Social Media Etiquette – When It’s OK to Join a Conversation


Courtesy of SuburbanJungle (dot) net


This post stems from something that happened to me while I was conversing on Twitter this morning.

Former colleague and friend of mine, Ginny Skalski, and I were holding a conversation about the theme of her company’s holiday party this year.  Specifically, we were half-joking, half-serious about how she should get ready for that party.  At one point she joked about going to the gym so she could look just as good as a celebrity looked in character for a particular film that ties into the party theme.  It was a fun, light-hearted conversation between two people.

Then, out of the blue another Tweeter (@BeachVitality) whom neither of us know personally (at least I’m making that assumption on Ginny’s end) nor follow (again I’m making another assumption here) joined the conversation Tweeting a simple –

Commit to be fit.

and included a link.

My first reaction was “Huh? Where did that come from?” So, I clicked on their profile to see who they were & take a gander at their Twitter timeline.  Sure enough, “Commit to be fit” is their mantra.  They seem to use that phrase often.  Their bio states that they wish to enlighten the public about fitness and nutrition.

I responded with a simple –

Um…@BeachVitality while I understand ur mission, I’m sorry but it wasn’t appropriate 4 U to join a convo btwn 2 ppl u don’t know. Thanks.

Perhaps my response was a bit harsh but with 140 characters in which to write, it was the best I could come up with to try and get my point across.

While I understand their mission…and I applaud it…in this case, the way in which they went about implementing it by joining a conversation in that manner wasn’t appropriate.  (I’d say “…joining a conversation that was obviously between two people who know each other personally” but I can’t because despite programs that would show that it is [i.e. Hootsuite], perhaps they couldn’t see the full conversation as they were utilizing Twitter on the web or some other program.)

My response spurred another response with a Tweeter I actually do follow and whom I fully enjoy the information he shares on the medium.  It was that conversation that further spawned this post.

In short, I basically told him that had Beach Vitality come at me with a response similar to this –

Hey @soandso (with “So and So” being Ginny) & @LisaSullivan saw you talking about looking good for the holiday party, we have ideas to get fit.

Then, their reaching out would’ve been OK because that’s exactly what they would’ve been doing – reaching out with a suggestion rather than budding in on a conversation.  I might have even responded with a cutesy little response that said something to the effect of “Thanks for the inspiration!”

With all that said, this brings me to my point.  There is a time, a place, and a means in which to engage with your fellow Tweeters.  If you’re going to use Twitter effectively, even with a purpose such as Beach Vitality’s, understand how best to communicate across the platform and use proper etiquette.

I liken what Beach Vitality did to the person at a party that over hears a conversation going on between two or more people and that suddenly butts in to the conversation without so much as an “excuse me”.

As I stated above, had the Tweeter stepped back for a moment, researched why they felt the need to respond to an on-going conversation, they might have been able to formulate a better approach that would ultimately accomplish their mission.

If as I engage on Twitter I feel I have something to add to an on-going conversation, I’ll take a look at the dialogue first.  Since I mostly use Hootsuite, it’s easy to “see the conversation”.  However, if I happen to be using the official Twitter site or Twitter for the iPhone or another program that doesn’t have that capability, I then click on the Twitter handle of each person in the conversation to see their timeline.  I then formulate my addition to the conversation based on that research…or I find that my contribution would be a moot point, has already been said, or is totally off kilter to the conversation at hand and as such, I don’t contribute anything.  It only takes a minute (or less) to do that research.

The lesson –

when using a social media platform, be sure you are doing what you can to engage in it effectively so that you truly are sharing in the medium and not just promoting your services, products, or mission.

One final thought, sometimes I think we get so comfortable in social media that we forget while we may be talking to actual friends online, the rest of the world is not our friend…and the rest of the world tends to forget that.  The point being – organizations, companies, businesses, brands, even individual people, need to remember they are each also communicating with human beings, and not just some avatar on the web.

Your thoughts?  Would love to hear ’em.  Perhaps I’ll use your comments in a future post.

5 Responses to “Social Media Etiquette – When It’s OK to Join a Conversation”
  1. Ryan Boyles says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I too have been broad-sided by someone on twitter with butting into a private conversation. I say private even though it’s not because it is on twitter and online. But it’s about context and perception. I will not go into the details here, but I’ll just say that the situation involved someone I and the person I was quoting mutually know, and they made took our conversation on a detour that was not appreciated or in good taste based on the subject. I will say that this happened just yesterday and caused me to rethink what I say, only because “people” can be hijack your written thoughts and misrepresent them, which in turn lead to embarrassment for everyone involved.

    Thanks for posting about social media etiquette. Some people don’t get it.

    • lasullivan says:

      Exactly – context and perception! That was absolutely my point even if it took me several paragraphs to get to it. 😉

      You further validated my last statement too in that we sometimes forget that there are real people behind those avatars and thus, we sometimes forget our manners. What I will add (since I forgot to add it in the post itself) is that for the most part, I also believe that it’s not intentional when we do. Conversing in the Twittersphere happens so fast. We have 140 characters in which to formulate a post and sometimes we tend to just post and move on without thinking of the consequences.

      Admittedly, I have also been guilty of that. Just last week, I know I butted into a conversation that I hope my girls will forgive me for. It was fast, in the moment, and I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing insomuch as making sure they knew what I wanted them to know. In retrospect, I realize that communique didn’t have its place. Next time I see them both, I will apologize in person.

      But that again brings me to the bigger point – let us not forget there are real people behind avatars and manners are just as important online as off.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Ryan! I always appreciate your thoughts as well. 🙂

  2. Rob Laughter says:

    Psssst… @BeachVitality is a spam bot. Any time someone uses the word “gym” in a tweet, @BeachVitality sends them an automated message.

    Ergo, your reply fell on deaf ears; they weren’t even listening to the conversation. “Proper” response? Click the “report for spam” button.

    Before I write the next few lines, I want to say that I totally agree with the premise of the post. Here’s the thing that gets me, though, Lisa…

    “As I stated above, had the Tweeter stepped back for a moment, researched why they felt the need to respond to an on-going conversation, they might have been able to formulate a better approach that would ultimately accomplish their mission.”

    You didn’t step back and take the time to research why you felt the need to respond to the interruption, either. If you had, you would have saved a lot of time and energy writing this blog post when you realized that the offending tweet was sent by an automated account 😉

    It’s really easy to criticize–I know, because I can be the world’s worst critic–but be sure you do your research first.

    P.S. For you nerds out there, I believe this means that that @BeachVitality just passed the Turing Test.

    • lasullivan says:

      Thanks for reading & commenting Rob! I appreciate it. 🙂

      I do wish to clarify that I did perform some due diligence with regards to the Beach Vitality Twitter account. I always do! What I found is that while the Twitter account may be spam-bot driven, it is linked to a legit company…or every indication is that it seems that way anyway. The way I look at it, regardless of spam bot or not, assuming that the website it’s linked to is legit, I have to believe that someone took the time to create the account and thus, I assume they are reviewing those that @ reply them even if selectively and only on occasion. So, it was worth it to voice my opinion (directly on Twitter and here) even if only to vent.

      I don’t feel that I wasted my time in writing this blog post at all. Yesterday was just the last straw. Lately, with all the…what I call “brand battering” (bot or not) going on in the medium, I just felt it was time to say something…cuz really, it’s just driving me nuts!

      Again, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I always appreciate your thoughts. 🙂

    • Ashley Sue says:

      I see what you’re saying, Rob, but I also have to say, though the initial tweet may have been a waste of time (so to speak) on Lisa’s end, this post certainly is not. Someone did create this spam bot, thinking that it will somehow legitimately serve their company. Whether it is someone in the company making that decision, or they hired some hack “social media expert” who advised them this is a great way to get people talking and using your service, Lisa is pointing out how using social media in this regard is not only ineffective but damaging to your company’s reputation. If you find yourself leaning toward using this kind of noise to approach possible customers, this post might make you realize social media is a way to engage, not one-way advertise.

      Further, the post spurred Ryan to elaborate that this faux pas can be easily accomplished even among us “real” people who follow each other on these networks… and perhaps we need to take a moment to reflect before shooting off and possibly damaging relationships.

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