If you're like me, the personal and professional blend together in the social media world. By now, most of us are pretty practiced at living online. But there are still a few finer points that people miss when communicating online.
But before we get into those, don't forget the super-important real world rules! You're still interacting with people. Something an old lab professor told me when I asked what I was allowed to do in a certain precarious situation was "anything you're OK seeing printed in the paper." Keep this in mind with search and cacheing: nothing is ever really gone. Once you put it out there, odds are it can be easily found, again and again.
1. Offer something of value.
Before you put something out there publicly, ask yourself "Is this interesting? Is it useful?" If you can't answer yes to at least one of those, reconsider. Whether it's personal or business, you don't want to spam and bore people. This doesn't mean that you have to be brilliant all the time. It's more about examining your motives. You should be moved to share because you think people will get something out of what you have to say, not because you're trying to manipulate search results or be the next viral marketing sensation.
2. Observe someone's habits before engaging with them.
You can't assume that something you consider to be an essential business tool isn't considered a distraction by someone else. Twitter might be important to you and your business, but not everyone feels that way. If you prefer to communicate on IM, but notice that a client is always asking you to email them instead, they might not be comfortable with the medium. Someone whose Facebook profile is full of family photos, Mafia Wars updates, and inside-joke wall posts from friends probably sees Facebook as a personal space and may be annoyed if you use it to conduct business.
3. Stop and think before you complain.
Twitter can be an amazing way to get a company's attention or make them aware of a bad customer service experience... or just let off some steam. But beware of turning your feed into a series of complaints. If you are going to say something negative, hold off for at least half a day and make sure you're not being impulsive or unfair. If in doubt, don't say it.
4. Be thoughtful about how you react to criticism.
You may also be on the receiving end of criticism, often from people who don't worry about being impulsive or unfair. Avoid reacting out of anger or defensiveness. If the complaint is something that you think could apply to others, it's appropriate to respond publicly. If not, offer to discuss the problem in a direct communication. Now this is assuming the criticism has some merit or at the very least comes from a sincere desire to solve a problem. Feel free to ignore personal attacks or people trying to use you to bring attention to their company or pet cause.
5. Make your style clear and obvious.
Some of us are glued to the Internet, while others check in once a day at most. If you have a flood of information directed at you, it's good to make it known how and when you will (or won't) respond to it.
Anything you'd add to this list? Always feel free to reach out to NOTCOT on Twitter, too: @NOTCOT, @NotCouture, @Tasteologie, @Liqurious.