Six social tricks for business etiquette

Most of us use some form of social media these days if you’re moving and shaking in the business world. But how do you use it without drawing negative exposure?

When the speed of technology causes its own social evolution, the art and etiquette of using business social tools can feel like wandering the Wild Wild West. We’ve all heard the loud salesman guffawing in the lobby, or seen the tense multi-tasker texting throughout a meeting. Emily Post didn’t foresee the future, and without agreed-upon rules in our business community, sometimes we need some advice.

  1. Beware the post. If you’ve declined a personal event for a corporate one (or vice versa), don’t let your feed give you away. Even the best of us need breathing room, but if your co-workers are linked to your social network, you need to be extra careful. Auto-location software on your mobile could get you fired.

  2. Hang it up. I shouldn’t have to call out the obvious, but this one is on the rise. Don’t answer your phone during a business dinner or during a meeting unless it truly is an emergency—and if you do, gracefully apologize and leave the table, relocating to a different room or hallway. And if these emergencies are happening weekly, know that you’re projecting a certain kind of image to your peers: that you’re not handling your life. If you’re mid-crisis and someone close to you is entering rehab or surgery (and you’re getting a lot of emergency calls) forewarn your manager that you have a personal emergency developing—then spare them too many dirty details. That gesture goes a long way and prevents you from losing face. And don’t text while you’re talking; it says “You’re not important enough for me to excuse myself while I communicate with this other person.”

  3. Don’t beg. If you have a friend (business or personal) who has a five- or six-figure Twitter following, they are under no obligation to be your personal PR machine. Don’t ask them to post something on your behalf unless there is a special situation where you can offer something of equal value in return. And if you are one of those people who has built up your brand presence to that kind of reach (good for you!) make sure your mobile phone is password-locked. Strained economies tend to make otherwise reasonable businesspersons into sharks with fluid boundaries. Which brings me to my next point…

  4. Lock it up. If your mobile isn’t password-protected by something hard to crack, you’re waiting for a disaster. Some phones, like Windows phones, prompt you to do this once you connect to a corporate account with a certain level of security. A jealous colleague, a well-intentioned child, an industrial spy—all of these situations are rife for a sabotaging emails, damaging photos, or sensitive business information to go awry. Imagine explaining why your 8-year old thought he was sending you a picture of a lost tooth, and your entire org gets a post of a grinning kid with a teeny-towel-clad teenager in the background. He never meant to send everyone a picture of his sister on her way out of the shower…but he did, and it came from your email. Or explaining how those confidential prototypes were shared from your email account. When your office lives in your pocket or your purse, accidents can severely limit your tenure and apologies might not be enough.

  5. Don’t say cheese. Speaking of photo etiquette: if you’re at a business event that’s hosted in the privacy of someone’s home, a members-only club, or even certain Political Action Committees, leave the photography to the host--especially indoors. First of all, they might not like it if pictures of you in front of their priceless collection of samurai swords are all over Yammer the next day. And as whimsical as it was for Benedict Cumberbatch to photobomb his peers at the Oscars, resist, resist the temptation to self-promote with other peers or higher-ups if you haven’t been invited to join the group shot. If you want a photo with someone, ask; they might be flattered, or they might say no. Plus, your peers don’t really think more of you just because you have a photo with today’s executive--it’s harder to shake a reputation for social climbing than you might think. Most will respect you more tomorrow for genuine integrity than for posing. And if your page has a collection of these photos, it makes your feed look like that barber’s wall in Brooklyn—not like the hobbnobber you think you are. Which brings me to my last point…

  6. Eat humble pie. We’re so used to collective bragging on the news feed that it’s like we’ve all gotten an ego-inoculation. Bragging about a promotion, your summer in Monaco, or posting that self-important shot of you and Jack Welch has the opposite effect on your friends and colleagues. Your brag might hit someone who just got laid off or who is having a private crisis, and could inadvertently hurt someone you care about.

Here’s the litmus test, and be honest with yourself: does this say “Hello, I’m important” or “I’m excited about ___.” Also, be careful what you do where. Consider if your post is better for a segmented Facebook audience or a collection of your LinkedIn connections. You never know what might be lurking in the back of your manager’s mind come promotion time.

Go forth, be brilliant, but be socially aware. Trust me, your colleagues (and friends) will thank you for it.