Ryan Johnson, Published March 10 2014
While Facebook doesn’t have many rules, social media experts offer some etiquette guidelines
But they should be prepared for the friends list fallout that can come with abusing its many features, according to Brianne Carlsrud, a social insights analyst at Sundog, a marketing firm in Fargo.
“We definitely all use social in a different way, and there’s not necessarily a right or a wrong way,” Carlsrud said. “It kind of depends on how we use it and what we get out of it.”
Chronically oversharing personal details, or uploading too many photos of pets or meals, won’t land a social media junkie behind bars. Still, Kirsten Jensen, director of digital marketing for Fargo-based consulting firm Onsharp, said there are simple ways to keep our online activity palatable and civil for the rest of the network.
Know your network
Jensen’s first tip is also the broadest: Know when to post on Facebook, and when an update or link might be better suited for another social network.
Most friends won’t be bothered if a sports enthusiast shares a link about a big game, she said. But they might take offense to their News Feed becoming clogged with one person’s litany of score updates and commentary.
“When people start to live post for sports games or political events or the Oscars, if they’re posting more than five or six times for a particular event, they should really think about moving to Twitter, because that’s what Twitter is for,” Jensen said.
While there is some overlap, Carlsrud said each social network has its own purpose, complete with a unique target audience and unwritten code of conduct.
“Just be mindful of the audience that you’re speaking to,” she said.
Twitter is like an online “cocktail party,” Jensen said – users can jump into the conversation and read as many tweets as they’d like before leaving the conversation. But Facebook is more like a novel, and Jensen said many users will scroll down to the last point they had read and then work their way up, looking through each new post.
Photo lovers of the Internet should try to post more pictures to Instagram than their Facebook profile, she said.
“If I’m doing a frequent amount of photos, I’ll go to Instagram and know that that’s what people are looking for it they’re following me there,” she said.
For fans of “checking in” at stores, businesses or work, Jensen recommends using Foursquare rather than constantly marking the location on Facebook.
Many of the biggest sites make it easy to automatically post a tweet or Instagram upload to a Facebook account. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s good, Carlsrud said.
“You are reaching a different audience, and that message may not resonate with an audience on Facebook the same way that it did on Twitter,” she said.
Carlsrud often advises her clients to not post the same things on different networks, and said they should tailor the message and content to each site.
There’s an easy compromise for those who juggle accounts across several networks. Jensen said she occasionally shares a photo from Instagram, or a pin from Pinterest, and uses the posts as an invitation for fellow users to consider following her if they want to keep up with her activity on the other sites.
Narrow the audience
A Facebook user might be tempted to share every update about their pregnancy or home remodel, but Jensen said many of these personal situations will only interest a fraction of their online friends.
That’s why she recommends a longstanding feature in Facebook – creating groups that can communicate all they want about specialized topics.
“I had a friend who was dealing with cancer with her mom, and there were maybe 10 of us in that group that were just there to support her and come up with ideas to bring meals to their family,” she said. “That can work really well so it’s not posting too much personal information for the people who are maybe tangential to that experience.”
Facebook events are another way to narrow the audience, enabling the user to invite friends to an upcoming party or activity without bugging everyone.
Some friends have told Jensen they never “tag” other people in photos unless they have permission first, a standard that may be “a little extreme.”
But she said it’s worth thinking about the circumstances before attaching someone else to a photo or post. For example, a picture that’s good for the uploader but includes a bad shot of a mutual friend doesn’t need to be tagged, sparing that person the embarrassment of seeing a less-than-ideal moment immortalized online.
When in doubt, she said, don’t tag – or ask for permission first.
Don’t aim to divide
Rabble-rousers are just as welcome on Facebook as the peacekeepers, but Jensen said they might not get the warmest reception.
“If you choose that political or religious updates are really important to who you are, you just have to be prepared that not everybody is going to be open to that, and you may have people block or unfollow you if that is the case,” she said. “But most people who are really adamant about posting things like that, that’s probably not going to bother them.”
Carlsrud said it’s a personal decision if it’s worth taking a Facebook stance on divisive or controversial issues. The same applies to responding to another person’s viewpoints – in many cases, it’s best to keep a personal opinion out of the comments.
While every Facebook user should try to be civil, respectful and knowledgeable of best practices, Carlsrud said one of the network’s greatest features – customization – means there are ways to avoid seeing a friend’s annoying or divisive activities.
It’s easy to “unfollow” a friend, meaning their updates will no longer appear in the News Feed without their knowledge, she said. A more drastic step is “unfriending” a person, though Carlsrud said that could strain a real-life relationship if the person notices the change.
Users also can let Facebook know if they no longer want to see shared content from certain sites or companies, and they can adjust privacy settings to require approval each time they’re tagged.
The way we use Facebook offers a “window” into how we interact in our daily lives, Jensen said, and it’s important to think about the messages we’re sending with our status updates, links, photos and videos.
“What’s really interesting is that the issues on Facebook are really no different than the issues that we have just being social human beings,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587