Are you sharing or over-sharing? Social Media etiquette for 2014

I don’t know about you, but I was exhausted with Facebook by about 11 a.m. last Thursday. I was totally, well, quacked out. The fights I saw online over the “Duck Dynasty” flap in the news were passionate. But they also tended to get way too personal, and some were just downright rude.

And then, over the weekend, a PR pro named Justine Sacco lost her job over a Twitter account that had several examples of tweets that could have been seen as offensive by a number of different groups of people.

In addition, I know you have seen plenty of “cringe-worthy” Facebook status updates and Tweets that were just way too personal. Break-ups play out online. Fights between parents and children, venting about workplace issues, calling out our neighbors – it all happens every day, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say it’s just TMI – too much information.

So, I’ve put on my “Miss Manners” hat to give you some questions you may want to ask yourself before you hit that “Post” button.

1. Do I know what I’m talking about?

You can laugh here, but we all know those folks who spout off about an issue in the news without actually reading anything about it. It’s easy enough to read a headline on the Yahoo! home page and think you know the whole story. But, guess what? Those headlines are designed to make you click and read what’s inside. Most of the time what is on that story page is not nearly as titillating as the headline makes it sound. I saw this numerous times during the height of the Duck Dynasty situation: Person after person posting a misinformed status update based off of what they had read on other’s status updates. It took me one Google search and 5-7 minutes to locate and read the GQ article that was causing the stir. If you don’t have time to read up on an issue like that, it’s probably best not to spout an opinion about it on Facebook.

2. Will I offend anyone? And, does that matter?

Fired PR chief Justine Sacco had tweeted numerous times in ways that could be seen as racist, sexist and condoning immoral behavior. In her job as a spokesperson for a number of companies, that kind of offensive tweeting was unacceptable. But that may not be the case with you. Perhaps what you’re posting will be highly offensive, but that doesn’t matter – to your job, your family, your friends – or you don’t care if it does. If that’s the case, go ahead and offend if you want. Just be prepared to take the response you may get.

3. Is this post too vague?

My friend Melissa Mitchell taught me the term “Vague-booking,” and I love it. Vague-booking is when you post a Facebook status update that is so vague many people could read and assume it is about them. If you’re trying to vent or get someone’s attention about a personal matter, surely there is a better way than a vague post that will upset at least the 10 percent of your Facebook friends who are sensitive and paranoid.

4. Is this the appropriate time to share this on social media? (And, is there ever going to be an appropriate time?)

I will get really personal here for a moment. I got divorced a couple of years ago. My ex-husband and I are both very active on social media. And guess what? Neither one of us ever made an announcement about getting a divorce on social media. We never talked about it at all. In fact, to this day I will occasionally get a private message from someone asking if I am divorced. We just decided that it wasn’t something we needed to post about, and told the people who needed to know through other communication methods. I stand 100 percent behind that decision and would advise any couple going through a break-up to do the same. If you do intend to share a major life event on social media – perhaps a happier one like an engagement or pregnancy – I am still a believer in telling the people closest to you before that Tweet. Trust me, your grandmother doesn’t want to find out you are expecting by seeing a sonogram photo on Instagram. Nana expects a phone call.

5. Is this something I really want to share?

This is the most important question of all. Do you really want to share this with the world? As we all know, even privacy settings on social media platforms are not foolproof. When you post something or comment on someone else’s post, at that most basic level you need to assume that everyone in the world will be able to see it, forever. If it’s something you’ll regret in the morning, or when you graduate college, or when you have children, or whenever, don’t do it.

About Leigh Caldwell

Leigh M. Caldwell is Director of Social Media and Digital Marketing at Harness TechED. She is a content creator and marketing strategist with two decades of experience in social, online, print and broadcast media. Leigh is a native of West Frankfort, Illinois, and a Southern Illinois University alum.

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