The Emily Post guide to social media etiquette: CEO edition

How to avoid an online faux pas when you run a company (or when you maintain the boss’s social media presence for him or her).


According to a recent report from DOMO, 70 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies have no social media presence.

Although the report does not indicate why CEOs are opting out of these platforms, it’s a fact that CEOs are time-strapped. But one could also theorize that there is concern over a speed-induced, unintended faux pas. I consider social networking to be an activity similar to attending a cocktail party or a networking event. Although using social media should be seamless and feel natural, there are some scenarios that leave you wondering what the right move is with this kind of social interaction.

For these situations, I have consulted with Emily Post’s own social media etiquette guidelines and adapted them for CEOs. Here are five valuable tips to ensure your etiquette is top notch when you take to the social networking realm:

1. Think before you post. Is what you’re about to say to your followers relevant? Does it matter? Stay on topic. If your business is focused on security, you probably shouldn’t tweet or post about the latest hot button social issue—like what you think about Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s stance on gay marriage. It isn’t relevant or productive.

2. Introduce yourself. It’s OK to add someone you don’t know personally on a social networking website, but be sure to send a message explaining why you’re connecting with him or her. Not only will you have a better chance of getting your friend request accepted, you’ll start building a relationship. For LinkedIn users: The generic request note doesn’t count—personalization is imperative to starting off on the right foot.

3. Don’t put in writing what can be said on the phone. Whether it is a direct message on Twitter or a message on Facebook or LinkedIn, it is inappropriate to use public forms of communication to talk disparagingly about a client, customer, reporter, colleague … or anyone. If it is something that must be said, but you don’t want it to be seen by anyone other than whom you are intending to message, pick up the phone or schedule a lunch. And of course, remember the Golden Rule.

4. When it comes to Twitter, unfollowing is perfectly acceptable. Someone’s tweets used to make sense in your feed, but they’ve switched gears or generally don’t provide information you consider to be valuable. As a CEO, you don’t have time to sift through tweets or updates that are irrelevant to you. It’s OK to unfollow those users. It is also acceptable to opt out of following someone simply because they follow you. If you’re interested in social media or marketing, there is no need to follow someone who tweets primarily about, say, pet supplies. They may be following you for your knowledge and expertise.

5. You can reject a client’s friend request. It can be awkward to get a Facebook friend request from a new or potential client. It’s OK to decline. Keeping work and play separate is smart, especially if you do not have a prior, friendly relationship with the client. You can send them a message explaining that you prefer to connect with clients in a different way and provide them a link to your LinkedIn profile. If you’d prefer not to personally connect at all, sending the client to the company Facebook page—which collects fans as opposed to friends and is not linked to your personal account—is another viable option.

Laura Maas is an assistant account executive at InkHouse Media + Marketing, where this story first appeared. Follow Laura on Twitter @Laura_PM.

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