Social Media Etiquette

Internet joke

When it comes to social media, as a general rule, I try to avoid the contentious issues of politics and religion, but, amid the relentless (and often horrific news) these days it seems increasingly hard to find a way of navigating  the online world without encountering (for me at least only third hand) a polarizing level of animosity and aggression on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve I seen people posting that they have to ‘disconnect’ for a while, simply to avoid the online fray which shows no sign of abating.

Even relatively innocuous posts in support of a victim or sharing a news item, can seem to provoke prolonged, overly aggressive – even (dare I say it) crazed responses in the comment section. Flame wars erupt and, as far as I can tell, people who (I assume) are rational, reasonably tolerant people in person, engage in public brawls and name-calling with a level of belligerence that belies all hope of reasonable discourse. So how is someone supposed to navigate the social media minefield in an online culture  where anyone and everything is fair game?

As an author, I try to follow what I thought was basic social media etiquette. Beyond avoid religion and politics, I try not to be overtly self-promoting, self-aggrandizing or generally annoying. My main aim is to present myself as an authentic person who readers find accessible and (hopefully) engaging. When it comes to my personal online persona, I follow pretty much the same rules – just with photos and fun (I hope) added into the mix. But now I feel stymied in many respects – increasingly uncertain and unwilling to post items that could inflame some kind of inadvertent comment war. All too often I read the comments on friend’s posts with a growing sense of alarm and incredulity as people rip into one another and engage in behavior that (I hope) they never display in real life. I’m not sure how we got to this place, but it’s certainly one in which I tread very, very carefully…

In light of this, I feel like we need to create some new rules for online etiquette – rules which others may not adopt but ones which I feel balance common sense, good manners and basic norms of rationality. Here’s my list so far and I’d love to get TKZers input and feedback

  1. Remember you’re a grown up. Act accordingly.
  2. Pretend the online world is the real world. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it in an online comment.
  3. When posting on a potentially contentious issue, recognize it might have a polarizing effect (so think first!) and be prepared. If commenting on an issue be respectful and follow rule number 1 or 2 especially if you feel your passions getting the better of you…
  4. When posting about TV, movies, books etc. be mindful of spoiler alerts but also, if commenting on these posts, don’t go crazy. If someone inadvertently tells you the ending of a show that began five years ago and you have yet to binge watch on Netflix, give them a break.
  5. Don’t be a troll.
  6. Don’t be a stalker.
  7. If posting a review, make it a genuine review. Don’t pretend to be someone other than who you are.
  8. If posting something that promotes your work/book do it a way that engages as well as markets you as an author.
  9. Think of marketing as connecting with readers rather than selling. Don’t post 100 times something that screams ‘buy my book!’ – it’s annoying. If in doubt, follow rule 2 – would you promote or market like this in real life? If not, then don’t do it online. And finally…
  10. If in doubt, don’t tweet it, post it, or make the comment.

So that’s my list so far. How about you? What would you add? How do you feel about online etiquette (or lack thereof) these days? How do you currently navigate the social media minefield?


This entry was posted in #amwriting, Writing and tagged by Clare Langley-Hawthorne. Bookmark the permalink.

About Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, featuring the Oxford graduate, heiress, and militant suffragette Ursula Marlow, was published in 2007. This was followed by two more books in the series, The Serpent and The Scorpion (2008) and Unlikely Traitors (2014). Consequences of Sin was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area bestseller and a Macavity Award nominee for best historical mystery.

36 thoughts on “Social Media Etiquette

  1. Here’s another: Feel free to unfollow/unfriend those who annoy you. Life is too short to deal with attention-seekers, spammers, egotistical, or aggressive people. Most importantly, have fun. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it will show.

    Great list, Clare.

  2. Sounds like a good list.

    I’d say that all these problems are yet another reason to set a limit on how much we participate in social media too–we often talk about it from the perspective of social media being a time drain from our writing, but I think also measuring out our doses would give us more considered approach before we do post things and perhaps may lead to more thoughtful and less inflammatory ramblings.

    There’s no way to avoid conflict—you could say the earth is round and someone will take offense.

    And quite frankly, some people are just determined to act like pinheads in their comments, no matter the subject. I recently replied to an article about a nice gesture from a school teacher, & replied in the comments about a great experience I’d had with an English teacher back when I was in high school–a comment completely innocent and with nothing but praise for that teacher. Yet a commenter posted a reply that was nasty and inappropriate. It was very insulting to me and to the teacher (I was mostly insulted on the teacher’s behalf) but I just gave it a thumbs down and walked away. There are just too many jerks out there that they are not worth contending with.

  3. It’s a great list, Clare. But getting people to buy in to any form of restraint these days is like trying to load ball-bearings with a pitchfork. Add to that the decline in critical thinking skills and the virtue of humility, and we come out to where we are today.

  4. Another rule? Although a few people have had success engaging trolls, I say we should ignore them.

    And perhaps yet another: before you retweet or share something, fact check.

    What the Internet has done is very simple, i.e., we now know how many incredibly uninformed people there are out there, which is rather disheartening, isn’t it?

    • Great addition with the fact checking before sharing – so many times people share ‘stories’ and they take on a life of their own on Facebook – only to discover the story is completely bogus. Drives me batty…

  5. Great guidelines, Claire. Here are two more:

    1. Wait an hour (or even overnight) before you hit “post.” Reread one last time to make sure you wrote exactly what you meant to say.

    2. Don’t put anything in writing you would not want read in front of a judge and jury (advice from a wise lawyer given to me back in the days of IBM Selectrics that still applies).

  6. I go with the theory that Social Media should be about the SOCIAL. I refuse to post anything political, or religious and try to keep my promotion to a minority of my posts. You’ll never change anyone’s opinion.
    As for “friends” – Ask yourself how many of them would help you move (or hide the body)? For the most part, I don’t care what they post, or what their beliefs are, as long as they keep it off my profile page, which I restrict to only family and people I could call ‘real life’ friends. Everything else happens on my author page. I rarely scroll down my news feed for more than a minute and I don’t ‘unfriend’ anyone unless they’re “attacking” me personally. I don’t consider them actual ‘friends’ and since I don’t see and/or ignore most of what’s on Facebook, and about 95% of what’s on Twiiter, I use social media simply as a way to get those ‘7 touches’ for people to recognize my name.

    • Agree. I only wish I had separated out author and person pages earlier as there’s quite a bit of overlap which can make some posts tricky (not that they’re controversial at all but I’d rather keep things separate and I have to do a better job with circles etc. on FB)

      • I simply set my posts to “Custom” on my profile page, and that lets me choose which of my groups sees them. I set it to “family” and “close friends.”
        When I get friend requests I’ll usually accept them (I’m zeroing in on that 5000 limit), but immediately message them saying they won’t see anything on my feed, but if they’re interested, they should ‘like’ my author page and I include the link.
        Then, every now and again, I’ll do a public post on my profile explaining they’re not going to see any of my posts unless they go to my author page, and that’s where I have all the “fun”. I use my author page almost exactly the same way I used to use my profile. Food pictures & dog pictures still get the most engagement!

    • Terry,

      A good friend gave me a tee-shirt with the slogan, “A friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move the body!”

  7. Maybe it’s just me, but I dislike following someone back, only to have them direct message me to spam me on their book. It appears this is primarily an author tactic. I don’t notice other types of businesses doing this as much.

    It strikes me as presumptuous and rude. It’s like someone knocking on your door and barging in to force you to listen to their pitch. I want to unfollow them immediately.

    I look at DMs as personal space, a means to privately communicate with real friends or for specific outreach on true business deals, not spam.

    • Unfortunately, it’s not just writers… I get the same thing from a LOT of my musician “friends” – buy my new CD, my new on-line guitar course, tickets to my next show – or worse, spamming/fronting for somebody else’s (in-)direct marketing campaign – or cam-PAIN?

    • I get this on Twitter and either unfollow or simply don’t add them to any of my lists (which are the only tweets there’s even a chance of me seeing). Especially if their tweet is automated from a twitter service. To me, that’s just lazy and shows they’re not interested in ME.

    • I’ve been listening this week to Chandler Bolt’s Self Publishing Summit of speakers online—one thing I think every speaker has addressed when talking marketing/PR is NOT just being a social media presence to say “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” but to establish relationship with people, provide some value, then yeah, occasionally mention a book (without beating people over the head).

  8. I’d add “Don’t be so quick to be offended” – the virtual world doesn’t allow for the body language or tone of voice cues that the real “analog” world has – and even with these things, just look at the amount of misunderstanding and such… Too many folks are in need of “reverse” sensitivity training… they’re just too dad-burned sensitive~!

    And if I may… “…trying to load ball bearings with a pitchfork…” I’ll have to start using that one…

    • I can’t believe how people get so inflamed so quickly by things on social media. I think everyone should be forced to take a deep breath and count to ten before replying or commenting online. Sometimes people are offended by the most ridiculous things!

  9. Good post, Clare. I avoid posts about politics and hot button issues such as gun control and abortion rights. I also remove any posts about these issues that presumptuous people put on my page, and unfriend them. If I know the transgressor personally, I tell them “we must agree to disagree.” If they ignore my warning, I “unfriend” them.
    Here are a few other rules: (1) Report spammers– people who stick Oakley sunglasses ads, etc, on your page. They are a nuisance to everyone.
    (2) Never put anything on your page you wouldn’t put on a billboard on I-95.
    (3) “Friend” selectively. If you don’t know the people who are making the requests, check out their pages and see if they are congenial. If you’re a woman, avoid “friending” men, especially older dudes, who mostly have female friends. This will get rid of those embarrassing personal messages that begin, “I saw your photo, my angel, and fell in love . . .” Seriously, I really got a message like that. And if you know me, I’m no angel.

  10. On my personal profile and my author page I have a rule, no politics, no religion. Last week I changed the no politics after one of our MP’s was gunned down and killed in the middle of a country market town in the north of England. Still devastated, but readers were/are uniformly supportive. I haven’t had any negative reaction.

    But I’m finding the climate of hate right across society incredibly difficult to handle, probably because of the above. So I take time away from the keyboard. I’ve been writing by hand in the last few days, which is working well.

    Some of the vitriol in Twitter and Facebook in particular is nothing short of horrific. I block without compunction.

  11. I loathe social media and would be happy if it ceased to exist. I do not have a Facebook account. I have a Twitter account, but only because I needed access to their API for an app I developed. Almost nobody knows about it. I have a Linked In account. I felt like I was forced into it for professional reasons, and look forward to deleting it at some point. My professional photo? My cheetah pic. (I took that photo, so if you see it attached to a comment somewhere it is most likely me. If not, it is someone who stole the pic from the internet.) I have a blog recounting my hip resurfacing experience, but my name is not attached to it, and the only name I mention on it is my surgeon. I’m even careful about commenting on blogs. I comment here more frequently than anyplace else, and when I find myself commenting too often I back off for a bit.

    A lot of this is because of all the things mentioned above, especially online harassment and consequences. These days one unfortunate posting can have such negative consequences. A post – whether one intends it to be negative or not – can make you enemies, get you fired, keep you from being hired, tip off burglars to you being out of town and having a nice empty house full of things to steal, and more.

    You know how kids say they want to be rich and famous when they grow up? I just wanted to be rich, not famous.

  12. This is great advice, and I generally follow it, but it can be taken too far. One of the largely unspoken rules in the crime-fiction community online is “Be positive about other people’s books — go along to get along.” Well, I feel the community suffers for a lack of honest criticism of crime-fiction books. On Amazon, I write negative reviews (and positive ones when I feel they’re warranted), and I show my work. I never criticize without showing examples and explaining my position. And people don’t like it, and it’s hurt me at conferences and in my editing business.

    Example: I recently wrote a mixed-to-negative review of a heavily-marketed, well-reviewed thriller that’s been touted far and wide by many of the leading lights in the thriller community. I explained why I felt as I did about the novel, and summed it up in a tweet that linked to my review: “XXX reads more like a quickie novelization of a screenplay than an actual novel.” That drew the ire of one of the top thriller writers, and the scornful pile-on from the author’s highly placed friends began in earnest. I lost nearly a hundred followers in a day.

    Was I blunt? Yes.

    Did I practice poor social-media etiquette? You tell me.

    • <>

      It’s a good idea to decide what kind of reaction you want to get for a review before you write it. If you don’t want to lose followers, then you can’t write things in a review that are contentious. I think it’s possible to give an honest review in a positive way. It depends on how you want to be perceived. I’ve discovered that often the most gifted writers are the most humble and encouraging people. That’s one of the things I like about Mr. Bell and some of the other authors here.

      If you wrote something that you regret, you could always apologize. If not, then you have to live with the consequences.

      • I’m living with the consequences. I have no regrets. It’s important to work to elevate writing by drawing attention to what doesn’t work. Which Mr. Bell does well.

  13. I pretty much follow the excellent rules you’ve laid out. I’ve found that even a seemingly rational and unbiased comment can unleash crazed ideologues, so I don’t even try anymore. If someone becomes truly annoying with their onslaughts of updates or tweets, I hide or unfollow or remove them from lists or whatever I can do so I don’t have to be annoyed. Social media is not the place to look for accurate information and news.

  14. According to Neil Nyren of Penguin-Putnam (Putnam-Penguin)? if someone, be it an agent editor, fan, curious reader, etc. want to check you out, the first thing they’ll do is type your name into Google. Nyren recommends a positive presence on Facebook as that’s the next place someone will look.

    Only a slight stretch to discussing Facebook — this past Sunday, my daughter raced in the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 triathlon. I couldn’t be there, and I relied the updates from the Ironman website, which were slow–enough to give a mom serious concerns. Triathletes know their projected paces, and there’s not going to be a whole lot of deviation if things are going well.

    However, Twitter and Facebook were full of updates, and one my my daughters friends from Facebook was able to attend the race. Her Facebook updates had countless likes and encouraging comments, and of course, I shared all her posts to both my profile and my author page. One of the other athletes left this comment: “Such an unexpected treat to witness this the past couple days??? this is what fb is for! ?”

    Would that people focus on the positives, and support each other. There’s a huge reach out there. Use it for good.

    (Okay, off my soapbox)

  15. My main two rules for social media are (1) start by assuming the best of other people, and (2) deal with abusive people swiftly and ruthlessly.

    For #1, I try to remember that just because someone doesn’t have the good sense to agree with me 100%, they’re not necessarily horrible people. 🙂 I’m mostly left-of-center, but I have plenty of family members who aren’t, some of whom *really* aren’t. They’re not, mostly, stupid or hateful or brainwashed, they just see things differently and their worldviews start from different premises than mine. When I interact with someone on social media whose point of view is 180 degrees from mine, I remind myself that there are people I love who have those same views and they came to hold them with the same thoughtfulness that I try to use, so probably that’s true of the person in front of me. And who knows – they could be right and I could be wrong. It isn’t like that’s never happened before.

    Sometimes, of course, the other person on social media is just a flaming assweasel. For those people, #2 comes into play. Once I’m convinced of their general nastiness, I block/unfollow/unfriend/report – whatever’s appropriate – without a backward glance. I write my shit list in indelible ink; once someone is on it, they’re on for life. I see no reason to put up with abuse.

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