Internetiquiette 101: Social Media Boundaries

I have to admit that being an active social media participant-observer is exhausting albeit gratifying work.  Being a good anthropologist and narcissist, I find myself frequently assessing my reactions others’  social media behavior as influenced by the collective of digital compatriots whom I also have occasion to see in real life from time to time. I also find myself actively working this empirical data into my own staus-updating, connection-requesting, tweety-posty-picture-sharey activities.

While having a conversation with an ex-stranger at the bar of a restaurant where I was about to meet for an intimate  thought-leader-netowrking dinner thingy” – the topic of social media came up (visit for help to grow your account).  In particular, I was in the middle of looking up the LinkedIn profiles for a couple of the new people I was about to meet to see If I recognized any other of the bar-lingerers as said people, when I saw a pair of newcomers having a seat a few stools down.   They both looked eerily similar to the pictures I had just viewed, although just different enough for it to be likely they weren’t the people I was looking for. My new drinking buddy agreed with me that it would be kind of creepy for me to walk up to someone and basically say, “Hi.  I know we’ve never met, but I just stalked you on LinkedIn and am pretty sure you’re one of the people I’m supposed to meet”.  So I skipped it altogether.  Turned out they weren’t the new friends in question but it made for  a really funny “get to know you” story amongst like-minded nerds.

So, I decided I would put some of the implications for social media boundaries that I I have gleaned from my observation of this very modern consumer culture phenomenon.

Facebook:  Don’t friend the people you work with.  If you do friend the people you work with, categorize them as “acquaintances”  and restrict what they see in your feed to posts from GoodReads. Otherwise, don’t paste photos of yourself doing keg stands or mooning anybody.  I would say keep all the ridiculous drunken photos off altogether.  You don’t need your next employer seeing that crap…and they will look.  Also, don’t check-in at the: strip club.  Don’t be friends with your Mom on Facebook.  It will only encourage her to ask questions she doesn’t want the answer to.  It also appears that there are rules about photo posting limits:  If you are a new mom you get a free pass for the first few months and then it’s important to limit your baby pictures to about 3 a day and eventually one a day.  And when it comes to your profile pictures, you should make sure that they are not all pictures of you taking a picture of yourself in the mirror with your cell phone.  It makes you seem like you have no actual friends to take your picture, which, even if it’s true, is not a perception that will win you new friends.

Twitter:  tweeting things that are newsworthy.  Tweet things that add value to other people’s day.  Tweet your friends where you are all going to meet up later. I will even go so far as to say that inspirational quotes – as long as they are not abused and you aren’t a Jackass in real life – are okay.  Tweet about stuff that makes you seem knowledgeable about your job or that you have an informed point of view on current events. Do not tweet what you have eaten for breakfast, your opinion about that Bravo reality TV character’s weave, or that you just checked in at the gas station on FourSquare.  (Side note:  don’t check in at the gas station on FourSquare – that’s an “over-share” and nobody really cares).   Also, if you can tweet a haiku – you’re kind of a nerd-aliscious bad-ass and people will dig that.  Also, tweeting Sh*T your crazy relatives say is still funny even though it’s sooooo three years ago.

Instagram:  apparently Instagram was designed for food porn and you are supposed to post pictures of the things you are eating.   Posting things that you have cooked is also a great way to pat yourself on the back and immortalize the accomplishment of cooking something for yourself.  Millennials especially like to be told “good job” for being self-sufficient. I’m not being sarcastic here.  I am not quite Millennial (more of a “bubble” girl) but I absolutely use Instagram  for myself like many parents use the refrigerator to post their kid’s crappy art class drawings and spelling tests.  Instagram is also a way to show off all the cool places you go and show people how interesting and fun you are.   People also like to post pictures of themselves with friends to show that they actually have friends that are alive in the “real world”.  But Instagram is also great for the slacker-artist at heart:  the ones who have an eye for beauty but no time to practice learning the skill of photography.  I again, as a proud narcissist, put myself in this category.   You are permitted to experiment with your “framing” skills and vision with all the fun exposures and washes.  It appears that there are a couple of big rules here, however.  First:  you have to be selective about which / how many instagram photos a day you simultaneously post on Facebook – as not every single one of your friends might have the same appreciation forpictures of the insides of flowers, kitschy garage-sale items and your dog as you do.  Second:  remember the first rule and also make sure that you don’t over-post pictures you took of yourself with the camera turned around facing you.   People will call you a narcissist.  But i suppose it’s up to you whether you take that as an insult.  😉

LinkedIn:  It’s okay for Facebook to be all party, but LinkedIn is all business.  You shouldn’t post your tweets or Facebook status updates to LinkedIn – nor should you share your LinkedIn updates on Facebook unless your work really is your passion and your friends would give a sh*t about how great that conference is or the latest supply chain management journal article that caught your attention.  Don’t send connection requests to random people whose title look interesting just to expand your business development network.  Ask to be introduced to people if they know someone you know but you know you don’t really know them.  It’s only courteous.   If you are going to post discussions in groups you also have to reply to other people’s discussions or people will just think you are a discussion-spamming narcissist.   You can only post your blog on linkedIn as a status update if it is actually business related.  You shouldn’t post updates on your linkedIn more than once or twice a week. People will think you must not have anything better to do at work or that you are otherwise slacking off when you should be working.

That’s all the brain dump I have for now.  For the record: brain dumps and verbal diarrhea are totally acceptable in blogs.  Nobody has to read your blog.  It’s their own fault if they want to subject themselves to your meandering drivel.

I am most certain that there are other bloggers and readers out there who have other observations and opinions they can share about social media boundaries.  I am still noodling over the Pinterest rules, am yet unfamiliar with Tumblr and many other of the many more social mediat apps out there.  I encourage you to share them here and have your data contribute to what I consider a mission of mercy-by-way-of-socializing important survival-relevant cultural norms as well as a data set for this anthropologist who really seeks to understand in spite of her occasional snarky-ness.

And yes – Narcissism and social media go hand in hand.   Because all of us want to believe that our observations and opinions are important.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret.  They are.

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