1. Be respectful
2. Be helpful
3. Be careful
1. Be respectful
Before diving right in and using social media, take a little time to learn about the process. Understand the culture– just like you would notice different beliefs, customs, and mores when you travel to another country, do the same online and get to know your audience. Social media, at their core, are about democratization– everyone is an equal contributing to the conversation. Sure, there are those with million-plus followers and fans, but they’re not there to engage in conversation, mostly, they are there to promote a brand.
Social media capture our innate desires to connect in an unconnected world. When was the last time you said hello to your neighbor? It’s probably been a while. While we’re losing that in realspace, we’re not in social media spaces– it’s ok to say hello to your neighbor.
2. Be helpful
It’s all about the Whuffies. Providing information and support to your followers and friends gives you geek cred. Get to know your audience (see rule #1). What’s the demographic? Are they bus riders? Help them have a better bus riding experience by tweeting about delays, route changes, etc.
Online social communities thrive when users help each other. Besides, it’s always nice to receive help from someone you (barely) know. I’m constantly in awe of how quickly and accurately folks on Twitter have responded to my requests for references and technical help. Furthermore, there’s a large body of evidence in social psychology that shows that when you do favors for someone, you end up liking that person more. Then, when you like that person more and you express that like, they, in turn, reciprocate by helping and sharing.
3. Be careful
Be careful about what you say. It is very difficult to perceive tone online through email (see Epley & Kruger, 2004), let alone through newer social media communication tools. Twitter’s maximum of 140 characters per tweet allows little (if any) space for context. Absent are the cues we have in face-to-face interactions that help us regulate our perceptions of any message.
In addition to being careful about tone and how your messages will be perceived, take care to familiarize yourself with specific privacy issues and settings. The row over Facebook’s change in privacy settings and the later upheaval over Google Buzz’s complete disregard of user privacy should inform new users that social media sites are interested in getting you to share as much about you as possible– something that all but early adopters are not willing to do. In my experience, those who are just now starting to experiment with social media are the ones less likely to want a lot of their information “out there” and also the ones who need the most help learning about privacy issues and settings.
Another point about privacy worth mentioning for the newbies to the social web is the fact that your information is only as private as you let it be. Your comments, pictures, and even friends/follower lists can be made public at anytime by either the social media website or by other users who either knowingly or unwittingly share your information. The best way to address this is to remember that anyone can handle and rebroadcast anything you post.
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