How should you handle friend requests and follows from business acquaintances?
In the March issue, we discussed finding a balance for business versus personal on social media. Much debate soon ensued at the office regarding the etiquette of if, when and how to handle making, accepting and denying friend requests and follows from business acquaintances. There are of course different things to consider for each platform, since each one has its own culture and personality. For our purposes, we’ll focus only on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
• Start with introductions. Often I compare social media to a dinner party, because there a group of people, you may or may not know everyone and a few people have probably had a few too many. As with any party, be sure to introduce yourself. Following without an introduction isn’t really necessary for Twitter and Instagram, but with Facebook and LinkedIn, if you’ve a) never met the other party or b) have only met once or twice, send a quick direct message to say hello and either introduce yourself or remind them of how you met. For example, you might write, “Hello, Sam! It was great meeting you last week at the networking event. Shall we friend? If not, I’ll see you at the next mixer!” That way, you offer an out.
• Access denied. There likely will be times when even with a friendly note, your request is met with silence. Keep in mind that many people use their accounts privately and don’t friend or follow coworkers or business acquaintances. Just assume this is the case and let it go. Don’t bring it up unless the other party does and take it in stride if they tell you as much or claim not to have received your request. A denied friend request or failure to follow back is not worth creating an awkward situation at work or with a client.
• Just saying no. If you are the one issuing the denial, it’s OK to be honest. Simply say you keep your Twitter/Instagram/Facebook page private for family and close friends only. If you are on LinkedIn, suggest connecting on that platform instead, since you use it strictly for business.
• We’re friends, now what? Once your feed becomes populated with coworkers, clients and potential clients, it’s important to remember as much and act accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see. Again, think about how you are supposed to conduct yourself at the dinner table and avoid bringing up sex, religion, politics or money. Also avoid posting photos of yourself in compromising situations and rants about work or coworkers. While some of your colleagues and clients might appreciate a well-executed dirty joke and, or wouldn’t be offended by a snap of you at a cocktail party with a drink in your hand, it’s better to be safe than sorry. For the latter, at least wait until the next day when you can scrutinize the photo a little more clearly to make sure you don’t appear “over-served,” in it.
• A little privacy, please. Twitter and Instagram offer private account options. It’s an either, or situation, allowing users to make their posts visible only to approved followers. With Facebook, it’s a bit trickier, especially because the settings reset with seemingly every update. Check and update your settings often to avoid, for example, having photos of you tagged by well-meaning friends (or as a joke) show up in your feed without your approval.
• Don’t drink and post. Let’s face it; there are a lot of tipsy people on social media. Don’t be one of them. It’s a lot easier to step away from the smartphone than it is to erase an ill-conceived post once it’s released into the Internet-osphere. In fact, there are even apps, such as Cold Turkey, that will lock you out of social media if you know in advance you are in for a particularly high-octane evening.
Perhaps if we all operated on social media as if our boss (or grandmother) were watching, most of the mean-spiritedness and awkward exchanges would fall to the wayside. Until that day comes however, if you are nice and keep it rated PG, you’re probably safe.
Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.