10 Laws of Social Networking Etiquette: Save yourself some pain!

I know in the title it says this will save you some pain. To be honest, I am in pain. Often, I read status updates or tweets that cause hives or indigestion. Those of us who are Christian’s at times tend to spiritualize banal activity online. How can some of us be so naive to use our social media immaturely, expressing our thoughts like ill-timed flatulence? I cannot answer that, but hope these ten guidelines save pain–for all of our sakes!

I liken the new media to a digital town square or a virtual water cooler. In this new place, the idea of living in a glass house is amplified. We are in a constant close-up shot, with the details of our lives, travels, and happenings streamed live to possibly anyone on the planet. The ramifications are that even in a mud hut in rural Africa, your life-stream has impact. The developing world has skipped copper wire and cell towers rise allowing the wired-life as a global phenomena.

So, imagine this huge missional potential as the reality with the flippancy we tend to engage in social networking. These so-called rules are meant to encourage a better ethic online. My purpose here is to have a conversation that raises us beyond reaction and distraction to intention and meaning.

RULE 1: Political rants are useless and highly annoying!

A friend just watched FoxNews or CNN and instead of simply yelling at the TV he calls Obama the Antichrist in your Facebook feed. Add to this horror, the many reposts of political memes about conspiracies. I am all for civil discourse, but often, no matter the side of the political argument, spiteful words rule rather than intelligent questions or conversations. Please, grow up and realize people will not come to your side by showing more anger and noise than the other guy. Be a good citizen, but also a good witness. In fact, for those of us who claim to follow Christ we have to ask this: what is our true citizenship?

RULE 2: Bashing a business helps no one!

Complaining properly takes effort and we are just too lazy it seems. It is OK to warn friends about food poisoning at the local hamburger shop, but to demean a company because you did not get your way is immature. Write a thoughtful letter of complaint, first. Or, directly call the vendor and explain your perspective. If you have done this already, then writing a status or tweet about your encounter will carry more weight and be informative. This way it’s more about generosity than self-indulgent expression.

RULE 3: Flaunting your excesses will come back to bite you.

She drank too much and twittered about that fourth cocktail with vivid detail of her intoxication. Or, he bought a fancy car most of us cannot afford and daily posts a picture on Instagram about it. Wild behavior will be paid for, regardless of social media. Having nice things is not an evil, but how we talk about them can be. In both instances, it is poor attitudes and debased perspectives that sour an individuals online presence. Don’t think that your childish behavior will gain fans, especially your employer’s vote.

RULE 4: Don’t ask people to share, without first showing your generosity. 

I can’t tell you how many automated instant messages I get on Twitter that ask for me to like their page on Facebook, retweet a post, or to download and purchase their book or CD. STOP! It is rude. I may not even know you, yet. If you retweet my posts, share your ideas, and actually converse with me then we have established some sort of affinity. After that, it makes sense to kindly ask, “Hey buddy, if you feel like it, please share this new blog post of mine and let me know what you think.” A friend is more likely to do this than a stranger. So, make a friend and do unto others!

RULE 5: Conversation is a key element to any social networking

To be a billboard for your brand, a megaphone for your cause, or a platform for your voice is all expected. However, that is not what social media does well without dialoging with actual individuals. If you intend to only broadcast, you are bound to fail and cause pain to your social media followers. If you choose to talk to and with people, then they will be honored to give permission to you to communicate the business stuff. Once they buy or don’t buy, will you still value their voice? Are the people on your follower or “friend’s” list people or just numbers?

RULE 6: Over-sharing is worse than under-sharing–quality counts!

Some will easily share quite a bit, but because the content is good and generous, people will eat it up. If not, people eventually turn you off. I believe a good rule of thumb has to do with the quality of what you post, not the quantity. If your Instagram pics are meaningful or very creative, you can do more than the one who simply posts text-memes in his or her feed. Quality if king of your content will set you apart. I say its better to post fewer posts if it means each one is better. For instance. If you blog daily just to blog daily it is less valuable than one who blogs when the posts are good.

RULE 7: Be yourself–don’t photoshop your life.

If you are chatty, people will accept that you share more than if shy. Here is an important thought: If someone knows your online persona and meets you in person and is shocked that you are not the same guy then you have failed. I fundamentally believe that social media fails when we try too hard to polish their image. If your avatar looks like a movie star and you don’t in real life, you will lose your influence. Part of the beauty of this new media is that honesty plays well. Be who are truly are in life–whether online or offline.

RULE 8: Not EVERYTHING is meant for public consumption.

Seriously, your bleeding toe or bathroom issues can be left offline. Please. I beg of thee! Your depression about the latest breakup or cries for attention wear on your followers. Your Facebook feed will be muted by healthy people who might otherwise be helpful voices to keep around. Try calling a friend or texting someone when you need to share a joke that you know many will take the wrong way. Do you want to be a reality show? We have enough on Bravo TV or with the Kardashans. Right? Just because a camera can capture anything should not mean it captures everything. 

RULE 9: Being OVERLY spiritual might confuse people.

One post you rant about your baseball team sucking. The next is something about the “Walking Dead”. Then, you retweet a Bible verse shared by Rick Warren. That is followed by an Instagram of your child in her school play. That might work. People see your layers, not necessarily in order of importance but life-streamed–as they happen. I suggest putting in your Twitter bio what your feed will look like. I am glad people who are not Christians follow my feed. I am not afraid to express my faith and the life I lead, but am aware of my wider community. But, if I overly spiritualize everything, am I a real person? If my stream is only Bible verses or church stuff, then that is not honest. How does God permeate the human side of life for me and you? “Thank God for providing me a new car!” “Work was hard today, so glad be home with my kids. Thanks God!” Thankfulness is a great way to share, by the way. Who can argue with that?

RULE 10: Share the love!

The Great Commandment and the Second Commandment are the rule for life–even online life. How am I “loving God” and “loving people” in the digital town square of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogging? This rule trumps all the rules. Do my tweets honor God or spread anger? Do my Facebook posts appreciate and love my friends and acquaintances or do they marginalize or demean them? If there is nothing nice to say, why am I still shouting? When in questions, mute yourself because words cannot be unspoken and the internet is cached forever. (By the way, it is true that even if you delete a post that it still exists somewhere.)

In summary, let’s get the pain out of our social networking behavior and be a light in places that need it the most. The world is watching and we should be in the place where people are–online. But, do we have a code of ethics? Do we act and interact with intentionality? Are we accountable to people in real life about our online persona? Please discuss this with me here and let me know what your rules are for social networking.

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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