social media etiquetteThe account of the would-be NASA intern (thanks Paula Kiger!) who lost her coveted spot following some inappropriate behavior on social media spurred much discussion in the Spin Sucks community.

What you tweet (not to mention say, do, or whatever in public or on social media) matters.

Take the Justine Sacco story as another example.

Both scenarios resulted in disastrous after-effects for the people involved. All due to what they likely thought was a harmless message on social media.

We learned/developed/adopted etiquette, ethics, and overall comportment over time. Right?

Should we be accountable for our behavior on social media? Absolutely.

The punishment doesn’t always fit the crime, it seems, but our actions do have consequences.

As a result, does this need to be on the curriculum in order to safeguard future generations from foot-in-mouth syndrome?

The Big Question:

Do we need to teach social media etiquette and ethics?

In Short? Yes!

Vicki Fitch felt so strongly about it she created a curriculum for it:

We can’t expect kids to know the proper way to act as a professional unless we teach them.

I actually created curriculum for a school here in California to teach ‘Business, Branding, and Social Media.’ That way, they learn that they are a brand as soon as they start social media and the history can stick with them throughout the journey.

I incorporate in that training my global #YouAreEnough initiative that is based on my new upcoming book Evict the Bully in Your Head.

Kids often act differently on social media to be cool #YouAreEnough teaches them how to own who they are, while they Step Up and Stand Out.

There is no need to Bully the Bullies even when they shame you on Social Media. Kids need to learn the ins and outs of the platforms. Why? When they look for jobs, or apply to colleges, they will be judged on that performance.

Some tips:

  1. Understand the platforms and treat yourself like an actual brand when you start. Treating everyone else with dignity and respect and growing into your follower base with Confidence and without Cockiness (those are two characters from Evict the Bully in Your Head).
  2. Learn how to deal with Trolls (Bullies) or difficult behavior from a pro so you don’t let your reputation get Dragged into the Drama.

Social Media Etiquette: The Handbook

Christy Owenby is on the same page:

Kids and teenagers should be taught media ethics and guidelines.

Schools expect students to abide by their handbooks and most now have social media policies.

How can we expect students to abide by the guidelines and policies if they are not taught what is appropriate?

We teach children basic etiquette and socially appropriate behavior, and with social media being one of the major ways kids are communicating, teaching them ethics and guidelines is absolutely necessary.

It’s also important for students to understand their online behavior reflects their character.

Children and teenagers need to learn at a very young age that the character of their online behavior is just as important as their day-to-day behavior.

One tip: think before your post. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t post it.

If you wouldn’t show it to your parents, don’t like it, share it or post it.

Be very careful what you like, favorite, share or retweet as those actions also reflect your character.

Social Media Etiquette for a Brighter Future

Sara Hawthorn insists that the internet will only improve if we actively endeavor to make it a better, safer place for all involved.

Online communication is part of our everyday life now and for many people, they’ve had to figure out digital etiquette as they go.

But now we’re at a stage where we know what’s ok and what isn’t so that should absolutely be formalized and taught from a young age—say primary school.

The sooner we can instil good digital communication the better the internet will (hopefully) be for everyone in the future.

Social Media Etiquette: Shared Learning

From Heather Feimster:

While I understand the “they should know better by now” perspective, I would argue that etiquette has always been a learned skill.

My university offered a senior business etiquette dinner led by our university president.

He offered standard etiquette (how to figure out which glass if yours) to how to handle your client ordering food for you that you hate (“wipe” your mouth and spit it in your napkin with a smile on your face—and eat beforehand!).

I think there is a level of responsibility that all professionals have for passing down these expectations to the next generation.

Unlike us, they’ve grown up with all this media to the point that they have habits from teenage/younger years that must be unlearned and adapted to a professional setting.

If no one ever takes them aside to help them learn—”Look, if you’re going to engage with professionals on this platform, the way you speak matters,”—then they will end up in these situations that are very difficult to recover from.

I think it’s entirely appropriate for professionals to engage with internship programs, university programs, and young employee groups to address these topics and help grow the professional culture that we bemoan as “slipping away”.

Social Media Etiquette: Yes, but No

Stacy Caprio acknowledges that social media etiquette is important and needs to be discussed, but not in school:

No, this is not a topic that should be taught in school, just as regular ethics are not taught in school.

It should be something families teach in their homes right along with regular ethics and character.

Heather Smith is on the same page, although she feels that there should be some discussion in schools, if not a full class:

Social media ethics and guidelines should be taught in school, something along the lines of like a sex ed class.

Not so much a full semester, but definitely something longer than one class period.

So many people think that because there’s a screen, they’re safe.

James Gunn’s firing is the perfect example. Something he said online 10 years ago came back to haunt him and he lost his job. Ridiculous!

Sure, it’s a free-for-all out there on the interwebs. Students can be better equipped to dodge potential fallouts with future employers and opportunities if we show them what could go wrong, and educate them about and promote privacy settings.

No one can stop someone from posting something stupid online, but people can learn how to have only their close friends see it, rather than their extended family and strangers.

Social Media Etiquette: Rated PG

From Mary Barber:

I hate to see this become part of the curriculum because it would be my expectation parents will provide guidance to their children.

Education has become so much more than it used to be and I would like to see parents return to doing more of these types of things.

I feel like a lot of it is part of general etiquette and upbringing.

Parents (should) teach kids how to behave on the playground and in the classroom, etc.

I argue that some of the same rules apply.

When we get into talking about business emails and such there could be classes but I see the early learning part as a bugger part of life skills.

I don’t recall ever teaching my kids how to act on social media but they sure knew how to treat their friends and other people.

Nate Masterson agrees, with some qualifications:

Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t help but feel that that sort of education needs to come primarily from the parents.

On the other hand, schools are about preparing kids for the future.

Like it or not, social media is a part of the world and it is here to stay. Ethics and social media guidelines should, therefore, be discussed (if not actually taught) in class, yes.

The school must interact with the parents on this issue, and make sure that they are on the same page. This—more than so many other things, perhaps—needs to be a joint effort because it exists at home and at school and everywhere in between.

What you post online remains there, forever. It is scary to consider sometimes, and this is precisely why children need proper guidance on both fronts.

Social Media Etiquette: Cautionary Tales

Hillary Conlin has first-hand experience reinforcing her position that yes, social media etiquette should be taught in schools:

While in high school and Facebook was barely becoming a well known social media platform, I was an avid MySpace user. I was suspended for three days because of my poor behavior on that platform.

One simple post landed me in some hot water.

Nowadays, people are posting more risky photos and videos. What some see as harmless and the freedom to do as they please, there is a lot of that can happen as a repercussion.

Schools need to host discussions around social media ethics and guidelines.

I feel that implementing a signed contract that has a clause of termination if the new hire poorly represents the company is a good idea.

Anyone else really want to know what Hillary did on MySpace? :raises hand:

Deirdre Lopian ran into an issue close to home:

It is bad enough adults don’t practice common sense on social media. I recently ran into a situation with my niece.

She is on Instagram and Snapchat.

My brother knows I follow and monitor her because he and her mom know nothing about these platforms.

In any event, she was so excited a boy sent her a letter in the mail. She posted the letter with her home address on her Instagram!

Not to mention, because she didn’t have a private account she had bots who would comment to her and, of course, she responds to them.

Don’t get me started. She is young. Older boys and men have commented on her photos. She likes the comments.

I saw them this weekend and we sat down for a two-hour crash course on Instagram.

Now: Her account is private, she knows how to report users/comments, and she knows what bots are.

Children need to learn how to safely post online. And parents need to be educated about the dangers and what to look out for when posting on social media platforms.

Social Media Etiquette: The Final Word

This week, Spin Sucks community member Kami Huyse gets the final word.

This is a great question. I have so many parents that ask me questions about social media. For instance, at my church a few of the parents wanted to start a social media group at the age of 11 and 12, to keep the kids up-to-date on what’s happening.

However, I had to educate them that COPPA compliance says that children must be 13 before they participate in social media. Even though we know many are skirting this rule on a regular basis.

The school curriculum should include basic etiquette and expectations for social media. In other words, we should teach digital literacy.

Moreover, there should be training in critical thinking skills fir processing information, and spotting potentially false information.

There should also be some additional parenting resources available for use at home. Let’s face it, those of us in this group are more informed then probably 90 percent of the general population on how to use social media effectively and appropriately.

I think parents are feeling very lost in this sea, and don’t really even know how to begin.

There has to be education on both sides. And the school is the most expedient and effective touchpoint for both groups. In PR 101 we always look for the most effective channel for our messages.

Up Next: Communication Inspiration

One of our community members recently asked if anyone could recommend a book.

Specifically, a book to inspire a marketing team of young to highly-experienced team members.

Their goal? To read one book together in the next couple of months to go into 2019 refreshed and innovative.

A worthy cause, no? Your thoughts?

Is there a book that does that for you and your team? Is there a community (ahem) that provides inspiration and insight?

A blog? Case studies? Speakers/personalities/influencers?

So, the next Big Question asks:

What inspires you? Your team members? What (re)invigorates your communication efforts, ensuring you bring your best and brightest ideas to the table?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

Mike Connell

Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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