Social Networking Etiquette: How to Handle Sticky Situations

When it comes to social networking, there's nowhere to hide. No matter how careful you are with your privacy settings, people will want to connect and engage with you – and you may not always feel the same.

So how do you handle unwanted friend requests or embarrassing content that's tied to your name? The answer is not always easy, but social networking etiquette guidelines can help.

Here are three sticky social networking situations you're likely to encounter in your career, along with tips on how to handle them:

1. You wish you weren't someone's "friend."

Say you attend a local UX Meetup event and, a few days later, a web designer you met invites you to connect with him on Facebook. Since you chatted briefly with the person – and don't want him to take your non-acceptance as rejection – you agree to the request. Unfortunately, once you do so, he begins obnoxiously commenting on nearly every one of your posts – and even tries to "friend" some of your friends.

What should you do? If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, adjust your privacy settings to create a "work" list of contacts who won't be privy to more personal posts. Another option is to direct professional acquaintances to LinkedIn for connecting.

2. You're tagged in an unflattering photo.

When you were in college 10 years ago, you probably never thought a photo of you downing tequila shots with friends would come back to haunt you. But now an old classmate has made it her personal hobby to tag you and others in a series of unflattering images on Facebook. Perhaps your "friend" thinks it's cute to post such pictures, but when your contacts include professional colleagues, debaucherous images from the past lose some of their nostalgia.

What should you do? If you find yourself the victim of uninvited photo tags, untag yourself and privately email the person posting them to say you'd prefer not to be tagged in future photos. You also can adjust your privacy settings so you can review and approve any post or photo you're tagged in before it appears on your Timeline.

3. You make a rookie mistake.

Some of the more embarrassing social media moments happen when users don't quite comprehend the "power" at their fingertips. Perhaps you post a comment on LinkedIn about a former manager, not remembering you connected with her last year. Hours later, you receive an email from your ex-boss asking if your "rant" was about her. No matter what you say, the damage is done.

What should you do? Chalk it up to a lesson learned. Make sure you fully understand the parameters (and who is friends with whom) of whatever social network you're using. And always be diplomatic because your comments could come back to bite you.

Key take-away

It's critical to keep your reputation as your first priority when social networking. Remember that your posts can, in effect, serve as a sort of living history of your interests, knowledge and professionalism. If you wouldn't want an employer to read it, don't post, tweet or blog about it. And if you do have an awkward situation, take proactive steps to remedy it as quickly as possible.

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