In Case You Missed It: Defining Social Media Boundaries

In Case You Missed It: Defining Social Media Boundaries

Editor’s Note: This blog post appeared on LinkedIn and on The Social Media Club of San Francisco sites on July 13, 2016

I just read a disturbing piece by Rebecca Hersher on NPR on today’s explosive social media world. (Public Figures Struggle With Social Media Boundaries After Dallas Shooting,, July 13, 2016

The story itself is not disturbing. The fact that it’s about the aftereffect of the extremely troubling activities in the last few weeks is not disturbing. This post is not about that.

What is disturbing is that seemingly adult leaders—in our government, in the media, at our workplaces—are surprised at the “public blowback” to their online rants or their employers “less than forgiving” stance regarding inflammatory and “sometimes hateful online comments.”

It’s Time: Evangelize Good Social Media Behavior

We all have a right to express our emotions, right? Social media is all about authenticity, right? But we all have a responsibility to manage our emotions and be mindful of the consequences of what we say and what we do. That’s called adulthood. Sorry if this sounds too sensible.

Hersher quotes Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik:

“It astounds me that people working in the media tweet without thinking. I argue that it is not just a matter of new technology that makes it possible, but rather some media workers not being socialized to the values of journalism and social responsibility. I believe it is a huge problem.”

There is never any good excuse for bad behavior. Try telling a traffic court judge that you didn’t know the speed limit. They’ll just bang the gavel and increase your fine! In the social media realm, you rarely get a do over, so it is imperative to put a few rules in place. Most companies have been doing this, and thankfully, their employees are heeding their policies.

The Social Media Rules

A few years ago, Geoffrey James penned an article outlining sensible social media rules ( He based them loosely on IBM’s social networking policy. A few of 13 steps that he identified are:

  • be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time. (This is true even for those of you who had a tweet taken down. You can bet someone copied it, retweeted it or otherwise archived it for future damage.)
  • never assume that posting anonymously will keep your true identity secret if you publish inappropriate comments and content. (Someone in the global sphere of the Internet will have the time and the inclination to track you down.)
  • take personal responsibility for the content you publish on blogs, wikis, twitter, Instagram and so one. (If you can’t take responsibility, don’t publish it!)
  • Remember your company or organization is represented by people and therefore, what you publish will inevitably reflect on their brand.

Bottom Line: The Boundaries Are Solid

The lesson is clear. The boundaries never moved.

The ability to emotionally react without considering the consequences is not new. The ability to publish without an intermediary, while relatively new, only amplifies the unintended consequences.

So if there is any question on what the social media boundaries are, take a moment to read your company’s policy. Click on the link to read James’ 13 Rules. Consider the results of others’ “itchy finger syndrome” by reading Hersher’s NPR piece.

Remember the first rule of media training: If you don’t want the boss to see it, don’t say it.