Beware the overshare, and other tips for social media etiquette

Few update their status more frequently than a proud parent. Grace Cormack shares some tips for social media etiquette. 

Imagine what we would write on social media if we weren’t scared of sounding like a skite. I could upload my Facebook status to: “My newborn refuses to sleep less than 11 hours a night! However shall I spend my quiet, blissful evenings?” While true, I would never dare write this for fear of inciting cyber bullying by a sleep-deprived parent!

Like many people, I became an active social media user after having children. Social networking provides parents with a platform to engage when it is difficult to get out and about. Many parents use it to seek advice, celebrate milestones and to give each other a well-needed pat on the back. Social media can often feel like a place where we can say whatever is on our mind. However, unless your accounts are private, what you’re saying is in a public space. This means that manners matter on social media as much as they do everywhere else in life.

Keeping mum
It is important to keep personal details secure for your family's safety. Sharing less reduces the risk of identity theft, burglaries and predators knowing your child’s whereabouts. Never share sensitive information, such as phone numbers, addresses and IRD numbers. Comments and pictures shared on social media will usually remain in a public domain forever and deleting tweets and updates doesn’t always solve the problem. Before posting pictures of your child’s rash or venting about your manager, remember: this could follow you. Some matters are best saved for a more private form of communication.

Beware the overshare
Consider how much you publish about your child for their own security. Also consider your audience. Some friends might find updates about sleeping patterns and nappies a tad boring. If you don’t want your posts about night wakes and bowel motions to enter their newsfeeds, consider joining a private parent forum, like the forums on the OHbaby! website. While it is easy to be enthusiastic about your bundle of joy, try not to send more than three status updates a day.

It is never good manners to be the first to reveal someone else’s big news, so hold your tongue regarding your friends’ milestones until they have made their own announcements.

Picture perfect
Your profile picture on Facebook or Twitter may include your child or cat, but it should primarily be a picture of you.

I know it’s not easy to limit the number of pictures posted of children so cute they deserve their own exhibition, however, we should limit photographs to the ‘best of’ variety. Otherwise, our friends and family could overlook a milestone – such as a first crawl, walk or bike ride – because they think they're in for another 'holiday slide show'.

Only post photos of others that you would want posted if they were of you, and show courtesy when tagging friends in photos. If in doubt, ask them if they mind being tagged.

Spell it out
Avoid cryptic or confusing messages. Instead of saying “Best day ever for DH”, explain why your husband had a great day. If in doubt, ask yourself: “Is this post too vague? Will others understand what I am saying?”.

Aim to use accurate grammar and spelling and keep abbreviations to a minimum.

Respectfully yours
'Like for a like, follow for a follow' have emerged as universally accepted social media protocols. By all means, if you want recognition of your child’s first steps, then you should praise your friends’ special moments too. However, we cannot demand reciprocation.

Nor can we expect friends to be active users of social networking. My friends once lamented my lack of presence on Facebook with such incredulity you would think I had forgotten to attend my brother’s wedding. The truth is, I trawled through Facebook with the best of them – but preferred to maintain privacy than upload my own statuses. Of course, this was before becoming a parent!

True to tone
It is difficult to impart the right tone on social media, as we cannot rely on non-verbal cues. If you're being sarcastic and people can’t tell, try to be more direct. If you are sharing good news, it's important that you convey empathy, thoughtfulness and kindness so you don’t appear to be bragging. Beware the 'humble brag', and other not-so-subtle forms of attention-seeking, such as: “I'd like to congratulate every mum out there who gets up to her sick kids in the night! So tired now!”. You might as well say: “Looked after Bob who threw up all night. Hurry up, someone nominate me for an OBE!”.

If you find your tone slipping into constant complaining and endless rhetorical questions, consider whether social media is the right outlet for you. Rather than venting online, you may be better off catching up with your friends for coffee. Otherwise, people may start to associate you with that tone of voice.

Clean and tidy
Keep your posts clean and inoffensive, and in line with your workplace’s social media policy.  If you don’t want something to potentially follow you forever, don’t say it online. Prefacing your comments with “No offence, but . . . ” doesn’t absolve anyone of insults or excuse offensive language. Re-read and revise are the golden rules here.

Face to face
Unhappy with your child’s teacher, tired of working overtime or fed up with poor customer service? While it is tempting to tear into a person or company on social media, it is better to contact them and settle the issue privately. The same rule applies with mums' forums: if unhappy with other users’ comments, contact the online moderator.

Tune out
Social media can appear a disconnected, impersonal way to share milestones with friends and family. Contact your close friends and family privately with 'big' news, such as pregnancy announcements, moving house or getting married.

Ironically, social networking can lead to social isolation because it reduces time spent with family and friends in real life. It's important to take time out from social media and 'unplug' from technology, particularly in the company of other people.

As role models to our children, consider whether you want them to spend more time tagging their experiences, or living them.


Grace Cormack is a freelance writer and mum of a gorgeous little girl. She loves to go on family trips and her hobbies include dancing and running.

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