While these didn’t come from a burning bush, these social networking commandments were the result of several online flame wars. Social media can be an effective way to reach your audience to promote yourself and your work, but it can be an equally destructive means of burning bridges and soiling your reputation. It is way too easy to send a tweet out to all your followers when you meant to send a direct message. Who hasn’t had a freak-out over the “reply to all” button on an email. Multiply that by infinity and you have the power to create and destroy granted by social media.
Remember the permanent record everyone told us about when we were growing up? Well, thanks to the internet, that record will live on forever electronically. Follow these ten rules for social media etiquette, and your record will not be blemished by a message sent too soon or without thought.
1. Thou shalt not be a jerk (normally, I would be more colorful in expressing the first, and most important guiding rule, but I plan on practicing what I preach). Never forget how public a place the internet can be. If you complain about agents, editors, critics, or even readers, online, THEY WILL HEAR YOU, and there is no taking it back. Once you let a tweet loose on the world, it is out there even when you delete it.
2. Thou shalt not spam. This really shouldn’t require explanation. Go check your in-box, Twitter feed and Facebook wall and you will understand the wisdom of this commandment. Say it once. Nuff said. As a rule of thumb, you may want to have a self-imposed limit of tweets, Facebook posts, etc. a day.
3. Thou shalt not post when you are at emotional high or low point. This is a rule I use in my daily life as a lawyer, and it has saved my derriere more times than I can count. When I get miffed (again, I would be more colorful . . . ) and whip together a hot email to opposing counsel, I let it sit for 24 hours before sending it. Nine times out of ten, I delete that bad boy the next day without sending it. The same is true for social media posts. Give your emotions time to level out before making a post. It will help you avoid a lot of regret the next day (the same goes for posting after a cocktail or three).
4. Thou shalt not be a cyber-mooch. If all you are using social media for is to promote yourself without giving back, you will alienate your followers quickly. Plugging your book, blog, appearance or whatever is fine, but you don’t want your social media presence to be a commercial. What do we all do when commercials come on? We find something else to do, be it change channels, get a snack or take care of other business. Why would social media be any different? Give your social media presence value by giving back to your audience; don’t just focus on self-promotion. Expose your audience to new authors, quotes from your WIP, etc. You are limited only by your creativity. On that same note, if you are on list servs or email loops, don’t be the person whose only posts are “please come see my blog.” It is okay to promote your blog, but do so in a way that will also engender discussion on the loop (and not just the comment section on your blog) so that you are giving back to that cyber-community.
5. Thou shalt not let social media interfere with your writing. Hopefully, people are following you because they like what you write in places other than blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Don’t let social media keep you from delivering the product your audience craves. An aside on this rule is to avoid posting you don’t have time to write. If you have time to tweet, you have time to write. Get on it! If I see you posting you don’t have time to write, I will remind you the blank page in your word processor will not magically fill itself while you are playing on the internet. You have been warned (maybe I need to re-read rule one again).
6. Thou shalt have a purpose. There is a lot of noise on the internet. Don’t contribute to it. Make sure you have a reason for following people or sending a friend request. Start first with people you know, then expand your network from there. When you post, make sure your posts have a point beyond sharing the line at Starbucks is infuriatingly long or that your queso dip is colder than the heart of an IRS agent. The fastest way to get defriended, unfollowed, or blocked is to clog someone’s feed with garbage that means nothing to them. If you are going to participate in social media, have a purpose.
7. Thou shalt listen. Don’t just count the number of replies to your blog. Hear what your followers have to say and respond. Their feedback is invaluable. If someone took the time to comment or respond to you, you owe it to them to listen.
8. Thou shalt engage your followers. Ask questions of people who follow you. Write blog posts that engender discussion. Don’t treat your social media presence as a billboard. The internet allows you to interact immediately with your audience. Don’t ignore them by lecturing to them; engage them in a dialogue and conversation.
9. Thou shalt use proper grammar and spelling. I am going to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks for this one. I freely admit this is a "do as I say, not as I do moment." That being disclaimed, come on people. We are writers. This is self explanatory. Don’t force me to dust off my soap box and explode into my rant about text speak, either. Seriously, numbers are numbers; they are not substitutes for letters.
10. Thou shalt establish relationships with people. This is the point of social media. Use your presence to help others and get to know them. This means responding to direct messages, tweets that mention you and participating in the list servs/loops to which you subscribe.
Did I leave anything out? What are your thoughts social networking etiquette?