Facebook Etiquette for Dummies

Photo (cc) by Johan Larsson

When my daughter was born last January, not one, but two Facebook friends posted announcements before I even had a chance to let everyone know I had gone to the hospital.

It was just one example of the type of social faux pas we see in a world where we do much of our communicating via tweets, pins and status updates. We’ll leave Twitter and Pinterest etiquette for another day, and for now, we’ll start with the big one: Facebook.

Before you alienate your friends and family, follow these basic guidelines to avoid major social blunders there:

Share only what’s yours to share

Let’s start with the mistake my friends made. I shared good news with them personally, and they took it upon themselves to share that news with the world. However, it wasn’t their news to share, and they failed to ask permission first.

Before posting anything involving another person, consider whether it is your job to spread the word. If you aren’t sure, it’s always better to ask first rather than embarrass or annoy a friend. Some friends will be happy to share their news, while others may prefer to keep their bladder incontinence surgery a secret.

Don’t tag people without their permission

Likewise, don’t tag people without asking first. Depending on their privacy settings, tagging someone might make that photo or update visible to not only your friends and their friends but also to friends of friends. Beyond privacy reasons, some people simply prefer not to have their photo taken or plastered on the Internet.

I’m not saying you need notarized authorization from your friends to post photos online. But when you are taking photos at the office party, be sure to ask “Do you mind if I post these to Facebook?” Even if you know that your friends don’t mind, use discretion before posting. If you wouldn’t want a photo of you ogling the hot valet online, then don’t post one of your friend doing the same.

It’s Facebook, not Spambook

You sell Tupperware or Origami Owl or Scentsy. I understand. I’m a Thirty-One rep, and I feel your pain. It’s easy to convince yourself you’d be doing your friends a favor by posting incessantly about your company’s great deals.

Let’s be real. Facebook can be a great selling tool but your friends want to hear about you, not your business. Rather than post before and after pics every day for your weight loss miracle cure, consider starting a dedicated business page or group. Then you can promote your business to those who are interested without losing your other friends.

Chain letters are best left to 10-year-olds

When I was a kid, getting a chain letter in the mail was uber exciting. As an adult, seeing a “chain” status update in my news feed is uber annoying. It’s not that I don’t think my dad was great or that I don’t want to defeat cancer, but cutting and pasting these updates is, quite frankly, meaningless. And the implication that I don’t care because I don’t share is obnoxious.

Posting them occasionally might garner a few eye rolls from your friends. Do it more often and you may find yourself de-friended.

Think about your audience

Both of the two previous guidelines tie into this one. Know who you are writing to and what they want to hear. Your Aunt Edna probably couldn’t care less that you had sautéed kale with minced shallots and balsamic vinegar for lunch, but your foodie friends might love that sort of stuff.

One of the past downfalls of Facebook was that it lumped all your friends into one massive group. So you had your cousin, your boss and your bestie all reading the same thing. However, what you want to share with your boss is probably radically different from what you want to share with your best friend.

Fortunately, you can now create lists to limit who sees what. If you have a group of friends trying to lose weight, you can create a list of those people. Then you can share your daily runs with them and not worry about boring the rest of your friends. On the same note, if you regularly post religious or political content and know that some friends don’t share your beliefs, the gracious thing to do is to create a list that excludes them from seeing those updates.

Don’t abuse the chat function

I have to tell you that the chat function is turned off on my Facebook account. Too many times I would log in and have someone open the chat window saying “Hey, what are you doing?” To which I never actually responded with “I’m checking Facebook, duh!” even though I really wanted to.

Please, don’t be that person. Remember, many people might be popping on quickly or perhaps they have Facebook running in the background at work. In either case, they probably don’t want to shoot the breeze via chat. A good rule of thumb is to chat only if it is something important enough to pick up the phone and talk about – say ironing out details for that day’s playdate.

Friend wisely or at least know your privacy settings

Finally, there is no Facebook etiquette rule saying you have to accept every friend invitation that comes your way. You also don’t need to stay friends with everyone you’ve ever friended. Feel free to de-friend casual acquaintances with whom you’ve never spoken or the Realtor you worked with three years ago. Emily Post recommends letting someone know why you aren’t accepting their friend request but says it is perfectly fine to de-friend without notification.

In the event you don’t feel you can deny a friend request but don’t want someone knowing all your personal business – think about your loudmouth brother-in-law or nosy neighbor – Facebook privacy settings can come to the rescue. You can friend the person and then set your status updates to a custom setting that will exclude that person from seeing them. Also, double-check your privacy settings to see whether tagged photos and posts on your timeline will be visible to them.

What is your Facebook horror story? Did someone post a photo of you passed out on New Year’s Eve? Or do you have an obnoxious friend who posts political rants every day? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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