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Etiquette-SMEtiquette! Does #SMEtiquette Matter in PR?

Allen Mireles is a strategist with an affinity for technology who lives and works at the intersection of social media and traditional marketing and public relations.

As the world rushes online, embracing digital communication and social media, it is more important than ever for public relations professionals to understand the “do’s and don’ts” of social media etiquette, or #SMEtiquette, as it’s known today.

Smetiquette - Social Networks

Doesn’t This Go Without Saying?

You might think so. Practicing good manners in PR is essential, since so much of the work we do relies on building and maintaining strong business relationships. Understanding our audiences is another foundational piece of the public relations puzzle. Digital communication involves both relationship building and understanding our audiences and the behaviors considered appropriate.

Yet every single day people act thoughtlessly in online communities—even seasoned public relations professionals. Seriously. As I was writing this post last night, a friend in PR tweeted an image to me titled with profanity. A light hearted gesture, intended to be silly and not troubling. But, really? From someone in PR who gets social media? I don’t do public profanity. I was underwhelmed and not happy.

A knowledge of what constitutes good manners makes us comfortable within ourselves and with other people. Automatic good manners under difficult circumstances increase our security and our ability to help others achieve social poise, too. Reduced to a phrase, good manners is consideration of other people in respect to their feelings, their safety, their privacy, and their full social rights and privileges.” – Amy Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette, 1956

#SMEttiquette = Good Manners Online

#SMEttiquette (our 2014 version of good manners online) is based both in practicality and common sense, but also in an understanding of the fast-paced and evolving nature of online social networks. Sometimes, what works offline isn’t applicable to online. It’s critical to know the difference. Especially for people in PR who are building campaigns and advising clients on their online communications. Understanding what works and what doesn’t work in digital communications can help avert a public relations disaster.

According to Tamar Weinberg, whose website focuses on social media with an emphasis on its use in marketing, “…you’re leaving your digital signature on the Internet right now. Consider how your comments could be perceived before you actually post them, and think about logic above emotion at all times. Above all, think about maintaining a certain level of professionalism, since people can use whatever you make “permanent” on these sites against you,” she reminds us.

For those of us in public relations, marketing, and communications positions, this advice is doubly important since our employers, clients and prospects look to us for direction and look online for information about us.

Recently my friend, Amy Vernon, started writing a column about social media etiquette. Amy, a 20-year veteran journalist and sought-after speaker, blogs on a variety of topics including content marketing, community management, social media, and now #SMETiquette.

Her “Dear Amy” posts tackle everyday situations people encounter in social media and offer explanations and guidance. “Interactions in social media are often missing critical elements of conversation like facial expression and tone of voice,” she says. She points out that online conversations can be watched by people you don’t know, who don’t know you, and how you typically respond, so can be open to misinterpretation.

And sharing. “Any of the things that can go wrong for an individual who is ignorant of social media etiquette can go very wrong for people in PR,” she explains. “Blasting a brand’s message in social media without having a conversation is just one example we see all the time.”

What To Do?

Smetiquette - Good MannersSo how do you stay on top of #SMEtiquette so you know you aren’t committing a potentially problematic faux pas? There are a wide range of options available to you.

Laura Hale Brockway’s recent post from PR Daily is a lovely and light hearted look at social media etiquette from Jane Austen’s perspective. Her recommendations?

  • Avoid oversharing
  • Treat invitations to connect like real life networking opportunities
  • Have actual conversations with your social media connections

Grace Bonney, of the blog Design Sponge, offers a comprehensive laundry list of recommendations in her Modern Etiquette: Social Media Do’s & Don’ts. Her post includes eleven general observations, multiple social network-specific recommendations, and a host of pet peeves to avoid.

Finally, if you need something to remind you on a daily basis, keep this Forbe’s post handy. Ilya Posin’s Social Media Etiquette: 12 Step Checklist covers most of the essentials you’ll want to think through before posting or updating—for yourself or your clients.

Pay attention. Listen more than you speak. Be practical, use language your audience considers acceptable, and remember your good manners—online and off. Have I forgotten anything? What would you add?

Want to see our infographic full of social media etiquette tips? Click here!

Image: owlana, Rhymes for Kindly Children (Creative Commons)

About Allen Mireles

Allen Mireles is a strategist and wordsmith with an affinity for technology. She lives at the intersection of social media and traditional marketing and public relations and never gets enough time in the garden. Find her on Twitter @allenmireles.

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