How To Be A Social Media Jerk

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You’ll read a whole bunch of different perspectives online about what you should and should not be doing when it comes to Social Media.

I’m a big believer in doing what works best for you and ignoring what most of the Digerati think. Seth Godin often says, "your mileage may vary," while Chris Brogan is always smart with his, "you’re doing it wrong," Blog posts. Still, there are some pretty obvious faux-pas that take place online and – for the most post – I think this happens because individuals feel like there are less ramifications if they’re hiding behind a keyboard or a smartphone than if they were standing face-to-face with you.

It’s a bit of a trick… but it works.

The easiest way to improve the on-ramp success of your Social Media efforts is to always imagine that the person you’re connecting with is standing right in front of you. Think about it this way, if the person were standing there – right in front of your face, would you…

  • Cover your face? Imagine speaking to someone but they kept their identity unknown. How awkward would that be? Show your face… post a real (and recent) photo of yourself.
  • Use a fake name? Do you think you’re going to build trust with someone if the other person is using a nickname, fake name or the name of the company they work for? Imagine someone asking, "what’s your name?" and the response back from the person is, "my name is Local Marketing Guru!"
  • Give your business card to everyone? Does anyone like the person at the local chamber of commerce event who runs around the room throwing out their business cards as if they are ninja stars? It’s not important to connect to as many people as possible in one shot… it’s much more important to connect to the right people by taking your time and really getting to know people.
  • Be so pushy? Someone just asked to connect to me on LinkedIn. The second I accepted the request, I was immediately emailed a very long sales pitch email about what they sell and how I could buy it. On top of that, the email included a two-meg attachment PDF brochure. This is the in-person equivalent of walking up to someone, introducing yourself and not letting them get a word in edge-wise as you suddenly begin to ramble through a twenty-minute sales presentation without their permission.
  • Call them out in public? I see this a lot on Twitter. People are loosely connected and then one person calls the merits of the other individual’s online activities out in public. Can you imagine being in a small circle of people you just met (or sort of know) at an event, when someone turns to the entire group and says, "you see this person standing in front of you? I heard them speak before the event and I think they’re completely stupid?" That would never happen in person… why do it online?
  • Ask them to do something for you without really knowing them? The next time you’re at an event, turn to the person you just met and ask them if they would mind writing a reference letter for you. How did that go? I’m amazed at how quickly individuals will ask for something of value (for themselves) from someone they do not know without giving first. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, but the way you ask for help that returns a more positive result is by giving first. By being valuable to others before asking them for favors. By giving abundantly and being helpful.

I’m being a Social Media jerk… or snob.

I’m sure some of the comments below will attempt to turn me into some kind of snob or jerk. The truth is simply this: I do my best to connect and build my online relationships the same way I do when I’m not online. My way of building a professional network may be different from yours. Your mileage may vary (as Seth would say). I may, in fact, be doing it wrong (as Chris would say).

What do you say?


  1. You are professional in your manners, at least online. The truth is, some people don’t have any social I.Q., and feel they can take a yard when one gives them an inch. That is exactly why you have to be reluctant to communicate with certain individuals. Some don’t know boundaries.
    You mentioned the lengthy sales pitch once you allowed the LinkedIn connection. Perfect example of the negative side of social media. I have to agree with you regarding this issue.

  2. Mitch, you’re doing it right. You’ve shared great advice using storytelling. MOST of the people I meet are doing it right, which makes those who act like jerks stand out even more.

  3. It’s funny because I have actually experienced the reverse effect. I am now starting to behave in real life in the way that people behave on the internet – talking straight to a person’s face and being more confident about introducing myself to people. Weird.

  4. Using the first 2 criteria in your post would make me a social media jerk. However, I am really particular about the last 4.
    I think I am just just shy, and that is really why I am not pushy, don’t really give my business card out to anyone (I can’t remember ever giving it out), never call people out in public, and never ask people I don’t know for things.
    I’m 33% social media jerk!!

  5. That’s why it’s called “social” media, right? We have to be ever-vigilant to remember that, just because we are “behind” a keyboard or keypad, doesn’t mean we can say whatever we want.
    It saddens me when I see someone I follow on Twitter feel compelled to tweet “Polite reminder. When tweeting to me, please use language you wouldn’t be embarrassed to see in print.”
    The good ole rules of manners apply everywhere. If you’re feeling snappish, aggressive, really exhuberant, etc…. count to ten (i.e. THINK) first. You’ll probably think better of it, and others will think better of you.

  6. I love plain speaking common sense, especially when its applied to the ‘new’ web 2.0 or digital age.
    One of my favourite sayings (or perhaps clichés) is “As much as things change, things stay the same!”
    Just because the platform of communication is updated and the reach is greater and faster doesn’t mean that the rules of good etiquette and manners can be disregarded.
    This post exemplifies the points very clearly.
    Great post.

  7. I hosted a social media strategies workshop over the weekend and felt bad I wasn’t able to give the group galvanized quick win super amazing automatic get rich find tons of friends buy their stuff immediately since they had a blog ideas. I’m such a jerk.

  8. Right on Mitch. As the old saying goes, the only problem with communication is the illusion that it’s actually happening. Sadly, a few think they’re communicating while dumping their junk our way.

  9. What a stunning post, Mitch!
    can really feel what you are describing in this article.
    Most of the time, people are not interested about who you are or what you do, but who you know and how they could benefit from you.

  10. Mitch, thanx a lot this post. A much need light. All good points here, just one question about “Cover your face?”. I never actually do have a real picture for my FB profile. Just dont feel comfortable sharing my face there. But i do have one on Linkedin coz i know its safe. Would that make me a jerk on Facebook if i don have one up there? Coz for me both of the networks are very important and i take both of them professionally. I don believe in anonymity. But i too do believe people judge the book by its cover. Whats your thought?

  11. good list Mitch. I have one more to add…
    Get angry when someone’s just not interested – Just like in the real world, sometimes people just aren’t interested in your information, “friend” request, reply, etc. This goes with a couple of Mith’s points (especially the “be so pushy” one). Fact is if you’re using social media just to sell and push your agenda, I reserve the right to say “no” to all of your requests. Social media does not give you carte blanche for pitching me via every channel you can access me through. Always think “mutual benefit”.

  12. It’s very easy to get seduced by the illusion of anonymity on the internet. Which is one reason why a lot of people just shout out into the void instead of having actual engagement with one or a few people.
    It’s not easy, but you give a very helpful tip. Imagine you’re talking face to face. It’s the exceptional artist or broadcaster who can stand before a stadium full of people or a TV camera and make each member of their audience feel connected to them.
    They don’t perform to air, they perform to you.

  13. Mitch – again – well said! So many of us are thinking it and that’s what I love about you – you get into our heads and articulate our thoughts.
    I agree with Donna – most have respect for the medium, approach it and others with professionalism and tact, but those who don’t stand out – really stand out.
    I once had a woman who I had never met want to connect on LinkedIn (that’s for those professionals I trust and respect who I’ve actually worked with in some way), she indicated she was a “friend” (apparently hers and my definition of that word differ greatly) – I searched for some connection, some shared group, something in common, someone we knew in common that might rationalize the outreach and could find nothing. When I challenged her on what I thought was an inappropriate request and her use of the word “friend” her response was so telling..confirming my initial thoughts….oh you’re gonna love this….a direct quote, “why are you getting so upset?….it’s ONLY social media!”
    Needless to say, that’s where our interaction ended. Perhaps I’ll send her a link to your post!

  14. Brilliant post. All of these behaviors are born out of psychological and sociological entitlement. Once a person believes that social media guarantees permission to another person’s attention, or worse an actual relationship, these behaviors surface. Furthermore with the bastardization of words like “friend” the sense of entitlement, lack of boundaries and lack of social grace exponentially grow.
    As far as avatars go, as long as a person has a real avatar somewhere (ie blog) and name or business name, I am cool. I don’t think every single web space has to have a professional headshot (though this looks great, I am biased towards artistic photographs as well)—but that depends on their business. If in biz/social media yes, if in the arts, more flexibility there is fine with me.

  15. I and husband Paul Wakfer especially like the first 2 of your points; the use of anonymity is a significant obstacle to effective social order on the Internet (and everywhere). While anonymity enables spam Twitter accounts/tweets (and emails of course) it also allows poorly reasoned statements and included ad hominems without significant consequences, especially where message size limitation is not an issue. Only when a person is publicly identified with his/her words/actions are others enabled to positively or negatively publicly praise or censure those words/actions in a manner which may effectively influence that person to change. Such public Social Preferencing of each by each according to their own values – and being evaluated by others in turn – is a major requisite for social order without physical force.
    An item that you did not cover with a question, Mitch, is:
    “Would you ignore a question asked of you or a comment made specifically to you?”
    It would be considered quite rude in a 1-to-1 in-person conversation or even within a group to ignore such a questioner or direct commenter. While on Twitter a single reply is severely limited in characters, the use of an extension application like Twitlonger or quick successive 2-3 Tweets can be used when appropriate.
    In blog or forum situations (not the commonly referred to “social media”), the opportunity of reply is there, though the software in most does not lend itself to inline (interleaved) responses. As a result ignoring specific questions/comments becomes common place and the parties enter into a talking-over-each-other exchange rather than one of true communication. Of course talking-over or past *can* take place even with inline and in-person exchanges since the desire for and practice of true communication must be present in all parties involved for that to actually take place.
    Excellent additions by Linda Johannesson and Trudy regarding the increasingly frequent misuse of the word “friend”, something I and Paul abhor. There is a significant difference between friend and acquaintance, and even greater with “contact”.

  16. Excellent points made Mitch. It would be good if more people using social media had manners like yours. Misuse of the word “friend” is so common in social media circles.

  17. Perhaps it’s about managing expectations across the social media ‘landscape’. If someone decides they want to be an ‘egg’, a ‘car’, or a ‘logo’, then treat them as you would a distant acquaintance (like the guy you bought that used Sunfire from for your teen).
    Education, etiquette, and ethics play a big part. Social Media has such a vast and diverse population including people who know how to act at a social event and those who don’t. There are always going to be ‘those guys/gals’ who hand out their biz cards at a wedding. Hopefully, ‘those guys/gals’ are reading this!
    Any successful person in sales/marketing understands that Social Media often works on a long ‘sale’; consultative, relational, nurturing trust, etc. Share stories, promote others. Tell, don’t sell.
    Eventually, tell will sell if done well (my homage to Dr Seuss πŸ˜‰
    Nicely put, Mitch; not everyone is going to ‘get it’ … but eventually, many will. Thanks for this!

  18. If it’s online, it’s online. No need to hide it on one platform but not another… Especially when they are both publicly available for anyone to see. Ask yourself this: is it possible to build a real relationship if you’re hiding your face from your connections?

  19. You know, the giving business card to anyone and being very pushy is something I see in every day life, in person, a lot.
    I have many sales agents coming to me without a clear idea of what being annoying means, and I shiver at the thought of how these people would behave in a social media environment.
    I really much agree with your idea of behaving online how you behave offline, if more people adopted it as well – apart the few exceptions I mentioned above – the overall online experience would be a lot more positive.

  20. Great post and great reminders! Just because it’s digital and the platform moves and changes quickly doesn’t mean we can skip over basic rules of engagement and good old fashioned emotional intelligence. I don’t know why some seem to take leave of their senses on these platforms.

  21. Exactly – and given that they are social media networks, someone finding you on LinkedIn may be checking you out on Facebook and Twitter … What better than to see your smiling face on all platforms πŸ˜‰

  22. Awesome post. I have seen this so much on LinkedIn. People want to connect with you, and then spam you with 2,000-word emails about how their “solution” can help improve your business or your career. How their solution is “industry-leading.” So “cutting-edge” that it will kill the competition.
    What a turn off, and how not to do things in this day and age.
    Thanks Mitch

  23. Some of your steps would matter more to me if I cared what other people think. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m using a pseudonym, and I will quite frequently call out people that I’ve just met. Ask anyone who knows me.

  24. Great post Mitch. I believe it would be incredibly beneficial for everyone if companies and startups required their employees to read posts like this one to help them better understand social media etiquette.
    A couple of weeks ago a woman from Alabama or Georgia spammed on one of my client’s walls using her personal profile, trying to sell insurance to a company in Austin, TX… To her credit she had a very real, rather creepy picture of herself holding a stuffed pink monkey. I declined her services on behalf of the company and complimented this 50-something looking woman on her monkey (it was creepy). She responded back and corrected me, it was not just a monkey, it was her sock monkey.
    There is something to be said for a proper approach if you are going to solicit someone in a social media space, and it most definitely depends on the space and your connection. But, like the sock monkey lady portrayed, there are just some things you keep hidden from the world…

  25. You’re stupid. Yeah and I’d tell you this in the face too, big whoop wanna fight about it?

  26. I sincerely hope that thousands… no millions… of people read this. Etiquette has been slipping here and there, thus it’s no surprise that online manners too often are lacking.
    You have explained this clearly enough for anyone to get it. Kudos!

  27. Amen to that brother! My first time here. Love the opinions! It’s unfortunate that people don’t think about the consequences if they acted in person they way they do on Social Media, but then – maybe they do…yikes!
    Celene Harrelson

  28. Great stuff!! Its amazing how many people do give themselves so much more leeway to be out spoken and rude in an online forum!
    Awesome advice here for proper online etiquette!

  29. Great list, Mitch. And your point about everything we post being public is dead-on. I administer a Facebook page for a nonprofit organization whose CEO is dealing with health challenges. A member of the group and former staff member posted details on the group’s page, and has now created both an open group and a public event to encourage prayers for this man. While I am sincerely praying for the CEO’s recovery, posting details without specific permission from the CEO or his family violates his right to privacy.
    This isn’t marketing, but frankly puts the poster at the top of my list of “Social Media Jerks”. The CEO subsequently decided he is OK with the release of information, so I have been instructed not to delete the posts or reign in the rogue member. So, for this comment I will remain…
    -Faceless and Frustrated

  30. Very interesting post. A lot of this doesn’t really doesn’t occur to people right away, myself included. I think to some extent it’s okay to be a little more forward than you would be in person, but being pushy online is still just as much of a turn off online as it is in real life. I can understand how people think that these things are ok in an online setting. Selling yourself online is a lot easier and less intimidating than going up to someone in person and selling yourself, so why wouldn’t you. But to the person on the other end, it comes off as just as impolite. Thanks for taking note of these things. They are easy to overlook.

  31. great post! loved it. you hit on one of my favorite pet peeves… the LinkedIn requests i sometimes get for recommendations from total strangers. hello? how do you expect me to write a recommendation for you when i don’t know you? i suppose they just don’t care that i have ethical beliefs and standards. they just want me to reach up into think air and “poof” make someting up. well it ain’t gonna happen and i’m really tired of people thinking it’s okay to ask. wishing you a wonderful day and thanks for the great list!

  32. If being a “snob” is what it takes to communicate like a human being, I say give me snobbery. Although, that kind of self social media behavior is nice sometimes. When a follower or connection treats you like a jackass early on, at least you know up front where to file them and their sales pitch.

  33. Treating people like they are the position named on their business card. rather than like the individual they are, will typically rub others the wrong way. We all know of the people like those you’ve mentioned above. The internet provides us an arena within which we can share ideas with like minded individuals throughout the world. Rather than focus on the size of my following, I prefer to focus on the quality of the online (and real life) relationships I have with those whom I connect with via the Web.

  34. A little late to the conversation, but the dilemma arises with this new position called Social Media Manager or director. While I have experience in web marketing and helping small businesses in the arena of Social Media implementation, the pressure that certain companies can put on their respective Social Media gurus to be winners within the first week is substantial.
    My question is how do you deal with the “new” position since the “community” changed on you. On one hand I have quite a few friends from my past and social life, but now the expectation to be a social hub for another type of community is present. I guess this new position of Social Media Director/Manager opens a Pandora box of sorts.

  35. I find it funny that people always seem to fixate on pictures! I honestly don’t have many pix bcuz I’m shy,and also it IS against my “religion”. “Native” americans have often believed that each picture steals a piece of your soul. Besides what good is a picture if you’ve never “met”? Just like those dating sites where the “person” is almost never what their pix claims 2 B.I prefer a soul picture-often shown by your actions,truth,and heart. Having been a victim of gov’t intrusion for many decades now-also leery of being “seen”-just like a pix of a car u drive;)

  36. we should be praying for evry1 IF ur into praying;)Not just your “friends”;)

  37. Please add another item—trying to be the first to report something (being a tabloid news reporter).
    The social media jerk will hear something announced privately in one communication channel, then use another social media channel to blurt out a revealing post that forces the victim to scramble and react.
    In the face-to-face world, imagine the victim speaking in private to your small group, announcing something of importance before they announce it to the world. Then imagine someone in your group going outside the room and yelling: “congrats to Mary on her upcoming wedding to Tom!” People outside might include Mary’s children or boss or Tom’s favorite uncle, whom she hasn’t yet told because she hasn’t had the chance.
    Please wait until you see Mary’s own public announcement, THEN add your congratulations.

  38. I’d say you’ve nailed it! Actually, I’d say you’ve been quite restrained. Sums it nicely from a ‘business’ perspective. You could of course go so much further from a purely ‘social’ perspective, but that’s a whole other blog…

  39. Ugh, this reminds me of the time when a complete stranger followed me, and just blatantly criticized my twitter account. I mean, sure mine is probably not perfect, but it’s just so rude to do that repeatedly to people/accounts because you think you’re a social media hotshot.

  40. Great post.
    I feel it’s strange that people you just met in a convention are ask to be your Facebook friends… I mean, yes, we both work in the online industry and had an interesting chat but should you now see pictures from my baby’s first birthday?!
    This almost forces people to either “Cover their face” or “Use a fake name” as you wrote or ‘risk’ being a jerk (and maybe missing out on business) by not accepting a friends request.

  41. The problem I have with social media is this. If you do “friend” someone, expect them to contact you. Now if you friend someone you have never met or had dealings with, that is your mistake and be upfront with them. But, I have to through one in, when you have been communicating for someone for some time, expect them to really think you are “friends” and expect to be contacted. Nothing more irritating that having a “friend” in person, hanging out, attending similar activities and having discussions and then just avoid you, too many find the social networks tools as an easy way to avoid instead of being outright and telling the person you do not wish to deal with them anymore. Social media has allowed people to share everything, but it also allows them to share nothing of themselves and not allow a real connection.
    There is really nothing new offered by Social media other than a quick platform to tell many people at once where there was a time before, you had to think of who to tell and when. This is where you would realize, not letting this person know it is none of their business. I really miss the real connection when you looked into someone’s eyes when you had a conversation, you could differentiate your tones to imply sarcasm, humor or anger. I miss being able to talk with my hands to emphasize a point. I just my not have the skills to use social media as needed but I keep trying even though sometimes you get burned.

  42. I’m thinking that maybe your article could just be called ‘How to be a Jerk’. I’m a little bit bemused by all of the articles and top 10 do’s and don’ts for social media marketing etc – there seems to be a constant revelation about standards of online behaviour and etiquette that offline, we’d expect a young child to be mindful of. I’m a marketer with a backgroun in Psychology and if you wan’t to get the definitive guide for social media marrketing behaviour, simply pick up a book on Social Psychology – it’s all in there – familiarity, turn-taking, group dynamics and so on….

  43. I agree with Dan on this one, pick up a book on Social Psychology. With a background in Psychology or simply researching and understanding the reason behind user actions with websites, social interaction, and down to a simple click can tremendously help anyone who is looking to benefit from social media.

  44. I don’t give a rats ass about my identity online, lol, its the identity offline that truly counts especially with my business. Even though I’m all about web development and seo I don’t care for my own online presence. Evenin my new blog, which I never expect clients to see I am direct, honest, and say exactly what is on my mind. I pretend I am talking to a best friend when I a online, simply because I don’t care what someone in another country thinks of me.

  45. James, I love that attitude and I believe that is the way I wish it to be but most do not read the way the writer puts it, they see their own ideas in there head while reading it.

  46. Which is why I pretend they are my friend, because then they know what im thinking rather than their own ideas, lol. But I fully understand what you mean, and that is exactly why I don’t try to be someone I’m not or write as if I’m hiding who I truly am.
    If they (the reader) are going to think and see things in their own ideas in there head while reading what I write, than why try to be anything I’m not if the outcome is the same πŸ˜‰

  47. Wow, Thanks for those tips. There are so many ways of interacting to people online. But the choice of speaking to them in a more professional manner is a very safe way to interact with them, especially those people you only knew online.

  48. Mitch, a few of us were having a related conversation on Facebook recently. For some reason, some people think all the norms of building relationships with others goes out the window when communicating with others online. So much of this is common sense, a quality that these social media jerks are clearly lacking. Thanks for taking the time to steer them right.

  49. You are 200% correct about all of this. I’ve taught networking to hundreds of business professionals over the years and I always seem to have to remind them how important it is to earn the respect of others with good and proper etiquette. In a way people who have high levels of emotional intelligence value this for themselves and those that are socially intelligent value it for everyone else.
    This is the way to win everywhere you go, not just online.

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