Online communications can enhance relationships, bring people of like interests together (such as here on The Glamorous Housewife), and distribute information quickly and completely. Online communications and social media can also create a false sense of intimacy, isolate individuals, and lead people to behave in an entirely inappropriate manner.
The startling lack of personal online etiquette is rooted in one idea: anonymity. People seem to believe that because they are behind a computer screen, the rules of common courtesy no longer apply. The key to harnessing social media is to find the right balance and to remember these key principles:
Write only what you would say in person, directly to the recipient.
Perhaps the number one rule of online etiquette is to write ONLY what you would say to an individual or large group directly. Hiding behind a screen of anonymity is cowardly, disrespectful, and simply unfair. Be polite and be kind. A good rule to follow: Write and post only what you would be comfortable having your parents, your children, your friends, and your colleagues read, with your name listed as the author.
Think of social media as an enhancement, not a replacement.
Perhaps even more disturbing to some of us than the rudeness we may encounter online, however, is the idea that online communications can somehow replace direct communication with the people in our lives. We will leave business etiquette to others to discuss, but personal communications need to remain just that: personal. A Facebook post does not qualify as a personal communication. A tweet does not equate to talking with someone. An Instagram photo is not equivalent to calling someone. Online communications can help us to reach out to people easily, but do not mistake convenience for meaning. Even for friends whom you know only online, make the time to create personal connections, not just broadcast announcements. For people you know in real life, stay connected to them through direct interaction. Social media can help flesh out a story, but it should not define the entire story, or you will find yourself with a lot of contacts and no true friends.
Remember that nothing is private.
It is shocking how many people believe that their online communications are private. Even with the strictest settings, far more people have access to your personal social media than you may realize. Everyone you have ever met, as well as strangers, may read and see your online communications, and they will use your social media persona to define their perceptions of you. Living your life online inherently means that you are living your life publicly. Please also always remember that photos posted online are public, so be respectful of your subjects, whether they are your own family members, friends or even simply people in the background.
Choose to be positive.
Share positive words with other individuals online, or share nothing at all. Tearing someone down in any forum is a hallmark of poor taste. If someone tries to engage you, you can choose to ignore that person. Remember: you do not need to attend every argument, in person or online, to which you are invited. There are times when sharing a review of an item, location or experience is valid, and you may want to convey an opinion that is not 100% positive in order to help others who may be making a decision. The goal is to be specific and constructive whenever possible, not negative. Rather than saying, “The fit on this dress is terrible,” you might say, “I love the feel and color of this dress, but I found it a little fitted in the chest area. It would be ideal for someone with an athletic frame looking to add curves.” The latter comment helps others who may be considering the same purchase, while also sharing with the company that the dress may not be quite as they advertised. An ideal review is both positive and constructive.
Do not assume that everyone is on social media.
More and more people are choosing not to engage in personal social media at all. Even more people are using social media purely as a source of information or news rather than as a means of maintaining personal relationships. Do not be offended if someone does not follow you on a particular platform; their choices are right for them, and you should not interpret their decisions as an affront to you. Announcing something on social media does not replace sharing that news with someone personally. If you create a life to include only people who are connected to you on social media, you may find yourself lonely when you need direct support. It is worth investing in relationships outside of social media as well. The best balance comes from creating a life with friends who represent all of your interests, both online and in person.
Sarah Carey is The Glamorous Housewife Etiquette Expert. You can read more about her here.