The 10 Commandments of Social Media

Everything you need to know about using social media in a smart and savvy way, boiled down to 10 rules to follow from inc:

1. Thou shalt understand that privacy settings will never, ever fully protect thee.

Privacy settings are illusory–you might feel in control of what you post and how it will be used, but it’s merely a false sense of security. There is no telling how your content can be repurposed by the free apps and services you’re using in the name of Big Data.

2. Thou shalt not post in extremity of emotion.

Powerful emotions, like fury or sadness, cloud our judgment. When the storm passes and calm returns, you have better perspective on how to air a grievance or share a negative story. But posting in anger can make you seem like a defensive crank at best–or an unhinged lunatic at worst. Just hold off.

3. Thou shalt turn the digital cheek to posts that offend thee.

There is something in the Internet’s secret sauce that brings out the snark in many of us. Others take it even further, posting inflammatory content–especially on religion and politics–that can be hard to ignore. Remember that you’re not likely to win a back-and-forth with someone who is truly committed to a certain point of view. If you just can’t help yourself, only post links to factual articles in rebuttal–though even this can be ill-advised.

4. Thou shalt look carefully on thy friends and followers for, to others, they are a reflection of thee.

As in real life, character–and company–counts online. People who connect with you in virtual spaces, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, will form conclusions about who you are, in part, by the others they see represented in your digital circles. If your “friends” are always posting dirty jokes and risqué videos, the logical assumption is that you may be like that, too. Decide if that’s really the kind of message you wish to convey to the world.

5. Thou shalt never share racist, sexist, or crude content and then express surprise at the professional and personal fallout.

People often think of social media spaces as consequence-free zones. “It’s my private Facebook page.” “It’s my personal Twitter account.” Nonsense. These are hardly one-on-one conversations with a trusted friend or family member. The reality is that you’re using a fairly public forum to express yourself. And the very nature of these forums invites others to consume and comment on your content. You can’t be surprised, therefore, when there are ramifications for you personally or professionally based on something you’ve shared online.

6. Thou shalt remember that the eyes of strangers may always fall on thy posts.

You are only one screenshot, share, or retweet away from broader, even viral, exposure, no matter how infrequently you post or how controlled you believe your privacy settings are. If you share content with this in mind, you are much more likely to stay on the right side of what is often a gray line.

7. As thou judgest others’ conduct online, so thou art judged.

Judgment is in our natures–though not, perhaps, their best part. But have you ever noticed how an online forum gives people the opportunity to amplify what might have been an individual, fleeting thought? Social media helps extend the life of an otherwise brief, uncharitable comment, a pointed anecdote about a nosy neighbor or pushy PTA parent, or sarcastic joke. Even these relatively mild interactions can inadvertently paint a picture of you for others that’s not really true–and certainly not one you’d prefer. Keep it light and positive when you have something to say. And in an echo of mothers the world over, if you have nothing nice (or neutral) to say, say nothing at all.

8. Thou shalt periodically purge thy social accounts.

Clean your digital house several times a year. Look through your friends and followers. If they are not people whose faces you can recall or whose voices you know from conversations, consider crossing them off your online lists. They don’t need access to your personal information, thoughts, or pictures. Delete old photos that don’t represent the image you want to share with the world–and don’t be shy about untagging yourself from friends’ photos (or asking them to delete, if need be).

9. Courteous and pleasant are thy watchwords.

If you’re a business responding to a Facebook message or an accountant looking at a negative online review, it may be tempting to write off (or tell off) a particularly unpleasant customer. Instead, respond professionally and pleasantly. That holds true for individuals on their personal accounts as well. You never go wrong with being patient and polite–and others who may see your response will give you props for model behavior.

10. Thou shalt recall that personal interactions trump social media.

Social media is merely a platform for connection. Use it wisely and purposefully for specific objectives. But remember that it cannot replace the power of an in-person connection. It is nearly always better to talk directly to a customer, look a colleague in the eye, or put down your device and be present in the moment, whether at work or with friends and family, than stay too long in the social media vortex.