Vitaly Friedman November 30th, 2009

Ten Commandments of Social Media

By Robb Clarke There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to social media. People seem to think that every day standards and decency get tossed out the window because of the anonymity of the Internet. Unfortunately for those people, that’s not always the case. First off, the Internet is getting smaller, and by that, I mean that it’s getting easier to find out who people are. You know how the saying goes "It’s a small world." That reigns true for the Internet, especially social media sites, as well. Everyone is connected one way or another. There’s a whole "Six Degrees of Separation" thing going on. There are Ten Commandments of Social Media that you should always try to follow. They will not only make you a better person but they will make your followers that much more appreciative of what you have to say.

1. Thou Shalt Not Be a Narcissist

Social media is not all about you. It’s about people. It’s about being social, hence the name. Take the time to engage others in conversation. Don’t simply sign on and post something about yourself and leave. For every one post that you make about yourself you should dedicate at least three to engaging others in conversation whether it’s Retweeting what they’ve said, commenting on their photo album or asking them how their day is. A little bit of human contact goes a long way in the social media world; after all, human contact is what the whole concept is based off of. You need to immerse yourself in the community and become part of the conversation. Social media is about relationship building and if you’re just spouting out posts and Tweets about yourself then people will quickly lose interest in you and what you have to say.

2. Thou Shalt Listen to What Others Are Saying

This ties in with the previous commandment; social media is all about engaging others in conversation and to do that you need to first listen to what others have to say. Actively participating in conversation helps build relationships and listening is the most important part. There are a lot of tools out there that will not only help you listen but will also help you engage. Tools like TweetDeck are fantastic tools for monitoring and engaging the conversations that are happening. TweetDeck is fantastic because you can not only monitor the obvious Twitter but you can also monitor Facebook and multiple other Twitter accounts. TweetDeck Interface TweetDeck Interface

3. Thou Shalt Not Spam

If you’ve been using email for the past 15-20 years then this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Don’t spam your friends and followers with links and chain letters other useless nonsense that just gets tossed in the trash or deleted. Be courteous to others. Just because you think it's cute to show 26 pictures taken milliseconds apart of your 9 month old rolling around on the floor doesn't mean that anyone else will. Think about all of the things that make you roll your eyes when you read them on social media sites. Now think, do you do any of those things? If so, stop.

4. Thou Shalt Say Something of Substance

How often do you get online to find Joe blabbering on about his latest conquest at the bar or how many Filet o'Fish he's eaten today? How many times have you seen Mary complain about how she didn't get enough sleep last night or how her friends annoy her? Do these people really actually say anything? Usually not. Far too often people take to social media sites to air their dirty laundry and complain about something and why? Would they be doing the same in front of a group of their friends, peers, coworkers, and prospective employers? Probably not. So why online? Screenshot Scott Stratten from UnMarketing made a great Tweet about posting on Twitter but the same applies for all social media sites. He said "Don't tweet anything you wouldn't want to see on a billboard with your name/face/logo/phone # and your mom driving by." It's true. You wouldn't be saying half of what you say online if it was real life so why do it? If anything what is said online is worse for your reputation than saying it in person. Why? Because it's posted online and people can find it and reference it at any time. The rule is simple; watch what you say and whom you say it to.

5. Thou Shalt Not Abuse Thy Neighbour

Tying in to the previous Commandment comes another Commandment that you would think would be pretty obvious but sadly it's overlooked. Don't abuse people online. Flaming on the Internet is just about as old as the Internet itself and it's just as unacceptable as it has always been. No one wants to go online and be verbally assaulted for his or her beliefs and opinions. It's not good form. You know how the old saying goes; "If you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all." Just because you're online doesn't make it acceptable to do. Chances are that you're not going to openly mock or humiliate someone in person so why do it online?

6. Thou Shalt Give Credit Where Credit is Due

This is a Cardinal Sin in most circles, especially on Twitter. Stealing someone else's ideas, quotes, pictures, whatever, are incredibly taboo not to mention amateur. You wouldn't want someone coming along and stealing your intellectual property and posting it as his or her own now would you? Here's an example of the proper way to give someone credit for what they've said on Twitter. How to Tweet How to Retweet Properly Note that it's perfectly acceptable to truncate words or paraphrase what was said if Retweeting takes up more than the allotted 140 characters.

7. Thou Shalt Learn How to Spell (or at least use a spell checker)

This one should be pretty obvious. Learn to spell and use grammar and punctuation properly. It's incredibly hard to take what you're saying seriously if it's full of grammatical errors or you've mixed up your to, too and twos. It's not the hardest thing in the world to run your blog post through a word processor like Word before you post it. It's actually in your best interest to type the whole thing in there in the first place regardless. For those that are Tweeting or updating their Facebook statuses try using Mozilla's Firefox. It has a built in spell checker. It won't catch all of your spelling mistakes and it doesn't catch grammatical or punctuation errors but it will put a dent into your typos.

8. Thou Shalt Use Real Words

The previous Commandment is the perfect segue into this next one. Please, for the love of all things holy, try your best to use real words. Seriously. Social media sites have turned people into absolutely horrible spellers and text and instant messaging aren't doing people any favours either. Quit with the OMGs, the LOLs, the WTFs and the ROFLs. Neil Patrick Harris had a brilliant Tweet making fun of people doing this. He said "Prfkt. Thx 4 L th advyc evry1. This s a way ezr way 2 cmuNik8. Un42n8ly, itz takn me 3 hrz 2 ryt, but itz much pre4d 2 gtn cut off lyk i u". I don't know what he said but that's what he said. It shouldn't take 140 seconds to try and decipher your 140 characters on Twitter. I know you're doing it to "save time" but did you really save time? Did you actually cut seconds off of your posting time or did it really take you minutes longer to be "clever" and come up with those new words? Think about it. Neil Patrick Harris on Twitter Hard to read, isn't it?

9. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

Websites like TinyURL, and all offer a brilliant service; they take your exceptionally long URLs and turn them into short and sweet ones, perfect for the character limiting Twitter. These sites do have a downside though, they enable people to hide spam, porn or even the passé Rick Roll (yes, people are still doing that) in masked URLs. When URLs are hidden like this users are unable to see where they're headed and are often lead to undesirable websites. Be courteous to others and don’t hide links using these services. That being said; these service providers do attempt to warn users of malicious websites that may be hidden in shortened URLs so there is light at the end of the tunnel. On a related note; how many social media "experts" have you seen on Twitter that claim they know the key to being successful in both business as well as on social media sites? There are thousands of them out there. Do you know what their magic key is? The answer; our last Commandment. Not Actually Nick Nolte's Twitter Not Really Nick Nolte

10. Thou Shalt Not Be a Friend Whore

Last but certainly not least is our final Commandment of Social Media. Don't be a friend whore. Social media is not a contest to see how many friends or followers you have. Having thousands of followers does not make you a better person or show that you're a better quality user. It's incredibly common to see people on Facebook and Twitter adding as many people as they can as their friends in hopes that they befriend them in return simply to accumulate higher numbers. Social Media Friend Whore Friend Whore Follows Three Users for Every One That Follows Them Social media is not a contest. Plain and simple. Following these Ten Commandments of Social Media will not only make you a better user of social media sites but they will also make your friends and followers appreciate you that much more. They aren't hard to follow. Give them a shot.


    1. Just give the credits (RT) to the original ‘poster’.

      So if you want to retweet a message I’ve (@jvdschenk) retweeted from @mashable:

      Correct: RT @mashable (message>
      Wrong: RT @jvdschenk RT @mashable

  1. Hahaha! I thought this post was great. The “10 Commandments of Social Media” are absolutely true. Very funny read.

  2. I wish we could find a way to really enforce #7. I would pay money for a filter that removed all misspellings and grammar errors from my home feed.

  3. I don’t know about you lot, but I only really use twitter to find out what’s going on in web design. News, trends, freebies, etc. I don’t really use facebook that much, so for me, social networking is a work related thing.

  4. Nice read! Though I do think that commandment 8 is a little strict. A simple LOL, ROFL or OMG is acceptable in my humble opinion, though “Leetspeak” like the “Prfkt. …”-example is not certainly NOT acceptable.

  5. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to constantly be “followed” by the plethora of spammers on Twitter these days. So many people are following 30,000 others and have 23,000 or whatever following them back. Success on Twitter is measured in engagement, not by having some inordinate amount of followers who could care less about you and what you post.

  6. Amazing! I wish I was sure each and every one on my list would not only read that but think about them while swallowing one by one! Thanks!

  7. Hey guys,

    Thanks for the great comments. I had a blast writing it.

    Other Rob, there’s no real “right” way to Retweet a Retweet, usually you try to just Retweet the original but if you feel the need to include the newest Retweet and you have room, go to town. It’s personal preference really.

  8. Nice post. Love benchmarking topics against completely unrelated ideas. I wrote a similar piece a while back, based not on the Ten Commandments but on the Rules of Fight Club. Check it out:

  9. I probably have the wrong attitude to Twitter, but whenever i follow someone new i usually try and engage with them but if they are unwilling I just unfollow them and forget about it. I’m only interested in brands/people that are having a conversation WITH me, rather than having a conversation AT me.

    1. I completely agree Sean. Like I said, it’s all about engaging. If you can’t be bothered to engage me in conversation then chances are you’re going to lose my attention unless I see you as a valuable source of information… in which case you’re probably of higher social status than me so feel free to continue to not engage me.

      1. Yeah like i have no hard feelings against them, but like you said I just lose interest and they become irrelevant to me

  10. Fantastic post, picked it up from Smashingmagazine and this is great, An awful amount of people fall down on these simple things that make social networking great.

    Keep it up.

  11. You hit it right on the head with this article. It’s amazing how simple it sounds, yet we somehow end up breaking a lot of these rules. Thanks for the article!

  12. Overall great commandments.

    I disagree with #6 in some cases. I often post links to articles on Smashing Magazine and other sources and I don’t include their profile name.

    I do this because those links then get re-tweeted alot by my followers. This helps the source alot more than me including “RT @Profile”, which will limit re-tweets if it even gets re-tweeted at all.

  13. Great post! I completely agree…really. I just published a blog tonight about my Twitter Commandments ( I didn’t include commandment 8, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    In regards to the re-tweeting re-tweets, some say you need to include all parties involved. Others say you only need to RT the last re-tweeter because someone could, in theory, follow the stream of RTs from person to person.

  14. Very enjoyable read. Must take note of #5. Not that I’m ever abusive, but I can be disagreeable, particularly when it comes to self-development quotes. It’s probably unrealistic to think I can engage people in deeper, more philosophical conversation on Twitter.

  15. Interesting read for sure! Alot of people really need to read up on this kind of stuff :)

    Gotta love that reference tweet for “8. Thou Shalt Use Real Words” :)

  16. uh.. I intentionally spelled splchk that way, but it looks like I had a true typo with “life” as “lift”. Some luck..

  17. Excellent points. A lot of so called early social media enthusiasts have used email to spam a lot of users and friends not really understanding how to use WOM.

  18. Thanks for compiling this. Lord knows I’ve broken some of these and I appreciate you putting the list in one place.

  19. Great list – keep in mind Twitter is not all of Social Media (Facebook, YouTube, Digg, and about 22 quadrillion others, too). It’s my favorite, but just one of many…

  20. Excellent post – Thank you! As a novice designer / developer – I will look to FB, Twitter and Linked In for ongoing learning in the field, to meet the community as well as Networking..

  21. There’s a certain amount of irony that you say “mind your grammar int tweets”, yet in a full length blog post you also say “…users are unable to see where they’re headed and are often lead to undesirable websites…”, where of course it should really be “…users…are often led…”

    Just sayin’. The sad fact is that just about everyone has these little bits of grammar that they just didn’t pick up in school. For instance, if I am reading tweets by a male codehead, I just accept that he’s really likely to use “there” instead of “their” or occasionally “they’re.” I’m not sure why this is, but it’s really widespread.

    Maybe the rule should really be “This is microblogging. Understand people aren’t going to do it with a style guide and dictionary handy.”

  22. Thanks for reminding the social etiquette Rob, I will be using this in my presentation, and of course will give you the well deserved credit.

  23. Excellent post. It continues to amaze me how few people use common sense when entering into social media communication. These “commandments” provide an excellent way to start a discussion with people new to the space and a reminder for those that “sin.” Thanks for putting this piece together (and, yes, you will be given credit for this outstanding piece when I share it with others).

  24. Thank you! being somehow new in this, I really appreciate your ten commandments!
    May I translate them (titles) into Catalan? … giving you the author’s credit and the direct link, of course!

  25. Thanks for the clean, simple, useful tips on Twitter. Twitter is uncomplicated but getting savvy with it takes time. I’m going to send this to my SEO clients and friends who are getting started in Social Networking.

    Though the tips are obvious (most of them), the “etiquette” isn’t easy for some people. I think we forget there are people out there that react emotionally to what we write – but can’t hear our words to understand our intentions. This post makes twitter so simple, and pleasant – I hope everyone reads this.

    Cheers & thanks, I’ve been on twitter over 2 years and found this to be an EXCELLENT refresher/reminder.

    kristin rohan

  26. On point 4, ‘Of substance…’ I feel that life is too serious to always be about something profound and of substance. I find it refreshing to know that other people are having crap days and it isn’t always just me.

    I also like to know the quirky little things that people do…may be because I am a more wholistic personality that I find people interesting and try not to control all conversations.

  27. Love the article. So many points that you make are taught in basic English, or Language Arts class. One point I disagree with a bit is #8. I think that for the most part, proper language should be used…. but including an LOL or ROTFL, etc… should be okay every once in awhile, because it shows humor. Truncating regular words like the Neil Patrick Harris post, though, should be a definite faux pas.

  28. There are still many people who are just getting their feet wet in the social media arena, and these tips will help them get off to a great start. I plan to share your post with as many folks I know who would be interested in this advice. thanks

  29. I thought this a good article overall but the 11th and most commandment is missing: ‘Robb shalt not state reasonably sensible opinions as unquestionable facts’
    A couple of other minor points I would pick up on:
    1. The first point seems oversimplified. Narcissim is one thing, but too much ‘how are you’ stuff isn’t great either – it’s boring to read and should be in an email. Holiday snaps that tell you how Mad Girl is enjoying her trip to Oz are interesting to her friends…we don’t want a conversation.
    2. I think the billboard analogy is oversimplified – it covers a huge range because a lot depends on the individual and how comfortable they are at broadcasting their opinions.
    3. I totally disagree about grammar – if you write Queen’s English for a living it’s great fun to see the different types of freestyle people employ in a relaxed setting.
    Finally, I regularly carry out a cull of FB friends – by far the most common reason for deletion is too few posts, or nothing said of interest…so commandment 12 is ‘Avoid being dull’

  30. Social Media is really getting more effective in terms of marketing through facebook and other social websites. Because of its varieties of branding and marketing and many popular agencies are also getting involved in it to promote their brands and services online.

  31. This is a really good guide to social media, I wish more people used it! My particular favourite is number is number 8 – it really takes no longer to write properly but it does take longer for other people to work out what you actually wrote! Bizarre…

  32. Not bad at all! Interesting piece of information.
    I find it to be honest, useful and fresh so thank you so much for this post!

  33. Thanks for compiling this. Lord knows I’ve broken some of these and I appreciate you putting the list in one place.

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