. DO spare people’s feelings.
If you don’t want to accept a friend or recommendation request, the least offensive thing to do is often to ignore it. “I don’t add friends unless I meet them in real life, and since there’s always potential for that in the future, I leave these requests queued indefinitely,” says Tamar Weinberg, author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web (O’Reilly Media, 2009).
If you feel compelled to explain your reasons for rejecting a request, simply say, “Thanks for the request, but I’m trying to limit my connections to family and close friends,” or refer them to a less private network. “Many have found success directing ‘unwanted friends’ to follow them on Twitter,” notes Erik Qualman, author of Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence (McGraw-Hill, 2011) and Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business (Wiley Publishing, 2009).
4. DO get the balance right.
It’s called “social networking” for a reason. “People want a dialogue, not a monologue,” Qualman says. If people are responding to your status updates, give them an occasional nod for their feedback or check out their pages and comment when appropriate.
Avoid spamming, whether it’s invitations to play games or to your “cutest puppy contest” group. If you’re on the receiving end of too many updates, remember that Facebook has settings for “close friends” or “acquaintances,” and you can make selections about the frequency with which friends’ updates display (without them being the wiser).
“Social media communities are about real relationships — the collective, the community and the common good,” notes Weinberg, who suggests spending about 20 percent of your social-media time on yourself and 80 percent sharing insights.
5. DON’T overshare.
“Just because you can pour your soul out to strangers doesn’t mean you should,” Saffo says. Consider the impact and implications of your intended posts — particularly if you won’t have the option to modify or delete it later.
Once people are in your Facebook network, they can do all kinds of things on your page without your permission. Not happy about something that’s been published on Facebook? You can delete unwanted comments or untag yourself in a photo so it’s not associated with your profile. To have more control over potentially unflattering photos, change the settings to review photos before they’re tagged.
Illustration credit: Robyn Neild