How did you end up learning the unwritten rules for social media etiquette?

For me, it was a lot of watching and waiting, a bit of experimenting, and tons of trial and error. When I first started out on social media, I had just the most basic rules and intuitions. Even now, I feel like I learn a new quirk or quibble on a near-daily basis.

It’s hard to know which rules exist, which ones are real, and which ones are okay to break or follow.

I’d love to help shed some light here so that you can go forth and share confidently.

social media rules

The 29 most common social media rules

After digging into a bunch of research from thought leaders and influencers, I found there seemed to be a set of social media rules that most could agree on. Here’s the list of 29 social media rules most commonly mentioned by the pros.

(Thanks to HubSpotTollFreeForwarding and Gryffin, Rebekah Radice [1] [2], Chris Brogan, and Outbound Engine for their great resources and inspiration on these social media rules.)

For all social networks

  1. Share several times a day, but space out your posts every few hours.

  2. Respond to all comments as quickly as you can.

  3. Know the art of the hashtag. 1 hashtag is fine. 10 hashtags are not.

  4. Always keep the 80/20 rule! Entertain and inform your audience first, sell to them second.

  5. Use first person plural when talking about your company brand (We, Us).

For Twitter

  1. Don’t automatically direct message people that follow you.

  2. Provide more context in your tweets with Twitter’s latest update.

  3. Don’t hijack another company’s hashtag.

  4. Don’t buy followers.

  5. Don’t stuff your tweets with keywords.

For Facebook

  1. Don’t Like your own post.

  2. Don’t post or tag photos of fans, customers, or employees without permission.

  3. Don’t tag people or pages that aren’t relevant to your post.

  4. Don’t ask for Likes, Comments, or Shares.


  1. Personalize your connection requests. Tell them WHY you’re connecting.

  2. Once connected, send a “welcome” message.

  3. Don’t join groups and immediately start selling yourself.

  4. Don’t ignore the more professional tone of the network.


  1. Always +mention users when commenting on their posts.

  2. When sharing a post, always add your own commentary to it first.

  3. Share to Circles to target your content.

  4. Use Google+ formatting for your text—bold, italics, and strikethrough.


  1. Don’t neglect to provide good descriptions for your pins.

  2. Always link back to the original source and give credit.

  3. Don’t use images that have nothing to do with your clickthrough content to get more pins or clicks.

  4. Don’t pin just your own material.


  1. Don’t ask people to follow you or use hashtags like #tagsforlikes – it’s unprofessional.

  2. Don’t overgram. No one likes their feed filled up with one user.

  3. Use hashtags for your brand appropriately. The golden number of hashtags is 11.

Rules for all social networks

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Share several times a day, but space out your posts every few hours. 

Research has shown that bursts—moments when you flood your followers’ timelines with several updates sent back-to-back-to-back—are one of the most significant factors in unfollowing. To combat this, you can use a social media scheduling tool like Buffer to space out your posts.

why twitter users unfollow

Respond to all comments as quickly as you can

A social media study found that 53 percent of users who tweet at a brand expect a response in under 60 minutes. Twitter is the most real-time of the social networks. Timely responses are imperative on Twitter and highly encouraged everywhere else.

Know the art of the hashtag. 1 to 3 hashtags are fine. 10 hashtags are not.

How many hashtags is too many? The Next Web recommends 1-3 hashtags per post, across all platforms. It’s a good rule of thumb to start with; you might find your mileage varies depending on the different networks.

From what we’ve been able to research and learn about hashtags,

  • Twitter – 1 to 3 hashtags seems to be best
  • Facebook – hashtags may actually decrease engagement
  • Instagram – 11 or more hashtags per post gets the most engagement
  • Pinterest – hashtags are not recommended

The takeaway here: Hashtags are great for added engagement and visibility, almost all the time. The ideal number of hashtags seems to vary greatly. Feel free to test and iterate for yourself.

Always keep the 80/20 rule! Entertain and inform your audience first, sell to them second


hugh mcleod social media me

We’ve covered the many different ratios you might try for your social media sharing—the 4-1-1 rule, the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio, etc.—and one thing they all have in common is an emphasis on sharing others’ content more than your own.

For many, this will be a great strategy. For our social media sharing at Buffer, we’ve tried the opposite advice, sharing 90 percent of our own content and 10 percent from others. We’ve yet to see a negative impact on engagement.

Use first person plural when talking about your company brand (We, Us)

For example:

wistia we

When speaking as the company, first-person plural is best. When speaking as your personal brand, first-person singular (I, me) would be more natural.

Social media rules for Twitter

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Don’t automatically direct message people that follow you.

There’s a time and a place for good social media automation, and direct-messaging new followers doesn’t appear to be it. A popular practice in the earlier days of Twitter, auto-DMs now are easily identified by users as inauthentic messaging.

Provide more context in your Tweets with Twitter’s latest update

ideal length tweet

The ideal length of a tweet is 71 to 100 characters as this allows people to customize your Tweet’s message when sharing. If a person chooses to manually retweet you (copying the text from your tweet and typing RT: at the beginning), they may want to add a personal note or message to your original tweet. Keeping the length well below the updated 140-character limit makes this easier.

twitter rt example

Don’t hijack another company’s hashtag.

HubSpot has some great advice for this one:

When you see companies create well-performing hashtags, don’t hop on their hashtag train to promote irrelevant content — it devalues their hashtag and, as a result, your brand.

Don’t buy followers. 

Betaworks data scientist Gilad Lotan ran an experiment on this exact rule, paying $5 for 4,000 Twitter followers. He found that doing so felt quite off—sleazy even. Still, the final outcome for the experiment actually led to positive Twitter growth for Gilad.

I do believe that acquiring just the right amount, as much as I hate to write it, may have a positive long-term effect on acceleration of growth and visibility.

This would make for an interesting ethics debate, right? Just because a strategy works on social media, does that mean it’s okay to use? How do social media rules and etiquette factor in? Buying twitter followers feels a bit underhanded and unethical to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Don’t stuff your tweets with keywords.

How would your tweet sound if you were to say it face-to-face to a friend or coworker? This seems to be a good measure of the right balance of keywords.

Social media rules for Facebook

Don’t Like your own post.

Liking your own post has the potential to surface the content again in the News Feed (first when you publish, and again when you Like) and to kick off engagement from others. That being said, doing so tends to send a rather desperate, unsavory message to those who catch on.

Don’t post or tag photos of fans, customers, or employees without permission.

Many sites recommend getting written permission before going ahead with posting and tagging photos of others on your Facebook page. There’s likely to be very valid privacy concerns that could arise if brands aren’t careful in this area.

Don’t tag people or pages that aren’t relevant to your post.

People and pages who are tagged in Facebook updates receive notification of being mentioned; some folks use this as a simple hack for getting added attention on the content they publish. Again, this is one of those tactics that might work well yet doesn’t feel particularly great.

Don’t ask for Likes, Comments, or Shares.

Previously, the social media rule for this one was: Only ask people to like your status if you are doing a poll, i.e. “Like this post if you’re a dog person, share it if you’re a cat lover.” Asking for likes, comments, or shares is one of the factors that the Facebook News Feed considers when it decides what content to show. Promotional text like this lowers the visibility of your content.

Social media rules for LinkedIn

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Personalize your connection requests. Tell them WHY you’re connecting.

kevan request linkedin

Personal requests tend to be noticed and appreciated—and accepted!—moreso than a simple generic request.

Once connected, send a “welcome” message.

In my experience, this one happens quite rarely—although the effect can be great! If you get a lot of LinkedIn requests, this might not scale too well; however, it’s possible to do this for a few connections at a time or for the occasions when you connect with influencers.

Don’t join groups and immediately start selling yourself.

Groups are a great way to connect with others in LinkedIn (one of the benefits of Groups is that you can direct message any fellow group member, whether you’re connected or not). One of the best rules for LinkedIn groups is to respect the group dynamics. Share and engage before selling.

Don’t ignore the more professional tone of the network.

This one speaks to an even greater social media rule: Tailor your content and message for each specific network. LinkedIn in particular has a targeted demographic of business people and professionals. Content on the network does best when it fits that tone.

Social media rules for Google+

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Always +mention users when commenting on their posts.

google+ example

This helps the original authors follow along with the thread, and it’s a polite way to give attribution and credit where it’s due.

When sharing a post, always add your own commentary to it first.

Google+ posts are a real joy to read and write; they’re often more like mini blog posts than social media updates. The way that users compose these messages has a really neat art and science to it. One way I’ve noticed is that many people add their own thoughts about a topic first, followed by a horizontal line break (a series of connected dashes, usually), then the headline and link to the related article.

Share to Circles to target your content.

Sharing to a Circle is like Direct Messaging a particular group of people. Only those in the Circle will receive the notification and can view the content. It’s a useful way to share targeted content with a compartmentalized group of followers.


Use Google+ formatting for your text.

Here’s a quick guide on how to style your posts in Google+.

Social media rules for Pinterest

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Don’t neglect to provide good descriptions for your pins.

Sometimes, in quickly pinning different images it’s easy to leave out the pin description. This is one of the key ways that new users can discover your pins, provided you compose a good description that’s rich in keywords.

Always link back to the original source and give credit.

Whenever we talk about images on the Buffer blog, one of the key areas to keep in mind is proper attribution. Images tend to get passed around lots online, so it’s always best to track back to the original source so that they get credit for their creation.

Pinning from the original source, rather than somewhere that syndicated or republished the image, is always best.

Don’t use images that have nothing to do with your clickthrough content to get more pins or clicks.

This Pinterest hack may bring in clicks, but they’re not likely to be valuable, sticky traffic nor are the new visitors to leave with a very good impression of their experience.

Don’t pin just your own material.

Instead, you can create individual boards that highlight your blog posts or content. Beyond that, pin from a wide variety of sources.

Here’s an example of what we’ve done for our marketing tips posts from the Buffer blog.

buffer pinterest board

Social media rules for Instagram

Which Ones Are Real? Which Ones Are Breakable?

Don’t ask people to follow you or use hashtags like #tagsforlikes.

Similar to to Facebook, asking for Likes is not recommended, although instead of impacting your photo’s visibility (there’s no News Feed algorithm for Instagram), the impact is likely to be felt on your brand’s professionalism.

Don’t overgram. No one likes their feed filled up with one user.

In our research into ideal frequency for social media, Instagram was one that didn’t have as concrete of a standard. One research study found that major brands post an average of 1 to 2 times per day. At the same time, brands that post 10 or more times per day continued to see positive engagement growth even as frequency grew.

Use hashtags for your brand appropriately. The golden number of hashtags is 11.

As mentioned above, you can often get away with more hashtags on Instagram than any other social network. Track Maven’s study of Instagram hashtags found that interactions were at the highest on images when 11 or more hashtags were used.

The best part about this recommendation is that the data comes from a set of users with 1,000 or fewer followers—a group that likely includes small businesses and those just diving in to Instagram. In other words, hashtags could be your best bet for growing a fast following on Instagram.


Which of social media’s unwritten rules have you learned of in your experience? Which ones do you subscribe to? Which ones do you break?

It’d be amazing to hear about your experience with some of these. Feel free to leave your thoughts here in the comments.

Image sources: The Noun Project, Blurgrounds, Get Refe, Pablo

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! ?

  • Wow great list and advice, Kevan! Thanks! 🙂 If I’m not wrong, it is better to use @(username) when replying to those who commented on our Instagram photos because they might not get a notification otherwise 🙂

    • Hi there Alfred! Thanks for the comment! Yes, you’ve got it exactly right. @username should work to notify someone. Thanks for bringing this one up! 🙂

      • Hello Kevan! Yay! You’re welcome 🙂

    • VERY important to remember, also on Twitter, if you start a tweet with @username it will tweet directly to said person. If you only wish to “tag” them, place the @username in the middle or end of tweet 😉


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  • Great wrap-up, Kevan. Thanks for the Wistia mention, as well! On Twitter, I’ve noticed myself using “I” as @wistia sometimes when in longer conversations with die-hard fans who know it’s me behind it. Reconsidering that, though – not always sure when to draw the I/we line in conversation, though I always use “we” in scheduled posts. Thoughts on that?

    • Hi Elise! Thanks so much for the comment! Very happy to include a Wistia shout out here – always so amazed & inspired by your all’s approach to things!

      That’s a really great question on I/we. One thing that I think has been useful for us is signing the tweets with our name when we’re replying as individuals, e.g. in customer support cases. Twitter’s such an interesting one – we use it to share articles and announcements as well as to engage and help our community. And we’ve got a lot of unique voices using the @buffer handle as well! I think it’s worked well to have a signature along with the “I” in these situations and then go with “we” when we’re scheduling posts and sharing announcements. Would love to know your thoughts on that! (I might be a little close to the situation to be able to see things objectively!)

  • 1 Thought… Posting a couple times a day only works if your audience is engaging… If you post 5 times a day but are only getting 1 or 2 likes. Facebook will see that as spam and lower the percentage of times that your posts are shown to a “liker” If you have 3000 followers and see show rates below around 300, chances are you are sharing too much, and not getting enough interaction. More interation means you can post more.

    • Great points, Sam! Thanks!

    • Well this is a catch 22 because it only works to post multiple times a day of your audience is engaging HOWEVER, unless we post multiple times a day we aren’t leaving much room for them to engage either. 🙂 I have several FB pages & even my page with the lowest amount of likes & engagement gets way more than 1-2 likes. I suggest editing the content that you post to something that is more interesting to spark engagement

  • Joel Weeks

    Buying followers sounds an awful lot like bribing politicians to get a particular bill passed….not only unethical, but should be illegal as well.

    • Hi Joel! Indeed! That’s a really interesting way of putting it. 🙂

  • Kevan, awesome tips and advice! Gonna share this one for sure.

  • Chris Raymond

    I’m surprised at the Instagram hashtag data. I find it really annoying to see photos with nothing but a list of 25-30 hashtags. It almost starts to feel spammy to me, even if the photos are wonderful.

    • I thought that was really interesting, too, Chris! Yep, I can see how a lot of hashtags might change the feel of things. Thanks for the comment!

    • My Instagram posts get the most engagement from at least 20 hash tags. Since Instagram is the only platform where this is acceptable, I enjoy it 🙂

  • Andrew Hutchinson

    Another great post, Kevan – in regards to buying followers, I recently wrote a post on how having 500k followers has significant positive benefits, even if those followers aren’t necessarily engaging with what you’re posting. As someone who’s into social metrics, definitely I’m against buying followers, but hard to argue that there’s no benefits to it – a higher follower count is a form of social proof, and many people will go with that number even if they’re told actual engagement amongst the group is low. Because wider reach is the metric marketers have traditionally aimed for. To a degree, the platforms themselves have created the followers/likes arms race, by effectively making it a competitive metric, but I think influence and engagement data will become more prevalent over time. But an interesting discussion point, nonetheless.

  • I’d love to implement all the Google+ recommendations, but I use the Buffer app. It doesn’t allow for these actions. Any idea when I’d be able to +mention and otherwise customize my G+ posts per your recommendations but through Buffer? Thanks for the great advice, as always! 🙂

  • J.B. Lewis

    Great stuff here, Kevan. Thanks for breaking this down by network and especially for the LinkedIn section.

  • jillrhudy

    Hi! I’m a librarian. I’ve been using the “we” for the library brand for nearly two years now. However, there’s a four-year old social media policy for all government entities rearing its ugly head again, denouncing the use of “we” and insisting that each post be signed with the poster’s initials. I’d appreciate any sources you could share to help me prove that this is passé, ridiculous, a waste of precious characters and done by nobody who’s anybody.

  • Thanks Kevan, truly amazing tips. I run a one woman entertainment business and use, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. However, I’m not reaping the rewards, by using your tips. It’s not working for me, what do I need to do more?

    • I suggest networking like crazy. Focus on larger accounts in the same niche as you & share their content daily. The more you share them, the more likely they are to reciprocate & this will increase your traffic & engagement exponentially

  • This is a important and essential post what i want. Excellent !! Actually 29 most common social media rule but those rule are so effective, i want said great list and advise for me and others about Social Media Rules.

  • Cheryl

    Great post that I’m going to share with colleagues. One quick question, though, because I’m sure I’ve missed the boat on it yet I’m *sure* you’ve written about it before.

    When I look at your FB post for this article (here:, I notice that 1) you’ve used a custom image and 2) both the image and the copy link to this article.

    How does one go about uploading an image + article together and avoid having to replicate the link URL and/or having the image display in FB while the paragraph copy links to an external page?

  • Good post thanks Kevan. #7 needs updating now that you can RT with a whole new tweet.

  • Sowmya Rajamani

    I would like to know if it is appropriate for a brand to use its own hashtag while posting relevant, external content.

    • Absolutely! That is how your audience knows that that particular hash tag connects to you! 🙂

  • Very interesting post, I’m also surprised by the hastag info and most put hastags in the comment sections so the captions are clean. I’m pretty much in sync with all the other platforms.


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    Post SEVERAL times a day? Really? I understand brands doing this maybe because they pay someone to do this (social media manager) but for indie artists, it’s harder to find time when you’re busy working on projects and sometimes content to post several posts a day. Or maybe that’s just me. I think posting every other day is fine too as long as what you do post is good quality, right? I never post unless it’s something of real quality. I find that I would rather post great, stellar content every other day or hell, even once a week then post random crap 3-5x a day. What are your thoughts?

    • If you’re referring to Facebook, then yes, posting multiple times a day is key for several reasons. The most important being FB’s algorithm limits organic reach to less than 1% in some instances unless one pays to boost or promote. So if all of your engagement is organic (free) then the only way to keep your engagement rate up is to post multiple times per day. The best way to do this is to use an app such as Buffer to schedule posts. Personally, I use Postcron but others use Hootsuite

  • ANS

    This is a fantastic article! Keep this up and it will keep me reading.

  • travelgeekery

    Hi Kevan, a great article as always! With Instagram these days, the best practice is to leave out hashtags from the post and just throw them all in as a comment. One can use even all the 30 hashtags that are allowed.

  • Rhonda Hughes

    Great list! I’d add “Don’t create noise” as a rule for any and all social channels. Also, for Twitter, “Don’t @ mention yourself in your tweets”

  • Andy Macy

    Thanks for a great article! Definitely interesting and I would highly recommend a good read through. Found it very helpful.

  • CurryPRProf

    Fascinating read with tips I never thought of. Sharing with my Social Media Communication students at Curry College.

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  • Michael Bridge-Dickson

    I’d like to add one more to the Facebook rules: Do not ask someone to like your page via private message within five minutes of friending them! I have this happen often enough: I get a friend request from someone in my field, and I *do* want to connect with them… but then they immediately send me a “Thanks for accepting my friend request! Like my page! (oh yeah, and I’ll like yours too)” Ugh. No. I’ll like it if as I’m following you the content you share on your business page is interesting and relevant to me.

  • Nikki

    I like including a lot of hashtags for Instagram – I’d say an average of 6 – 8 per post. I tend to feel like I am loading it with too many once I go beyond 5 though to be honest… a tip I once heard was to add in a few with the caption and then add in all the rest as a comment immediately after. Anyone tried this out?