Rule #1 - Don't post anything you would be embarrassed to see on the front of the Washington Post. Yes, I have my privacy settings restricted and yes I am careful about who I friend. However, it is a good rule to get in the habit of and makes for a lot less regret.
Rule #2 - Don't post when you are angry. My mom always told me "If you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all." I think this is a great guideline for social networking posts.
Rule #3 - Don't engage in a debate with your friends' friends. The old rule about not discussing money, religion, and politics will keep you out of trouble. But what about when your friends do? No matter what is said, there will be someone who disagrees with it. Social networking allows people the anonymity (you are a friend of a friend, I don't know you) to express their opinions in a more judgmental way than they would probably do in person. So, even if you are agreeing with your friend (sometimes even just liking), there always stands the chance that someone is going to elevate it to a hostile level. If it is someone you don't know and it isn't part of your "brand" (you are a religious or political blogger) think seriously about engaging. What are you hoping to achieve. These issues all deal with people's core values. The chances of you changing someone you don't know's core values based on a Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In post are almost nil. So again, what are you hoping to achieve? If you can't answer that question with something achievable, think twice before hitting post.
Rule #4 - When you really want to break rules 1-3, type it out in a word processor first. Edit it at least three times. If you still want to post it by then, it must be important to you.
Rule #5 - Don't try to be everything on every platform. Again, what are your goals? Consider your audience and post accordingly. Back to my recent Facebook move, the purpose of my personal Facebook page is to stay in touch with friends and family and let them watch my son grow. The purpose of my Twitter account, my Linked In page, my Strategic Serendipity Facebook Page, and my blog is to develop my professional network. It is very rare that I post the same thing on my personal Facebook page as I do the others.
Rule #6 - Utilize the networks' internal linking functions. If you want to post the same thing on Linked In and Twitter, use Linked In and link your Twitter account. You can link your Twitter account to a Facebook, or a Facebook Page account once, allowing you to post over multiple platforms with one post on Linked In through a chain effect.
Rule #7 - Utilize the social networks to connect with people. Don't just post, read others' posts. Find people you have interests in common with. Join groups on your areas of interest. Linked In is my favorite source for current topic research. Seriously. Some people post things the instant they go live. Yes, you can read all "the" blogs, journals, and websites in your discipline, but that is all you would do. A group on Linked In sponsored by professionals in your area will often highlight new, current, material. There are also posters in most areas on Linked In and Twitter that function as the "information collectors" and if you can identify and follow them you will be a step ahead. This is really important if you are new to an area and trying to figure out what "the" blogs, journals, and websites in your discipline are.
Rule #8 - Make it a habit. For some, social networking might fall into the same category as exercising. I know I HAVE to, but I can make up a thousand reasons why I can't right now. Just like exercising, though, once you get into the habit, you miss it when you don't. Use your public transit commuting time, your coffee break, your first or last hour of the day, or, if you are really ambitious, kill two birds with one stone and take your portable device to the gym and do it while walking on the treadmill! (Warning, don't try this if you get easily seasick.)
Rule #9 - Have fun with it. I don't mean send your Facebook game invites to the CEO you just met. I mean (and this helps if you like what you do), use it to go where you would go if you were surrounded by people who do what you do, like what you like, or need people like you. If you are an enthusiastic person, don't be afraid to show it, "I love how this article shows the positive side of the current negative work in the area." If you have a dry sense of humor, make sure it translates as that and not as condescension. If you enjoy getting into the weeds on a topic, do so!
Rule #10 - Don't be afraid to dip your toe in and lurk. You don't have to put everything out there to get access to everything else that is out there. You can set up a page with minimal information and no picture or a picture of a sunset and just read. That is okay!!!! Someday, if you want to step out a little, start "Like"-ing things. Social networks are a tool, and like any tool, you need to make it work for you.
Bonus Rule for those of you who are putting it out there and wondering if anyone is listening - Keep going. Don't get discouraged. Don't feel like a failure. Don't quit. Someday, when you least expect it, someone will tell you that you inspired them, taught them, or helped them in a way you never knew.
What are your social networking rules?