If you have used social media long enough, you have surely experienced a few of those head-shaking moments when you see a Facebook post or a tweet that has you saying to yourself: “What were they thinking?!”
If you’re lucky, those moments are reserved for people you don’t know or aren’t in your inner circle, so you can sit back and not worry about the consequences. But other times, they strike a little closer to home, and, if you’re really unlucky, you’ve made one of those mistakes yourself – a moment that you may not regret but one that will have others looking at you in a whole different light.
So, in the hope of avoiding some of the more common cringe-inducing moments, here are seven things you might want to avoid when you are using social media:
1. Making private messages public
You’re in a rush and need to respond to a direct message on Twitter, but instead of using a ‘d’, you use a regular ‘@’ sign. Your super-private message is now broadcast to all 10,000 of your bewildered followers. Sure, you can always go back and delete the tweet but, as many politicians and celebrities will tell you, the damage has been done. Whether you are sending a DM on Twitter or a private message on Facebook, make sure it only reaches its intended audience.
2. Engaging the haters
Haters are everywhere on social media, and the more popular you are, the more you will come across them. Why do we tell our kids never to respond to online bullies but can never resist the urge ourselves? Haters live for a response. As soon as you respond, they win (and you open the door for even more abuse). Delete, block, and get on with the rest of your life, while they try and get a life of their own.
3. Using social media to drum up business
There are lots of unwritten rules on social media and one of the most basic is to never use your personal Facebook or Twitter account to overtly promote your business. Sure, you can talk about your work and make it obvious what you do for a living, but shamelessly trawling your friends and followers for clients is a no-no. That’s why Facebook has Pages and Twitter has sponsored links.
4. Offering extremist views
It may come as a surprise to many political party activists, but roughly 50 percent of the population is unlikely to agree with your point of view. Similarly, offering intolerant opinions on religions other than your own is unlikely to win you many friends outside of the extremists that already make up your existing social media base. Live and let live should be the motto of the social media age, unless, of course, your mission in life is to be controversial. (In a similar vein, I used to have a friend who was a rabid Boston sports fan and who was always disparaging other teams and their players. He could never understand why he couldn’t get his Twitter followers over the 500 mark!)
5. Being insensitive
We’ve all seen those tweets that leave you shaking your head in disbelief: people in the north-east complaining about an inch of rainfall while the Central Plain states are being roiled by tornadoes; or the person in the south-west complaining about her child’s elementary school teacher just after the Newtown shootings. Although there is some truth to the observation that saying anything at all is bound to offend someone, there is a duty to think about our social media comments in a wider context that just our own insular lives.
6. Being too narcissistic
Let’s face it, maintaining a public social media account is about self-promotion. For the most part, we want other people to know how smart we are and what great lives we lead. Why else would we care about the number of friends and followers we have? But unless you are still in middle school, the idea of constantly posting new profile pictures and other assorted ‘selfies’ and trawling for Likes smacks of a little too much self-love. Baby photos are OK; too many photos of mommy’s six-pack abs four weeks after giving birth will not win you many new fans!
Although we love how social media gives us insights into other people’s lives, there are thresholds we do not want to cross. If you’ve just gone through a bad break-up, then you probably shouldn’t be telling the world all about your ex’s deficiencies in the bedroom. Similarly, if you’ve just had a colonoscopy, then we probably don’t need to know all the medical details. Social media offers us a wonderful opportunity to share our everyday experiences but, as in the real world, some things are just better left unsaid!
Monica Vila is TheOnlineMom -a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in our lives. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook here or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.