Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are minefields of etiquette faux pas. Here, the experts reveal how they mind their digital p’s and q’s.
The designer Jason Wu has noticed a curious phenomenon of late. Admirers used to approach him with a bashful “Hi, you don’t know me, but I love your work” and request a photo together, which he’d always oblige. These days, however, many of them simply hold a smartphone in front of his face, take a shot, and move on—without saying a word. The good-natured Wu generally laughs it off but admits he’s taken aback by the lack of manners. “Wow,” he says. “People don’t even say hi anymore!”
It’s safe to assume, of course, that those images will soon turn up on the pushy snappers’ social media feeds; in the era of Instagram, an experience hasn’t really occurred unless it’s been documented and shared. But while we’ve been told since preschool that sharing is a good thing, in the digital realm the concept of “What’s mine is yours” is rife with opportunities for rudeness. So, in the interest of avoiding all manner of social media slipups, we turned to some of our favorite members of polite society for etiquette tips. After all, you may have 20,000 followers on Twitter, but if your best friend isn’t returning your texts because of the terrible photo of her you posted, what’s the point?
1. Don’t Flood the Feed
Remember: No matter how cool, clever, or meaningful you find something, one post is probably enough. “Too many pet photos,” Wu grouses. “You have to keep the content interesting. And if you’re posting selfies, you better be in a really great outfit.” Almost as bad as the cat pics are the kid posts. Only your own mother wants a play-by-play of your little one’s developmental milestones. Send her an e-mail. “I know that motherhood is full of everyday miracles, but some people really deify their 6-month-olds,” the author Jill Kargman gripes.
2. Don’t Leave Evidence
Even the most diligent social media acolyte can forget that her posts are a log of her whereabouts. The New York DJ Chelsea Leyland, who often makes quick last-minute trips for gigs, has definitely gotten the angry “You’re in London—and you didn’t tell me!” comment from friends who follow her on Instagram. “It just makes me feel trapped!” she says. Perhaps even stickier is the situation in which you decline an invitation, claiming you are “just too tired to go out,” only to turn up in photos of some other fete. “I think it’s maybe pushing people to live a bit more honestly,” says Leyland, of social media’s sometimes Big Brother–esque overtones. “And that’s a good thing.”
3. Do Honor the Hashtag
These days, everything from weddings to cocktail parties to T-shirts has its own hashtag. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a great event (or to receive an item of clothing), you aren’t under any obligation to broadcast the news to your followers. “We would never expect a post,” says Aliza Licht, senior vice president of global communications for Donna Karan International, who handles DKNY’s social media. But it is usually appreciated. “If you go somewhere fabulous or a brand has really gone out of its way to be generous, you can post a great photo that captures it,” says Park Avenue swan–turned–DJ Marjorie Gubelmann. “It has kind of become a way of saying thank you.”
4. Don’t Beg for Retweets
Just because a friend has a five-figure followers list doesn’t mean he’s obligated to act as your personal publicist. “When people say to me, ‘Will you give me a tweet for my play?’ or something, I feel uncomfortable because I just don’t use Twitter for that,” says Kargman, who once witnessed someone literally grab the designer Dennis Basso’s phone out of his hand and start writing a self-promoting tweet. “Dennis took the phone back and was like, ‘I’ll send it later,’ ” she recalls. “He handled it beautifully, but I was thinking, God, this person is shameless.”
5. Don’t Engage Haters
If someone has nothing nice to say, well, he or she will probably say it in a comments section, where there is little to no accountability. Shaking off fighting words is easier said than done, but it’s unilaterally agreed that one should never respond. In fact, you should think of the haters as your fans. “If you receive negative remarks, it means you’re really famous,” Gubelmann says. “Take it as a compliment.”
6. Don’t Oversnap Your Welcome
You might be really excited about attending a cocktail party at 740 Park Avenue, but rest assured that your hosts will be less than psyched to see photos of their Jeff Koons all over the Internet the next day. To avoid such situations, the New York event planner Bronson van Wyck will often ask guests at his soirées to not use social media. “It’s just not acceptable to post images of someone’s home when you’re in receipt of their hospitality,” he says.
7. Don’t Forage for Followers
“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘You aren’t following me on x, y, and z,’ ” Gubelmann says. “And I’m mortified.” Her response? “Just, ha-ha. Fake laugh. Exit left.” But, according to Lizzie Post, Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter and a coauthor of Emily Post Etiquette 18th Edition, it’s the confronter, not Gubelmann, who should be red in the face. “One only has to follow whom one chooses to follow,” Post declares. And for that matter, she says, a follow doesn’t have to be forever. If you’re broadcasting endless snooze-inducing shots of, say, your vegan meals, your friends are well within their rights to cut you off—and the most gracious response on your part is no response at all.
8. Don’t Hold a Grudge
There will always be dinners you’re excluded from, friends who don’t call when they’re in town, and acquaintances who don’t find you as interesting as you find them—and thanks to social media, you’re now aware of all of them. “We need to have a tougher skin about it and realize there is a huge world out there,” Post says. “You can only be a part of so much, so be a part of what you can and be really happy about it.” Or, at the very least, passive-aggressively tweet about how thrilled you are to have a night off.