If you can't tweet something nice, don't tweet anything at all.
Your mother - or teacher, or crotchety great aunt - may once have told you to "think before you speak." At some point in your young life you were undoubtedly advised to "say please and thank you," irrespective of the circumstances. And though you may have muttered playground expletives under your breath, you remembered those words. Deep down, you knew that they amounted to some pretty sound advice.
These kinds of entreaties are all part of a spoken cultural guide to good manners - an invisible manual that we keep close well into adulthood. Or at least until we become marketers and start launching online ad campaigns. That, apparently, is when we wipe the chalkboards of our minds clean and get disorderly, brazen, and, occasionally, downright rude.
It seems that we've forgotten our manners. We recognize the importance of etiquette to social interactions in the offline world. Get us communicating through advertising and the web, however, and we're quick to forget even the simplest of rules. Our mode of interaction may have changed since we first heeded our parents' advice, but that isn't to say it doesn't still apply. What follows is an updated guide to good manners to help remind us that it pays to be polite.
1. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all (also known as "think before you tweet"). Last week's presidential debate set a new Twitter record: over 10 million tweets sent over the course of the evening, making it the most tweeted U.S. political event to date. While the majority of the conversation centered on @BarackObama and @MittRomney, it was a tweet from @KitchenAid that had the Twittersphere buzzing. A member of the consumer goods brand's marketing team made an insensitive comment about President Obama's deceased grandmother that came across as both vicious and politically biased.
The incident sparked complaints that brands routinely disregard the amount of flair and finesse it takes to maintain a social media strategy. "Don't leave your Twitter account in the indelicate hands of a child," they say. When it comes right down to it, though, this is simply an example of bad manners that could just as easily have belonged to a social media veteran (perhaps it did). There are lessons here, like don't tweet on impulse. Compose your tweet, but give it a minute to macerate before you post to make sure it's what you want to say. Above all, check your personal opinion at the door. Brand tweets should reflect the views of the brand, not its social media specialists. If you can't say something nice, go tweet from your personal account. And deal with the backlash yourself.
2. Don't interrupt. Just try enforcing this one in a house full of tiny kids all eager to be heard. It's much easier done online…or is it? In spite of knowing better, brands continue to bombard consumers with display ads that disrupt their online experience and interrupt the "conversation" they're having with a media brand. Employ interstitials if you must - heck, launch a home page takeover - but remember that not everyone will want to hear what you have to say. Make your message highly relevant to the site's user base, provide value to those who will be exposed to it in the form of entertainment or a special offer, and give viewers the option of cutting away. There's nothing worse than being stuck in an unwanted conversation that you were forced into from the start.
3. Respect your elders. This tenet of childhood gentility is traditionally delivered when parents need hyper kids to simmer down in the presence of grandparent types - but it has meaning beyond pacifying the very young. It's about respecting everyone, and treating others equally and fairly. This is something that Ikea forgot.
Recently, the Swedish furniture company inexplicably airbrushed all women models from its Saudi Arabian product catalogue, an act that had some questioning the brand's "commitment to women's rights." Although Ikea was quick to apologize, the slip has led to several online parodies, including a humorous Tumblr blog that replaces images of women with Ikea products. Like a disrespectful remark overheard by your Nana, this kind of slip-up can live online in infamy.
4. Mind your Ps and Qs (and all the other letters, too). Think grammar doesn't matter online? Then you haven't been following the countless language blogs that thrive on uncovering brand mistakes. You'll make the occasional grammar gaffe on a Facebook or Twitter post - everybody does. If you aren't careful, though, you may soon find yourself with a reputation for lacking attention to detail. Consumers will begin to question your aptitude for quality control. Before you know it they'll be wondering about the quality of your products, and revisiting that competitor that seems to have a much keener eye.
Check, double-check, and triple-check your marketing copy, ad copy, and social media verse. Ask others to give it a fresh review. Vet your work with the same intensity that you would a product description for your packaging. It's quicker and easier online and things don't feel quite so tangible. But the consequences are just as dire if you mess up.
Our social interactions may have changed, but the people we're interacting with haven't. Be nice, and you'll be rewarded.
Net Etiquette image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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