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« Wrong customer, or, the perils of dog food marketing | Main | A review of 147 entries to the 2009 Forrester Groundswell Awards »

September 15, 2009

Dear Groundswell: Your business social netiquette questions

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. Email (forwards, CCs), Twitter (retweets, @responses, and direct messages), Facebook (status and wall messages), Linked In, etc, 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 cowards 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 email 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 email, he sent a second. I told him to take me off the mailing list; he responded. But the kicker is -- each of the three emails included 500K of screen shots. I find large, unsolicited emails 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 email me at jbernoff [at] forrester dotcom.


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Ginger Wilcox

They penalize themselves by violating the #socialnetiquette - it is the easiest way to lose my respect and attention, and more importantly my money or my time. If the "perpetrator" appears to be unfamiliar with appropriate behavior and I have extra time (unlikely), I may give them the benefit of the doubt and try to help them. Most of the time, I just tune them out. The biggest penalty they can get is to not have their voices heard.

Josh Bernoff

@Ginger I will admit to this failing. I want to educate thoughtless people, but also to feel schadenfreude at embarrassing them about their thoughtfulness. Perhaps only the truly or aggressively thoughtless deserve public embarrassment.

Lorraine Chisholm

Okay, thanks Abby, er.. Josh
I agree with you wholeheartedly. I got two invites to connect just this week from people I have only ever met while interviewing them. One was from an interview 12 months back!

Pedro the Bruin

I have a simple policy:

* Facebook for friends
* LinkedIn for business associates
* Twitter for strangers

I don't connect with mere acquaintances.


"unless you are 22 and know everything, that is"

Here's a bit of netiquette advice (oh no, wait, just etiquette advice) - don't mock on other people simply because of their age. It makes you seem pompous and as if you think you know everything, ironically enough.

Oh, and by the way, since many social media tools on the Web started with young people using them, maybe the 22-year-olds do know a bit more than you. Just a thought.

Josh Bernoff

@JF Just having a little fun. My sense of humor gets me in trouble a lot.

Frankly, I often check with the young people I work with (in their 20s) about questions of social technology culture because since they created the groundswell for these tools, they know an awful lot about how to use them.

It is the clash between traditional business manners and "traditional" (meaning original) social network manners that makes this interesting.


Sorry, gut reaction. I know you were just joking, but this kind of thing gets me very frustrated. I notice in the organization I work at, and in a lot of others, that student interns and new (young) hires get treated like they know nothing, and I feel for them. If we're serious about having conversations and listening to others, that needs to include everyone, no matter what their age is.

Pishabh Badmaash

The biggest problem about online social networking is the lack of commodes.

Online Marketing Minneapolis

We also need to differentiate between personal online social interactions and interactions as - or on behalf of - a business. There are different rules for each.

Granted, there is a blending of personal and business social interactions. Another valuable conversation would concern where the line is drawn and how to draw it.

Josh Bernoff

@Online Marketing Minneapolis this is a good topic for my next social netiquette column!

Online Marketing in Minneapolis

@ Josh Bernoff

I agree! Let me know when you post it.

Scott DeToffol
twitter: @scottdeto
scott at lynx-marketing.com


I think one of the downfalls of social media is that it's easy to put information out there, it's easy to shoot an email or a tweet or a wall post to a faceless person and forget that they will have an actual real life human reaction to it. I think if more people remembered that when they connect online there would be a lot fewer netiquette violations.

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