Have you noticed that the people who seem to enjoy using social media the most are people who are open and warm when engaging with others? They share all kinds of information online and there is a certain degree of repartee when they communicate with friends. They might not be popping onto friends’ profile pages regularly or routinely commenting on their content, but every now and then they will make a contribution to their pages or send a message.

While it is a good idea to take a thoughtful approach to how you use social media, if you are over thinking things too much you will create undue stress for yourself.

Here are a few scenarios that social media users can consider:

* When you receive a request to link up to your personal profile page or LinkedIn account, it is a nice idea to send back a “hi, how are you” message when you accept. Similarly if you are sending a request to link with someone else include a message with the request.

Test the waters If you don’t want to impose a request to connect on social media, try sending a message to say “hello”.  If the person replies but doesn’t follow up with a request to connect, you know where you stand.  You can still consider connecting on LinkedIn, if it seems appropriate to do so.  Don’t be offended if you don’t receive a reply.  Some people don’t check their accounts often, don’t notice the Other category in the Facebook Inbox and/or don’t check the E-mail account that receives updates.

* Social media pages aren’t completely customizable; however, you can fill in your settings when you confirm a link request sent from someone you don’t know very well. Do you want this person to know where you live and your cell phone number? Will they have access to writing on your wall or posts from other people? When you upload photo albums will they be able to see them? Will you put them on your Close Friends or Acquaintance list? Consider the depth of your relationship with a person in the beginning rather than providing this type of access and then clawing it back. You can always expand on their information access later on.

* Once you are linked to someone’s profile page, treat their page with respect. Avoid going onto someone’s profile page and  roasting them for their political views or an article they like, for example. If you think the other person’s support of a political party and the views they express about them are ill informed, send them personal messages. Don’t type in 10 comments in response to a video they have posted. If you find the content of their page to be repeatedly offensive, you will want to consider if you should even be linked with them on social media. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t debate with someone about a topic while commenting on their post.  However it is worth remembering that negative or even vaguely critical replies will be seen by your contact’s friends.  This could create an embarrassing situation.  Additionally, the written word is very two dimensional and it is easy to misunderstand other people’s words – especially if we have a biased view on a topic.

* Don’t bait people online and stay on topic. If someone is sharing information about dogs and you add a comment asking for a definition of a completely unrelated topic, this will be confusing.  The contact won’t understand how the dog conversation has pushed your buttons.  He won’t understand how you are feeling prickly about this whole dog topic and how it relates to a completely unrelated topic.  He won’t know that you’re hovering over the “unfriend button” because you’ve just about had it with his outlook on life, his love of dogs and his completely different take on the topic you pulled out of nowhere.

* It seems like an obvious point, but do try to reply to E-mails sent exclusively to your attention or notes put on your wall.  If a reply isn’t appropriate, you can always “like” a comment on Facebook to let your friend know that you have seen their contribution to your page.

* Think carefully about how you link up with colleagues. (Truly – they will be thinking the same way about you.) If you are linked up, don’t share negative or gossipy information about the work place on your page and be aware that some colleagues may use information on your profile page against you. It’s sad to say but it does happen. Imagine that you’re off sick and can barely lift your head off your pillow. This is the story you told your boss. Meanwhile there is a steady stream of activity on your social media profile page. The fact that you had a laptop propped next to your head while you suffered through a hundred Kleenexes will not be taken into account. There have been a number of cases in the news about people who have been fired for this type of activity or for the content that was posted on their profile page.

*Think about your audience. If you are linked up to colleagues or accept friend requests from people under 20, think twice about the content that you are posting on your site. You can control much of the content on your page, but some of the information on your wall might make it to their home page news feed. If you want to be free to express yourself and join whatever group that interests you, you can view your profile page as specific people see it.  You can also set up a list of people who shouldn’t see certain types of content and include that list in the custom setting when you post on your page.

* Don’t get upset about the frequency of postings on your home page news feed. The newsfeed page was set up to to pull in information from other people’s activity notices. For some time now your news feed has been filtered on Facebook so that you see some of your friends’ posts.  Upcoming changes will alter how this happens and, hopefully, make the news feed more efficient.  If you are tired of reading multiple postings from one person in particular, and would like more variety, you can adjust your settings to see fewer postings from this person. In general though, it’s not hard to scan over this content and move on.

* Remember that we can’t all be the same. Some friends will have numerous happy status statements when you feel that your life has reached its lowest point ever. Or perhaps some friends are always posting about social justice issues when you are interested in other types of information. Is it really so awful to be exposed to “difference”? We can always learn something about different people’s life experiences or encounter issues about which we know almost nothing.

* Tidy up your profile page. You can go back, retroactively, and delete or hide postings on your profile page. It’s your choice how you want others to read your page. If you want them to focus on the content, and not the multiple changes to your cover photo, you can always prune out some of your previous posts.

* Choose an appropriate profile photo. If you tend to link up with people who have rather harsh images as profile photos, then go ahead and use that bleak image. Otherwise think twice about inflicting disturbing images on your friends. After all your image will be peppered all over their page if you have left content there in the past.  If you have privacy concerns, you don’t have to use a photo of yourself or your children.  However do consider moving on from the Tintin head or the drab photo of the geranium you bought two years ago.

* Don’t be cynical about how others use social media. Some people are very computer savvy and have their smart phone tied into their Twitter account, which is connected to their social media account. Some people type close to 100 words a minute (hands up at BCFamily.ca). Others enjoy a busy pace in their life and can put on a gourmet dinner, deal with three children, a busy job and STILL be über connected in the world of social media. Some people use their personal profile page to promote their professional life.  Still others enjoy expressing themselves through electronic media. For them, it’s a creative outlet. They may have consolidated different communication functions through one profile page. In one place they can send E-mails, share photos and videos and other content, or organize events. Avoid the temptation to say “oh they must have so much time on their hands” or “clearly this person has some narcissistic tendencies going on. Does he really think we care what’s going on in his life or what he thinks?”  You can always adjust your settings to see less information about that person or choose to scan beyond the content that doesn’t agree with you.

* Don’t get unnecessarily upset if someone tags you in a photo that you don’t want shared with everyone linked to you. Simply untag your name. It’s not a big deal. If you don’t want the image posted at all, you can always send a polite message to that person and explain your request. Most people will understand and comply.

* Delete contacts with care.  If you have ended a romantic relationship or had a blow out with somebody, it won’t come as a surprise if you delete their link to your page. It would be very progressive of you to explain, when ending a relationship, that you will be severing this link.

Other than these types of situations, let’s say, for example, that you are linked to 100+ or more people and you decide – because of how the wind is blowing – that you’ve had enough of being linked to a person. Maybe you’ve decided they post too much information that ends up on your home page newsfeed or you just want to prune your friend list and clear out some contacts.  What if this person doesn’t have 100s of links to their page?  He or she actually notices that you’ve “dumped them electronically”, without provocation, and it’s not because you’ve deleted your account. Maybe you aren’t currently bosom buddies, but they’ve also been kind to you in social and/or professional settings,  treated your connection to them with thought and have had exchanges over the years via snail mail, E-mail and social media.  Indeed all of your mutual friends with that person are still linked to your page. You have now created an awkward situation. Was it really necessary?  Perhaps you should have given this matter consideration when you first linked up to them in the first place.  If you have been offended by something a contact wrote, send a message, pick up the phone or get on Skype and talk about it before you erase them from your online profile.  Facebook unfriending does have consequences outside of online forums. Ultimately punitive “unfriendingcreatives awkward results because, as Murphy’s Law dictates, your paths will cross, in-person, in the future.

* If you decide that you are deleting your account, let your contacts know rather than just disappearing?  Ask your contacts to share their E-mail information with you and provide your own.

The most enjoyable use of social media is conducted by people who aren’t “rule conscious”, enjoy life with a light touch, are creative and like to have fun using computer applications.  After all, some of the most enjoyable contributions on social media are the random – almost poetic – status updates.

What are your thoughts about best practice and etiquette on social media? You can comment about this posting using the comment function below or by visiting the BC Family Facebook page. Your opinion matters so don’t be shy!

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