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Communicating With Social Media

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 19 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Social Media Communicating Videos Law

Social media outlets on the Internet are growing rapidly. Each time people use the Web, there’s a 12% chance they’re communicating on a social media site. Only search engines and entertainment websites are more popular. Communication experts, however, say that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media will soon outrank even these.

This is hardly surprising. Social media offer remarkable opportunities for personal and business communication. After all, there’s no cost. As long as someone has a computer, tablet or smartphone, he or she can sign up with a social media website for a free account.

Nonetheless, communicating with social media carries certain responsibilities. There are various protocols. Some have the force of law; others come recommended by communication professionals.

Who Uses Social Media?

First, though, it’s worth noting who uses social media. Young people, for instance, are not the only ones who open accounts. Just over half of social media enthusiasts are aged 13-29, but almost a third are aged 30-49. And a rising number - currently around 15% - are in the 50-plus age group.

These figures are important for businesses. By using social media, they can find people in the age range and income group that match their customer profiles.

Age range is also relevant on a personal level. There’s a good chance, for example, that users of social media sites can find people who share their interests and hobbies.

This begs the question of why such diverse people would join social media sites in the first place. One answer is that social media are a useful way for men and women of all ages and backgrounds to maintain contact between friends and family. Updating recent personal events on a site lets others know what’s happening to whom and when.

The Law

Whoever uses social media, however, must bear three legal issues in mind. The first relates to copyright. The law on copyright applies as much to social media as anything else. Social media users must not copy another person’s writing and pass it off as their own. Similarly, users must not display images, photos and videos that belong to someone else unless they have permission to do so.

The second issue concerns libel. Broadly speaking, libel is a written false statement that damages a person’s reputation. Social media sites are as subject to the law of libel as any other published material. Users must therefore not make libellous comments.

Finally, users of social media sites must abide by the legal principles of data protection. The law that enshrines the principles forbids the open discussion of someone’s personal data. This data includes financial information.

In summary, to remain on the right side of the law, social media users must:

  • Write their own words, not someone else’s
  • Never use another person’s images, photos or videos without permission
  • Avoid writing anything that defames a person’s character
  • Avoid any reference to personal data

Other Protocols

Apart from the law, social media users should take note of certain writing protocols. For example, communication professionals suggest users employ plain English. Anyone who writes long sentences and employs obscure words soon loses the interest of readers.

The idea of a social media site is not to alienate people, but to create a friendly bond. A good way to achieve this is to keep sentences and paragraphs short, and to use everyday words.

This plain English approach is particularly relevant for a site such as Twitter. Twitter restricts each message to 140 characters. The most successful users of Twitter keep their entries simple to read.

Communication experts also advise people to be cautious about using humour on social media. They argue that humour doesn’t always translate well into written words and may cause offence. This is not a ban on fun, of course; but it is a warning to be careful.

Even so, some people may take umbrage over a comment on a social media site. They may respond to this comment with unpleasant remarks. When this happens, communication professionals suggest any reply to these remarks should be calm and reasonable. If a writer feels unable to give such a reply, it’s best not to respond at all.

Photos and Videos

Some social media sites give users the chance to post photos and videos. Such sites have rules about the material they accept, and users should ensure they read these. Generally speaking, the sites ban images and videos that may cause offence or are pornographic.

Such rules are obvious and needn’t limit creativity. Social media users have plenty of scope to communicate with pictures and video clips.


The point is that social media sites give people significant opportunities. Business people can explore new markets for their products and services. Not-for-profit organisations can reach people sympathetic to their aims. And the general public can enjoy communicating with people around the world.

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