Your 'Social Netiquette' Questions Answered

When to Connect on LinkedIn, Cite Sources on Twitter

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Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
It sure is easy to make a mistake with all these new communications tools. I see a lot of them. And I'm on the receiving end of a lot of them. Based on my tweets on the topic, you want to talk about it. So here goes, my first column on business "social netiquette."

Let's start with observations about why business social netiquette is so confusing to people:

  1. Social technologies are social, that is, designed for person to person interactions. But in a business setting, you also represent a company. So first problem: are you being a person, or a company?
  2. There are so many ways to communicate. E-mail (forwards, CCs), Twitter (retweets, @responses, and direct messages), Facebook (status and wall messages), LinkedIn, etc. -- and then there are the questions about responding to a request in one channel with a response in another channel. So if you're confused, don't worry, we all are (unless you are 22 and know everything, that is).
  3. Almost all interactions in business are between people of different status. Like a customer support rep and a customer. Or a PR person and an analyst. So that makes things difficult, since you may be asking someone in a position of importance (or maybe just with more followers than you) to respond. That's always challenging. (My recent trip to Japan made me more aware of these status questions.)

Here's the format. I'll post questions I get (in these cases from Twitter) and my response. My answer is not the answer, it is an answer. If you have a better or different answer, put it in the comments.

I'm also going to add some personal observations about how people treated me in cases where I felt their business netiquette was questionable.

Finally -- and you won't find this in any other netiquette source -- I will suggest what I think is the appropriate penalty for these violations. In some cases I don't have the guts to apply the penalty, so I will take the coward's way out and just get my jollies by exposing the behavior right here.

So let's get to it.

lchisholm: When you get home from a job interview do you immediately invite interviewer to connect on LinkedIn?
@lchisholm: I take LinkedIn seriously in its suggestion that you only link up to trusted business contacts. So while I friend all sorts of people on Facebook, I would think it was presumptuous to ask someone on LinkedIn to connect with me if I didn't know them. I think after a single interview, you're asking for trouble -- it could even backfire on you. I'd wait until you get the job. (Another viewpoint: when you asked this on Twitter, @bhavishya responded "No, you wait three days :P")

StickyStimuli: On Twitter, how often should you link to articles vs. make a statement (no link required)?
@StickyStimuli: If you read something and it makes you think, you should always provide a link. (There, it rhymes, to make it easy to remember.) But I think it's OK to comment on something generally in the news (for example, Kanye West's recent behavior) without linking, since it's easy to find information on the topic. The reason for the link is to give your followers the benefit of learning more about what you're commenting on if they're interested.

blockgreg: People on Twitter posting about their company services "our company does X, we'd love to work with you," [is it] out of context?
If someone is asking about products your company provides, it's fine to provide some information -- if it's relevant. But I'd do a real soft-sell ("If you want info about these services, here is some"). And remember, they're going to look at your tweet stream. If you do nothing but solicit business all day, you're going to look terrible and you won't get the business. I found this a little silly, for example. (Penalty: I expose your tweetstream.)

Finally my personal experience. I recently received an e-mail from a vendor who said he was following up because I followed him on Twitter. (It's not clear if I actually followed him, or it was someone else at Forrester.) After I didn't respond to the e-mail, he sent a second. I told him to take me off the mailing list; he responded. But the kicker is -- each of the three e-mails included 500K of screen shots. I find large, unsolicited e-mails rude -- who knows what kind of connection or storage limitations the receiver has? Since I am somewhat well known, I get a lot of these pitches -- and I pay attention to the netiquette of the one doing the pitching. What's the right response? I just pointed out he'd made an error, but I'm not even publishing his name here. What would you do?

If you find this interesting and have your own questions, Tweet with the tag #socialnetiquette, respond to this blog post with a question, or e-mail me at jbernoff [at] forrester dotcom.

Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at
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