Lately I've been browsing through more blogs than usual written in an authoritative tone stating "the etiquette for social media," as if such authors are somehow experts on how everyone else should or should not portray themselves online.
Having done social media professionally for organizations as well as carrying my own personal accounts, I have a real issue with anyone proclaiming to be or act as an "expert" in either arena. You can never be an expert in social media because it is constantly changing. To self-proclaim this title is to assert that you are done learning. And while you can certainly advise and mentor organizations in navigating social media, this guidance should stop with companies. Let people use their personal accounts however they want to!
The beauty of social media for personal use is that it allows us to express our individuality and share our lives to the extent that we choose. This is complemented by the fact that we have total freedom to customize our newsfeed and networks by blocking those who we'd rather not interface with and friending those who enhance our lives. This is no different than in person when we choose to follow up on that coffee date, or let the invite slide.
Those who carry negative rants about how "annoying" or "poorly" others are using social media, can -- pardon me -- shut up. You are the ultimate offender of all "offenders" by wasting your time browsing through your network only to complain and put down others. I have a feeling you do this in person, too -- questioning what that person is wearing or gossiping about your friend's latest relationship change or job move. You're probably the type of person that just loves to complain, and now you're taking to the Internet to bring your negativity into this digital arena. Well I'm sick of it.
Thus, my No. 1 "rule" for social media etiquette is this: Share what you want to share, engage how often you want to engage, unapologetically be yourself, and be tolerant to others' differences.
This trumps all the other frivolous "etiquette guides" floating around, including but not limited to the following common critiques:
- Love and weddings: So you hate seeing people in love. That's fine, us people in love are used to haters like you. Public display of affection has bothered a sector of people well before the Internet. But in today's era, what irks you is not seeing a couple kiss on the street, it's those staged engagement photos of couples celebrating their commitment or the big wedding day photos aggregated with cute hashtags that annoy you. But who are you to stomp on love? Love is the most powerful force on this planet, and if two people want to broadcast the overwhelming joy that comes with finding true love, save yourself the embarrassment of sounding lonely and bitter by leaving newlyweds alone.
- Babies and more babies: Yes, people procreate. In fact, we were all once happy, carefree babies even though some of us turned out to be grumpy, old adults. It's actually a beautiful, miraculous thing that women can grow and give birth to children. In fact, it's a pretty big deal -- one of those life changing milestones, ya know? So while you're bothered by all the baby bumps and chubby little humans mixed into your newsfeed, maybe you should go ask your mother what it was like giving birth to your ass and you'll have a new appreciation for this life-giving chapter that some of your friends are so selflessly enduring.
- Happiness in general: So many people are quick to assume that a person must be "fake" online if their lives "look amazing." Guys, there is this crazy concept called OUTLOOK. There are optimists, realists and pessimists. Some people, the optimists in particular, are genuinely happy and choose to focus on the good in their lives. This then pours into their profiles, because this positive focus brings uplifting thoughts that transform into their posts. I know, it's crazy right? People can actually be ... content.
- Vacations and getaways: Oh, get over it. If you're bothered by seeing someone's toes in the sand while yours are stuck on your couch watching TV, then take it into your own hands and plan your own getaway. Jealousy is not a good look on anyone.
- Food and simple joys: Why are some people so offended by pictures of food, selfies, flowers, puppies and life's other simple joys? We encounter simple joys every day offline, from the second we wake up and browse that delectable selection of pastries in our local coffee shop, to the towering trees that shadow the streets we walk, to those beautiful bouquets of flowers that get delivered "just because." Whatever it is, these simple joys comprise the beauty in our lives. Some of us appreciate these moments so much so that we want to take a picture of it. If you don't like it, then scroll on, just as you're probably overlooking these moments in real life anyway.
If you have ever caught yourself complaining about these things, I ask of you to change your perspective. Realize that what somebody is posting, while it may not interest you, likely means something of substance and value to them. Similarly, what you are posting is not always of interest to those following you. It is tolerance that will lend a better experience for all of us, online and offline.
The idea that any one person can create a "social media etiquette guide" for you and I is to outrageously assume that we do not manage our own personal brands. How I want the world to see me is entirely in my hands, and that includes gushy wedding photos, my favorite foods, my labradoodle who means the world to me, and my growing baby bump. And yes, I'm ... happy!
So please, post away, friends. You are your own brand, and it is a beautiful thing.