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social media etiquette for PR

Image source: Liz West

Social media can be an excellent tool for building relationships with journalists, bloggers and social media influencers, but it comes with its own unwritten rules of etiquette. PR and marketing pros who don’t follow those accepted practices will almost certainly annoy and offend others.

Etiquette blunders can damage your personal brand and your company’s image. Mistakes on personal accounts can impact your business’s online reputation if online users learn about your work associations. Communications professionals may be subject to greater scrutiny than others. They’re expected to know better.

Ill-advised social media comments can also cause an online reputational calamity. Potential employers now almost always check the social media accounts of prospective hires.

These are the top social media etiquette mistakes.

Avoid these Social Media Mistakes – What Not to Do

Don’t get into arguments. You don’t know how many others may eventually read a comment you make in the heat of an argument. You can delete a comment but a screen shot can capture it for posterity. Feeding the trolls only makes them happier and stronger.

Don’t share extremely personal information, such as sensitive financial and personal relationship information. It’s easy to make a mistake when setting privacy settings, and information can easily escape your control.

Don’t add reporters as friends on Facebook unless you truly have a pre-existing friendship. Your “private” comments could become news.

Don’t share controversial opinions. Heed the saying about politics and religion. While everyone has the right to personal convictions, promoting them on professional accounts may be foolhardy. Save controversial discussions for personal accounts – and set the appropriate privacy controls.

Don’t make jokes in poor taste. You might think it’s funny, but someone will surely take offense. PR pros have been known to lose their jobs over tweets deemed offensive. “If you want to make a joke, do it in person, with friends and family who know you—not when you’re representing your brand,” counsels Eric Sachs, CEO of Sachs Marketing Group. Of course, ethnic or racist jokes are never appropriate.

Don’t over-automate. Online tools can help schedule social media posts, but automated messages to individual users is the antithesis of authenticity. Avoid automated Twitter DMs, private Facebook messages, and Instagram comments. People will sense they’re receiving bot messages and may unfollow or even report your messages as spam.

Don’t over-use hashtags. Hashtags help users discover your content. But too many annoy people. Recommended limits to hashtags per post vary between networks. Most experts recommend only a few on Facebook and LinkedIn but say more are fine for Instagram.

Social Media Etiquette: What to Do

Here’s more advice on best practices for PR professionals on social media.

Be courteous and kind. Excessive complaining and snarky sarcasm is unlikely to create friendships. Posting on social media calls for caution and professionalism. Assertive viewpoints are fine if as your comments are informed, constructive and carefully worded. Give credit to others when sharing their content by mentioning their handle, and thank others when they share content. Few brands can pull off the sassy social media attitude of Wendy’s.

Find how reporters prefer to receive pitches. Surveys show that most reporters prefer to receive pitches by email. Just because reporters are active on Twitter doesn’t mean they like to receive media pitches there. Social media is too public a forum. They don’t want competitors or the public to know what stories they’re considering or preparing. In addition, PR pros may find that social media platforms don’t allow enough space to fully explain story ideas.

 Give before receiving. The best way to befriend influencers is to share and comment on their content. Read and respond to journalists’ tweets. Offer something first, such as industry information, access to executives, or a story tip. The same concept of reciprocity applies to users on other networks.

Double-check grammar and spelling. Social media posts that contain errors and typos harm a brand and/or personal reputation. Damage is highest when a member of a company’s target audience views the company’s social media profile for the first time. Spelling and grammar mistakes are pervasive on social media, but PR people are held to higher standards as representatives of their brands.

Respond promptly. Respond to questions and comment promptly. Most people expect a response within 24 hours. In North America, 43% of consumers expect a response on a customer service issue in less than an hour, research shows.

“While creating meaningful posts that enhance PR is incredibly important, it is just as important to connect with followers,” states a George Washington University social guide. “Engage in dialogue and respond to meaningful questions and comments from social media users. Social media followers may end up feeling ignored by a brand if their comments and concerns are ignored, which actually harms public relations efforts.”

Think first before posting or sharing posts from others. People often retweet on Twitter or share incendiary posts on Facebook without investigating the assertions. That’s one of the major reasons for the spread of fake news. Unless an article is clearly from a well-known legitimate news outlet, verify its accuracy.

Bottom Line: The PR profession embraces social media as a powerful forum for promoting their corporate and brand messages and connecting with journalists and other influencers. However, breaching social media etiquette causes networking efforts to backfire. Following these guidelines will help PR remain in good standing on social media.

This article was first published on Jan. 17, 2017, and updated on Feb. 25, 2020.