Being active on social media can improve sales, awareness, and customer favorability. But, what’s the role of social media etiquette? Where’s the line between personal and professional? In other words, should you post what you had for breakfast on your main profile?

Those professional social media profiles are serious business: 65% of employers have made hires through social media sites, with 82% of employers in some industries regarding the medium as an important factor when making hiring decisions.

These are the questions this post is going to consider. We will explore to what extent you should embrace the “social” aspect of social media and the advantages and disadvantages of posting personal updates on professional profiles in terms of social media etiquette.

We’ll take a broad overview and then look at specific tactics you can use. Let’s get right to it.

What’s the purpose of your social account on each platform?

Although this might seem obvious, before stepping onto the scene it’s crucial to first decide why it is you want a professional presence on social media. Here are a couple of typical responses:

  • Networking: growing your professional audience.
  • Making more sales: in 2015, Facebook influenced over half of all customers’ purchase decisions.
  • Personal brand: establishing yourself as an authority in your space.
  • Get more website visits: link clicks account for 92% of all interaction with tweets, and tweets with links get an 86% higher retweet rate.

Make sure you have a clear idea here. Next, bear in mind each social media platform has its own purpose and culture. It’s vitally important that you match your content to the platform – something that would be acceptable to post on Facebook might not work on Twitter or LinkedIn at all.

Here are some of the key differences between the three biggest social networks:

Facebook: with 1.2bn daily active users (as of Feb 2017), no other site offers a larger potential user base.

  • Facebook’s main advantage is its built-in ability to distinguish between “personal” and “professional”. Its “Pages” system means that you can run a site-within-a-site entirely distinct from your personal account. This is a great advantage when considering personal updates vs your social media etiquette.
  • As most people’s social “home” online, there is a strong demand for engaging, shareable content requiring dedicated and considered work to manage.
Twitter: the network has become the primary source of breaking news and instant feedback for over 300m active users.

  • Twitter’s character limit makes it ideal for the occasional, ephemeral “what I had for breakfast” post, which will quickly be buried in users’ feeds – but its hashtags and “trending” features also enable you to jump in on the topic of the moment.
  • Twitter requires careful usage: every interaction is public and individual businesses are afforded far fewer powers of moderation over other users. Particularly active users will not hesitate to seek out businesses to voice their praise – and concerns.
LinkedIn: the social network for professionals is most used for HR and recruitment.

  • The overwhelming majority of what you post here needs to be professional. Users of LinkedIn are almost always only in it for themselves or their businesses.
  • You need to cut down on anything that doesn’t provide business value to your audience. What you had for lunch is of absolutely no relevance.

With a purpose and understanding of what’s appropriate on each platform in place, let’s move on.

Social media etiquette: the general framework

Despite their differences, there are a few general rules you always want to follow when posting to any social media platform. Below we go into detail on four general concerns you should be thinking about when considering social media etiquette:

1. Interesting, engaging and unique content

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth reiterating again: interesting, engaging and unique content is exceptionally important.

Here are two statistics from Twitter:

  • 72% of a brand’s Twitter followers are more likely to purchase a product from them.
  • Interactions on Twitter lead to a 30% uptick in recommendations for small businesses, with 86% of users more likely to visit a business after having been recommended by a friend.

It may be tempting to read these and conclude, given the huge advantages of a social presence, you should be posting more to milk social media as much as possible.

Here’s the twist: whether it’s on Twitter or another social platform, whenever you post, you are taking up space in your followers’ feeds. It is absolutely vital you ensure that your presence is worthwhile.

This analysis by BuzzStream found that most people only follow between one and four businesses on social media:

What’s interesting about this data is retaining followers is more important than acquiring them. What’s more, you must use the correct social media etiquette to avoid behaviours which will cause followers to unfollow.

45% of respondents said they would unfollow a brand if they engage in too much self-promotion, rather than caring about its audience (we’ll come back to this in a moment).

You can show you care about your audience by engaging and replying to them, and you can forge a closer relationship with them with relatable personal updates: what are you working on that’ll be of interest? What are your other hobbies and passions that might overlap with other followers’?

The data – and etiquette stemming from it – here shows wholly self-promoted content will not deliver long term results. Instead, mix some self-promotion with interesting, engaging and shareable content that relates to your audience. Regardless of the purpose of your account, this almost certainly furthers your goals.

2. Saying the right amount: understanding balance

This follows directly on: it’s important to know not just what to say, but how often to say it. Balance is the key word here.

The majority (68%) of the respondents to BuzzStream’s survey said that on all three platforms we’ve discussed, they would much prefer that businesses post on average 1-2 times a day, as opposed to more or less.

You can view this two ways: either you’d argue you can’t afford to take up too much of your social media space with “personal” posting, or you take the opportunity to make extra personal postings alongside the business content. This, of course, has the added advantage of diluting the amount of self-promotion in your profile – a concern from the first point we made.

Let’s use the “what I had for breakfast” example: you might share your eminently Instagrammable smashed avocado on toast, but if you do so then don’t also share your coffee, your lunch and your dinner that day.

Plugins such as Revive Old Post can do a huge amount of social media automation for you – just keep the balance right.

On the other hand, let’s say you decide to wholly automate your social media postings. Twitter users can easily recognise (and react negatively to) too much automated posting. Automation is a powerful time-saving tool, and comes with its own rules of social media etiquette, but (as I’ve written about before) balance is key.

Understand the importance of balance here. Personality can be an important part of your professional branding and even break through some of the self-promotion noise, but it is vital you strike the right balance.

3. The internet never forgets

A lot of this post comes down to a simple maxim: you are what you share.

Everything you post becomes part of the representation of you or your business in the social media landscape. And between caches, internet archives, and users simply taking screenshots, it’s very, very hard to take back anything you say.

You need to consider not just your current network, but everyone you might want to connect with in the future. Circumstances change, and it’s not unlikely you may want a more “serious” persona a few years down the line.

Make sure you’re following the social media etiquette framework you’re comfortable with now – and will be comfortable with in the future – right from day one.

4. Polite politics

Though it may sound obvious, it’s almost certainly a bad idea to use your professional profile as a soapbox unless you’re very sure that you won’t upset anyone.

The danger lies not only in alienating followers with whom you disagree but also the “politics fatigue” that has set in over the past few years as more and more divisive political posts take up more and more of people’s social feeds.

Research by Maeve Duggan and Aaron Smith found that more than a third of social media users are worn out by the amount of political content they encounter online. Too often “comment streams on otherwise unrelated topics devolve into flame wars or partisan bickering” – online political discussion taking on a “uniquely angry and disrespectful” tone.

Some brands are taking bolder and bolder steps into politics, but this is a risky strategy and should only be followed if your audience is likely to agree: if you’re cultivating a more personal style for your professional profile, the last thing you want is to frustrate and upset potential followers (see the backlash to Casey Neistat’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for an example).

Casey Neistat vs social media etiquette
Comments about politics can be extremely divisive … something that even Casey Neistat found out the hard way.

This is an important issue for a huge number of people, but the sad reality is it’s best to steer clear of political posts if you want to keep everyone on your good side.

Perhaps the best approach, when it comes to purely personal posts on your professional network, is to limit yourself to a few “safe” subjects you enjoy (music, sport, baking, etc.), that are broad enough that you might be able to start a discussion among your followers, but are individual enough that you come across as more interesting and human without offending anyone. This is a tricky one you’ll have to make your own judgment call on.

Personality without the personal

We’ve learned so far that people want their interactions on social media to be social, but you must understand the appropriate social media etiquette in order to succeed.

A key part of what we’ve covered is personality. But, do you need personal updates about feelings, hobbies, your family and so on, in order to bring that personality to your professional account? What if you’d prefer to keep your private life actually private? There’s scope to skill make this work. In some instances, it can be all about tone.

It’s becoming increasingly common for brands to cultivate “personality” for large corporate accounts. You’re likely to have seen posts shared on social media showing big-name brands’ accounts making headlines, such as Wendy’s PR team throwing shade on their competition and other angry Twitter users.

This is a clever technique which not only generates followers in and of itself (“what zany thing is this account going to do next?”) but also generates its own free publicity in the form of other articles being written about them.

Take Oreo’s swift response to the blackout at Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. During the half-hour outage, their social media team jumped in with an image of a single Oreo – “You can still dunk in the dark”, with the caption “no power? No problem”.

Oreo social media update
Oreo won plaudits for their quick thinking (and tweeting) with this post.

Not only had they prepared separate tweets in the opposing teams’ colors in advance to send out depending on who won, but they were quickly able to take advantage of the fact that people would be browsing their phones rather than watching the game (now on hiatus) and turn that to their own marketing advantage.

Growing a “brand personality” around your business can be a risky strategy, but it has its advantages. By not being tied to an individual’s own “personal” updates, it can, in the long run, be a more versatile way of humanizing social media. It makes a brand appear more clever, interesting and effective, and is great for engaging customers directly with the brand itself, rather than the people behind it.

Engage with your audiences

Social media etiquette is important: with personal social media profiles increasingly important in professional circles, getting this wrong can have a serious impact.

Let’s recap the key takeaways from this post:

  • Be sure of the purpose of your account and tailor this to each social platform.
  • Set out your framework for how you’ll use social media. Make sure you’d be happy reading it back in five years.
  • Balance is key: don’t overdo self-promotion (automated or not) or personal updates.
  • Tone is powerful: use your personality or, where appropriate, tie the personality to the brand rather than an individual.

The key trend through all of this is your focus should always be on your audience’s needs.

Always be aware of the social media etiquette surrounding your chosen platforms, and if you’re going to post personal updates, don’t just post what you had for breakfast: make sure the form and content are tailored to the site in question’s demographics.

(Charts by Visualizer Lite.)

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