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10 Ways We’re Being Rude in Social Media and Don’t Even Know It

on November 5, 2012

Social media rearchitects itself very quickly. Our ability to change behaviors is not nearly as fast. This timing dichotomy results in seemingly appropriate behaviors that come off as thoughtless or self-serving. New tools and capabilities in social media have created new norms, some good, and others that unfortunately encourage repugnant behavior. In the past I’ve complained about 29 communication behaviors (See “16 Annoying Communications That Must end in 2011” and “13 Annoying Communications That Must End in 2012”). After some reflection on a few of these annoying communications and others soon to be mentioned, I realize the reason many of these communications irritate me so much is because the sender thinks they’re doing the right thing.

Like being thrust into a blinding swarm after our team wins a national championship, we lose our better judgment as to what’s right and wrong. Just because we see others doing it en masse we benignly think it’s ok to engage in abhorrent activity. What proceeds is a challenge to these mob-OKed assumptions.

1: Friend collecting

There was a time we used to just guess as to who was the most popular person in the room. Today, we look at your very public follower, friend, or subscriber count and we know. If one person’s number is higher than another’s, then that person is more popular, right?

We like to fool ourselves into believing this is not true, but we can’t stop ourselves from starting at those numbers, comparing ourselves to others, and adding more online friends.

While most of us connect with people we’ve met in the real world or online, there are others who truly collect friends, extending invites to complete strangers on Facebook and LinkedIn with absolutely no explanation as to why they want to connect. Both social networks allow you to send private messages to explain why you want to connect. Yet these “friend collectors” avoid taking advantage of that function. What’s worse is the number of these strangers that refuse to reply to private messages after you’ve accepted their friend request. I’ve estimated it’s about 25 percent (See “One quarter of all people who friend me on Facebook don’t respond to personal messages”).

Refusing private communications proves  that the “friending” is purely a selfish action with the intended purpose of increasing public friend counts with no intention of creating a true social connection.

2: Asking people to “Like” your content-free Facebook page

Similar to friend collecting is the process of setting up a Facebook fan page and then immediately spamming all your friends to “like” your page which happens to be void of content. Luckily, this has decreased substantially as it used to be a seemingly automatic request to all of one’s friends upon the creation of every single fan page.

“Liking” a piece of content or fan page is a transactional agreement. It’s an endorsement that comes after I have approved of what you have shown me. Requesting someone to “like” your fan page without showing them content is the equivalent of asking for something for nothing.

It’s similar to friend collecting because when you build a fan page your desire to create followers is tantamount. Your fan page has nothing, but you’ve got tons of friends. You’re so desperate and so dependent on your existing friend base that you think they’ll say “yes” to “liking” your page just because you’ve already established Facebook friendship. If you were the only one doing it, then maybe that would be true. Problem is we’re constantly inundated with these self-serving “please help me get my fan page count up” “like” requests.

Yes, it’s a small “Hey, give me a quarter” request. But without content, it’s a lopsided transaction. And because it keeps happening, it becomes blatantly self-serving and obnoxious.

3: Requiring app installation to consume a message

Ever get a message like this?

“John Doe just sent you a birthday greeting. Install the Happy Birthday App to view the content.”

This is similar to “like” requests on contentless Facebook pages in that it’s a lopsided transaction. The selfishness in this case lies primarily in the hands of the app developer who sees this as a “viral” technique to increase their install base. In social media speak, the message would read as such:

“Pay me first by giving me access to your personal computer and social network and I’ll show you this message you will probably not like. You can still uninstall the app afterwards if you’d like, but given that most of you don’t know how to do that, chances are you won’t. We’re counting on your ignorance and apathy so we’ll be able to show our investors the number of people who have installed our app. We need another round of funding.”

4: Auto-DMs on Twitter

Nothing screams “Pay attention to me!” more than automated direct messages (DMs) after you’ve followed someone on Twitter. I think the reason they annoy me so much is how they’re written to appear so personal (e.g., “Thank you so much for following me…”) when they’re obviously not any type of personal communications. I wish Twitter would simply turn this feature off.

The reason it’s so obnoxious is because it’s usually not complimented with an auto-follow. Lack of a return follow means the DM recipient can’t send a direct message back. That’s anything, but a personal engagement.

5: “Happy Birthdays” on Facebook

Isn’t it great that Facebook reminds us when our friends having a birthday? This alert is a great reminder to send a note about how much you appreciate your friendship. Or you could send a gift. Or maybe record a “Happy Birthday” video greeting. Facebook has provided some amazing personal information about your audience, yet we go out of our way and blow a well-timed opportunity to make a meaningful connection with our friends by just typing “Happy Birthday” and nothing else.

Only typing “Happy Birthday” is truly the least you could do outside of doing nothing at all. What a colossal waste of bandwidth.

Before when people said, “Happy Birthday,” your response would be “Thank you. You remembered.” But we can’t say that anymore because we didn’t remember, Facebook did. With this information we chose not to build a meaningful connection, but rather become participants of a massive ongoing spam campaign.

6: Sharing without consumption

Thanks to the proliferation of “Like” and retweet buttons, we all have the ability to share any piece of content without looking past the headline. While no one readily admits this, we all share content via our social networks without taking the time to actually consume it. It’s often a kind thing to do for a friend who wants to spread the word about an event or a piece of content. It’s not OK to just retweet and share content to build your industry voice.

Blind sharing does provide benefits to the sharer as tweeting out content that other people retweet will raise their Klout and Kred scores. Employers are now using these social rating systems as hiring barometers especially for organizations such as PR firms.

While ostensibly one should believe that blind sharing, even without consumption, would benefit the content creator. When it’s done en masse, then it only benefits the sharers and not the content creators as there are incidents where a piece of content has more shares than views. For stories highlighting evidence of this phenomenon, please read “Here’s What’s Wrong with Social Media: Sharing Without Consumption” and “Why Sharing Online Content May Be Too Easy” on Mashable.

7: Photo overdose of your kids and your wedding

I have an endless number of photos of my son. My wife and I look at them constantly, and our respective parents can’t get enough of them either.

While I can happily look at a million photos of my son, I can only stomach looking at about three photos of your kid. Understanding that other parents probably feel the same way, I keep a limit to the number of photos I share of my son with my entire social network.

Not all parents are aware of this photo absorption discrepancy between themselves and the rest of the world. Your kid may be cute to you, but you’re the parent and that’s how you’re supposed to feel. The rest of us are not supposed to feel that way.

Same holds true for weddings and honeymoons. The pictures you provide should acknowledge the event, and that’s it. Anything beyond that becomes a tiresome effort that overwhelms your audience.

8: Posting bad photos

For those unaware of what a bad photo looks like, here are some hints:

  • It’s out of focus.
  • It’s overexposed.
  • It’s underexposed.
  • There’s no subject in the photo.
  • It’s poorly composed.

While your camera may have this amazing function that allows you to automatically upload every photo you took to Facebook, it also has another great function called “Delete.” Not using the always available “Trash” button projects the image of an insensitive clod who wrongly believes everyone will love all his photos he took because the event he was at was just so damn cool. Knock it off and edit your photos.

9: Follow Fridays

I don’t know why this still goes on. Has anyone ever actually been compelled to follow someone after someone else’s #FF? I would guess not because almost all of them are devoid of context. Those who #FollowFriday still have fooled themselves into believing they’re being selfless, but that’s not the case. You’re alerting those #FFed in hopes they’ll pay more attention to you.

For more on my irritation with #FollowFriday, watch the video below and read “Can We All Make #FollowFriday Suck a Little Less?”

10: Automatically cross-posting contentless information across social networks

This is the process by which our actions, as measured by various social networks and often without moment-by-moment acknowledgement, are passively shared with multiple social networks. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg happily supports this kind of automated and frictionless sharing as the rise of the social web.

Foursquare check-ins, achievements in social games, and songs we’re currently listening to on social radio stations such as Spotify and MOG can be cross-posted on Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook has smartly turned down the volume on these passive auto-posts, this has not been the case on Twitter which has no power to turn down the volume on anything.

To auto-share your every action across multiple social networks where people haven’t opted in is obscenely egotistical and doesn’t take into account the additional noise being created in the social sphere. Stop it. If someone cared where you checked in they would be following you on Foursquare. No need to let everyone on Facebook and Twitter know as well.

Want to complain some more with me?

I can’t be the only one that finds these sharing actions to be thoughtless and bordering on self serving. Are you with me or against me? Are you the kind of person that just types “Happy Birthday” on Facebook or will you spend a full minute to record a Facebook video greeting wishing me “Happy Birthday?”

Got other stuff to complain about? Let everyone know in the comments below.

Stock photo of shouting girl and secret message sign courtesy of Big Stock Photo. Creative Commons photo credit to mytoenailcameoff, Loukku, Nerea Marta, and laubarnes.

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  • David

    Hi David, I have to agree with DF on this. I actually say Happy Birthday to someone because I really want to and it is a way to reach out. I don’t normally have time to type in personal messages to 700 people on my FB so I choose the ones that I do that for. Also, I may have already had interaction with them on another level and just saying happy birthday is letting them know I’m thinking of them. its a nice gesture. snob is the word. Some of the other observations you made I agree with when it comes to invites but I just ignore and move on. I have more to do with my day.

  • angie

    I was just discussing this with my friend. We have friends that albums with hundreds of pictures of just themselves and most of them are the same picture with a different color scheme. It is very annoying and in my opinion makes the person seem vain

  • David Spark

    Angie, some people are just really awesome and you haven’t realized it yet.

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  • Nadine Smith

    Hello everyon my problem has been not being familiar with social media very long. I have been twitting for about 2 months regularly now. I am sure there may be books out there I should have read. However, my daughter is a Twitter Pro! Long story short. I had to learn cold turkey how to get followers! The first time I got 7 people following me I was excited! I thought it was because people llked what I was saying, I found out later, it could be because if you have a strong following they may want to compete for your followers. This last reason I don’t like at all, and this those that want to challenger what you say to make you look ignorant boasting their ego’s. That’s plain down right disrespectful When others are rude or sarcastically rude then

  • Kimberly Kaye Clark

    I think it’s very rude for someone to take your post and share without a word to you, the originator of the post. I also find it extremely rude that when I keep liking some of others post and make comments these people NEVER reciprocate the same to my posts!! I think it’s selfish that they don’t even bother to look or read other friends posts. They get on, make a post and get a bunch of comments and likes and that’s it, I never see them liking anyone else’s stuff or commenting!!!

  • David Spark

    Kimberly, Klout’s whole curator score is sadly based on sharing other people’s content without giving credit. It is rude and sadly it’s done all the time. As for your other comment about people looking at your posts, I don’t think it’s a two-way street. Just the mere act of liking and commenting on other people’s work doesn’t mean they should feel compelled to look at your work. I never feel the need to. But, if someone flat out asks me to take a look at something, I do, assuming it’s not their novel. :)

  • skyloaf

    Hi David, I really liked the list. Agreed with all except the birthday thing. Perhaps you handle your time better but I feel constantly overwhelmed and rushed. I see that birthday message first thing in the morning and I make sure I say something (often just “Happy Birthday –name– !”) to the 2, 3, or sometimes 7 people that day. It might be difficult for you to understand being a writer, but often we plebes can’t think of anything else to say. I find it nice when people say more but I appreciate the acknowledgement. BTW, you seem easily offended, particularly for someone who walks around and puts a mike in peoples faces. Are you French or something? ;-)

  • David Spark

    Ah Jerry…:) Well, my argument is over 150 people wish me “Happy Birthday” on my birthday. Sure, it’s nice, but if you’re trying to do it as a brand building effort is falling flat. Because there’s no way I can remember 150 people who said Happy Birthday. BUT I do remember this thoughtful comment on my blog. THANKS.

    BTW, you don’t have to be French to be rude. :)


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  • LJ12

    I was absolutely thrilled to find a best friend from school yesterday on facebook. It’s been almost 25 years since we saw each other and I sent her a nice message, then realised it would go to her ‘other’ inbox as we’re not friends on Fb. So I sent her a friend request as well, at least this would get her attention to the message & she could add me later if she wanted. But…. she ignored the message and accepted the friend request.
    I feel a bit hurt, but more than anything, really really awkward. I mean we’re friends on Fb now but we haven’t spoken; I want to be actual friends, not linked on social media where there is no privacy. This is the sort of thing that makes me hate Fb, and makes me dislike myself for being on it.
    Hope you see this as I realise this post is old now!

  • Doofus Lamewright

    So let me get this straight. A simple happy birthday is now considered annoying? Are you kidding me?

  • David Spark

    I’m not kidding you Doofus. :)

  • Doofus Lamewright

    Wow I must’ve annoyed a lot of people. What if I don’t know the person that well…they’ll really be unappreciative of a Facebook message ?

  • David Spark

    Think of it this way, if 100 people just type “Happy Birthday” and nothing else, how am I supposed to remember who did that? And why couldn’t any of those people done literally ANYTHING else other than type “Happy Birthday?”

  • LemonZest

    Here’s one…How about the people who in person say they love you, support you, etc., You LIKE many of their posts, showing your support when you can, and they refuse to ever LIKE a single post of yours??? I almost think it’s deliberate, but maybe not. Thoughts??

  • Lmeskip

    I get what you mean, just opt to not see their pics anymore in your news feed by hiding it or better yet, just unfollow them, which means you are still their friend on facebook but you wont see their stuff popping in ur home page

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