7 Unwritten Rules For Social Media Newbies

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I broke nearly every rule as a social media newbie

And, I got flamed for doing it. It wasn’t fun, but it helped me understand, fairly quickly, that online communities are no different that real-world communities in many ways. They all have their own cultures, themes, causes and rules…many rules. And, the most challenging thing is…

Many of the most important rules are unwritten

Now, since I am someone who’s, more than once, championed people joining online communities, I figured I also have a responsibility to share a bunch of the unwritten rules that are common to many social media hangouts. So, here are my…

Top 7 unwritten rules for social media newbies:

  1. Upload a profile image A.S.A.P. Social media is innately personal, people want to literally “see” who they’re connecting with. So, be sure to upload either an image of you or something you feel represents who you are.  This let’s gives people a better feel for who you are. But, there’s another even more important reason for this. Not having an image associated with your profile show you don’t know the rules of the game or may not be an active user, both of which scare potential friends, followers and relationships away.
  2. Fill out your profile. Again, this is especially important if you want to find and friend/follow people who don’t yet know you. Because, the first thing they’ll do is go and check out your profile. Nobody wants to start a conversation with a blank screen, so put SOMEthing there, even if it’s just a little bit and, if you blog or have some other site, add the link. If someone I don’t know asks to friend me and I visit their profile and there’s no image or profile info, I’ll just move on. Just like adding a headshot or image, sharing profile information also shows that you “get” the culture of social media.
  3. Ease your way in. Different people join different social media communities for different reasons. Some for conversation, some for connections, some for favors, some for platform building, marketing, blah, blah, blah. Whatever your reason for joining, take your time easing into the community. Observe the conversation, the tone, the nature of thoughts, comments and questions an invest a bit of time understanding the culture of the community, before you dive in with your own thoughts, ideas, questions and comments. Nobody wants to be “Doesn’t Get It Interjecting Guy.”
  4. Give more than you get. Once you have a feeling for the culture of whatever online place you’ve chosen to hang out at, give more than you get. Never begin your time in any online community by asking for favors. Give without asking for or expecting to receive anything in return for a while, before ever thinking about dipping into the favor well.  It’s good karma, good community-building and good business.
  5. Add value. Not that every word out of your mouth has to be brilliant (we all know that’s not the case with me), but do your best to make sure your contribution has some value. What the heck do I mean by “value?” How you define value is specific not only to the larger community, but to the immediate group of people you’ve friended or followed. So, if you’ve connected with a gaggle of extended family members on Facebook, value might be new photos of your kid. On the other hand, if you’re hooking up with potential business connections on LinkedIn, those same images might get you labeled as someone who just doesn’t get it and stop people from connecting with you.
  6. Grow organically. Take your time developing your gathering of friends or followers. It’s really easy to get excited about a new community and go on a friend-adding tear, but remember, the quantity of friends you have doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quality of friends you have. So, if you want to add a ton of friends, at the very minimum, make sure you are doing it because they have similar interests, friends in common or some other quality that genuinely makes you want to learn more about them or be their friend. And, spread your friending out over time. Adding a ton of people a very short time after joining a community or following way more people than follow you reads as spammy. And, in some communities, like Facebook and twitter, it will even get you banned.
  7. Heeeellllpppppp! Okay, gang, here’s where I need your help. I’ve got a lot of ideas and observations, but I just know you all have some great things to share as well. So, help me finish this list. Give me your #7 in the comments below. Oh, and BTW, getting your community involved and interacting with them is a great thing to do, too (drats, I think I just added my own #7, okay, now it’s your turn).

So, this is just a started list. I know you guys have more. let’s all contribute our collective knowledge to make joining and growing within an online community as fun and fulfilling as possible.

Add yout thoughts, ideas, experience and unwritten rules about online communities and social media below.

Or, just share some observations or stories.

S’all good…

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34 responses

34 responses to “7 Unwritten Rules For Social Media Newbies”

  1. Derek Edmond says:

    I like the list Jonathan – here’s my #7: Focus – focus on 1 or 2 communities you enjoy the most and can give attention and contribution to more often first. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the sites, information and choices.

  2. Great List – I know I was guilty of some of these and wish I had read such a sensible list before getting started.

    I think a good #7 would be to also follow people who don’t necessarily share the same interests as you. This gives a more well-rounded view of people on the network and helps avoid the loop of all the same people talking about the exact same thing and sharing the same links.

  3. #7 Show an interest in others who are part of the community. If you liked something they shared, tell them so. Everyone likes a compliment, even if they might not be very good at accepting it. Be genuine though, no one like a brown-noser.

  4. rama says:

    #7… how about : Dont Flirt?? I see some people actually did just that, and its quite annoying.

  5. Great coverage Jonathan,

    There are so many social sites and they all sound great, well most anyway. Some will work for you and others not so much. Don’t go crazy, limit you activity to the ones that fit and allow some time for them every day. Points 4 & 5 are what it’s all about for me. If you can’t make a meaningful contribution then what’s the point of being there?

  6. To add to your #1 – it’s always good to use a photo of yourself, rather than something that represents you, your child (although he/she may be the cutest in the world) because unlike offline communities, others cannot read your body language online. However, people do want to see photos of you, have the ability to see your eyes to provide a level of comfort in dealing with you. The eyes are the gateway to your world, inside and out.

    Happy Netweaving!

  7. Thanks for this, from a newbie.

  8. Great post. I still consider myself a newbie. Although, I don’t know, I have been blogging for about 6 months (is that still a newbie?) . Anyway, I have joined several social communities. Some are better than others about engaging their members with participation. I wish I had read this post BEFORE I initially started interacting in the communities. I recently joined the Mom Bloggers Club. They ARE social. Lots of active, up to date forums, and discussions. They do a good job at keeping everyone active.
    I just discovered you site. Mrs. Fussypants had twittered about this post. I am glad that she did!

  9. John Carson says:

    Nice list Jonathan, but I respectfully disagree with #3. Although I do take the time to get to know people, on some occasions I have just “dived in” (in a polite way of course) and asked a question, or given my opinion, without reading the blog over a period of time beforehand.

    I think part of the appeal of social media is that it’s open to all different types of people, with different views — and the way things move so fast these days, sometimes there’s no way to ease yourself into it.

    (p.s. #1 — No photo here but not hard to find in Twitter / LinkedIn!)

  10. Rachel says:

    Thank you for composing this list! I am a newbie and still trying to navigate my way around proper “web etiquette”. I guess that means that you have given me more than I have to you! 🙂

  11. Matthew Hunt says:

    #1 is my pet peeve (that just may be me) but I hate not knowing if it it’s a real person behind it.

    Also, don’t get over-whelmed, I know when I started out, it was very over-whelming with all the choices and different etiquette(s) on each social media.

    I say follow the motto of “do onto others what you would like to be done onto you.”

  12. Jonathan Fields says:

    Great additions, gang, keep ’em coming. And, thanks, too, to John C for reminding me that for every rule, there’s also an exception. 🙂

  13. Jonathan Fields says:

    Here’s another potential #7 (though, I think we’re up to like #20 by now).

    Be very wary of being too promotional. Know the ethic of your chosen community, most seriously frown on being overly promotional or commercial. This can include things like only stumbling or tweeting your own content (or very little of others)

    And, on many blogs, including a separate signature or link to yourself in a comment, when your name already links to the url you specified is generally considered too promotional. Most bloggers either delete those comments or edit out the extra links and info. I generally do the latter. 🙂

  14. John Carson says:

    “And, on many blogs, including a separate signature or link to yourself in a comment, when your name already links to the url you specified is generally considered too promotional.”


  15. Photo or Avatar? I use both and I get comments from those who love my avatar and those who prefer to see a picture. Studies have shown that for men, an avatar that is easy to recognize gets more attention then a photo. While some people feel you are hiding behind your avatar, I have found that as long as there is a picture available it’s not really an issue. On facebook both appear on my page and the positive feedback outweighs the negative about 5 to 1.

  16. Stephanie says:

    On item 3 (easing your way in), I tend to agree with John Carson. As long as you are respectful towards others, I think jumping in with your own thoughts & opinions provides a refreshing perspective. Storming can be productive!

    In fact some communities come across as cliquey which can be somewhat of a turnoff/challenge. I’d be interested in knowing whether others have experienced the same.

    My contribution? When all else fails, forget the rules and be authentic.

    Thanks Jonathan… for making me ponder!

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Stephanie – yup, all these rules should be massaged to fit the community. And, no doubt, being authentic is the starting place for everything. Great addition!

  18. If I could add a #7, it would be “Be Humble.” I know I’ve had to figure out some things the hard way as part of a community, listen to people who are deeply ingrained in the culture, observe what works and what doesn’t, then laugh a bit at myself when I goof up. There’s nothing that bugs me more than a newbie who skips all that and goes straight to demanding that I add them as a friend or reminding me to check out their new business site. Ask a question, leave a comment, be humble and I’m happy to help and get to know you!

  19. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jess – that’s a great one, not just in social media, but in life! Be humble and be ready to laugh at yourself (in my case, a lot!). Love it. 🙂

  20. Chef Keem says:

    “Heeeellllpppp!” is actually a great header for your #7. Look at it as a mindset – a helping attitude. Even as a newbie, I can notice when people are asking for help through their posts. If I’m only looking for business opportunities, I might not catch these things. But if I enter a forum with the intention to be helpful, I’ll find many ways to contribute.

    I guess this includes #4 and #5 of your list, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of focused and “active” listening, online just as much as in “real life”.

    I’ve been following your blog posts for a while, Jonathan. Thank you for the tremendous inspiration.

  21. Do sign up with Gravatar: it’s not a social site. It’s just a place where you can upload an avatar ( = a picture) that will be used across the board at wordpress blogs.

    It helps people recognize you online – wherever it is you might be commenting or participating.

    The number of people commenting here who haven’t uploaded a picture there is (to me) astounding. (shouldn’t be too surprised, I only signed up two months ago or something). But it’s the reason that OM sign shows up here. Which is my avatar across many social sites.

  22. Adrian says:

    Just updated my twitter profile as a result of this post.

    I’ve noticed many articles lately touting “how to use twitter” effectively, and the point that stands out the most if adding value with a tweet for your followers.

    However, bloggers use twitter differently than “normal” people like myself. (Especially Guy Kawasaki – i de-followed him pretty quickly b/c he tweets too often! and it took up my whole page).
    And now companies are using twitter to market themselves – not participate in the discussion.

    So, I guess as a social newbie, I’m trying to sort my way through this Twitter thing, which can be overwhelming. My advice for #7 is a tweak on Jonathan’s #6 – be selective in who you let follow you or be your friend. I’ve been followed recently by a few twitterers that have substantially more followees than followers, which makes me nervous. I’m going to block them, and try and keep my list to friends, friends of friends, and well known online personalities that I follow. This will make it more manageable for me.

  23. rjane says:

    Great list! My #7 would be this: Be careful not to overwhelm others in your network (this is especially pertinent to Facebook, with all the ways you can send things and invite people to groups and causes); it can get annoying to receive 3-4 requests per day for the latest application. Time is as valuable as relationships are, so be mindful of both.

  24. Gingerken says:

    Thanks, a great post from another newbie. The one thing I didn’t see mentioned is to be careful what you share online, even while you should be authentic always. If as a for instance, Twitter comments really will be archived forever in Google, are you really going to want to read ten years hence, your comments about how drunk you got last night?

  25. […] 7 Unwritten Rules for Social Media Newbies – Jonathan Fields discusses some obvious, but not necessarily well used, things that people should do, such as filling out their profile, when participating on social media sites. […]

  26. sophielc says:

    Spend a little time every day on your chosen social media websites rather than spending 3 hours once a week on one website; try and find discussions that you can add value to.

  27. […] public links >> wheel 7 Unwritten Rules For Social Media Newbies Saved by mdemaz on Sun 17-8-2008 Wheel Painting Saved by pokepoke on Fri 15-8-2008 Comment on […]

  28. […] Jonathon Fields has written a great post for social media “newbies” and one of the unwritten rules he lists is “Grow Organically”. This provoked a great deal of thought for me and I wondered what you all thought. We’ve all been on Twitter or Facebook and seen people who appear to be collectors of “friends”. They follow or add people for what seems like the sole purpose of increasing their numbers. They generally have far fewer followers than they are following…thus not increasing their exposure or business at all. Facebook will actually cut you off if they feel like you are adding people willy-nilly! […]

  29. web says:

    Helpful guide for social media newbies.

  30. […] a few tips… 7 Unwritten Rules For Social Media Newbies | Awake At The Wheel | Personal Growth | careers | entrep… […]

  31. […] 7 Unwritten Rules For Social Media Newbies | Awake At The Wheel | Personal Growth | careers | entrep… A bunch of the unwritten rules that are common to many social media hangouts (tags: social-media) […]

  32. Kelly says:


    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve referred to this post (permanently saved) and referred clients to it! Thank you thank you thank you. The need to grow organically and authentically is HUGE.

  33. […] of which would have happened had I not utilized the web because they all found us through various social media sites or my own […]

  34. Ismael Ahmed says:

    These are very valid points. It is very easy to get carried away when first getting involved in these sites. When I first began to dabble in social media, I made the mistake of making so many profiles that I cannot keep up with all of them.

    I have learned to focus on a select few and make sure that I have quality content on these sites. It is also very important to read and be interested in what others have to say, and make a genuine post regarding their information.