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"Rules" of Social Media Engagement for Women

by Guest Blogger, Lena West, Chief of Social Media Strategy at xynoMedia

Menworking I put the word 'rules' in quotes in the title of this post because I don't want anyone to even attempt to take what I'm saying as gospel, but rather I wanted to provide room for personal adaption and interpretation. (For some reason, when I say things people tend to think, "These are the rules and nothing else exists." I blame it on my strong personality.)

The deal is women are subject to a different set of "rules" when using social media.

If you know me, you know I'm a fan of saying, "It is what it is." That's my path to radical acceptance (Miller!) and re-framing challenging situations and it works quite well. So, while it's not pleasant to  say this, I'm saying it anyway because I see so many women getting it wrong and they pay the price accordingly. It is what it is.

The main rules are...

  1. You're not one of the guys nor will you ever be. This rule is very similar to the rules of dating and romance - once guys put you in the "pal o' mine" bucket, it's very hard for them to take you seriously as a businessperson. And, why should they? The truth is men have a high level of respect for people who are "separate and apart" from their daily existence; which is why they almost always want to work with the high profile CEO. If that high profile CEO was always sitting around in the local watering hole, he becomes accessible and the thrill is gone. So, if you're wondering why you can't get respect from the men in your industry, this might be why. You can have great relationships with guys in business without being a "pal". How can you tell if this is you? If you're always the only woman hanging out in the bar at 11:00pm at the conference hotel - pin a tail on that donkey 'cause I'm talking to you. 
  2. Use emoticons and exclamation points sparingly. I agree with Liz Strauss when she says that emoticons are important. They help us to add a human depth to text that it just wouldn't have on it's own. Keep in mind that the excessive use of emoticons - especially "winks" - can, and will at some point, be taken the wrong way by men and anyone else privy to the conversation. I see this happen on Twitter a lot and before you know it, there's a scandal and rumors to untangle. A smiley face here and there is totally fine, but ixnay on the inksway. A colleague once pointed out that women use way more exclamation points in e-communication than men. I don't really know what that translates to, but since she mentioned it, I've definitely curbed my habit.
  3. IM'ing at night, is IM'ing at night. If it's, as my Aunt would say, "not a Christian hour", you really don't need to be sending instant messages to a guy that's not your love interest. There are some excpetions to this rule - people who have extreme "always on" jobs like event planners, PR pros and people with many clients in other time zones, but it's super not cool to be texting some random guy you met at an industry event. Whatever he wants/needs to say to to can and should be done during normal business hours (time zone allowances included) lest your conversation be taken someplace it doesn't need to be. There's a part of the book, Why Men Love Bitches, where the author says something like, "Bed clothes are bed clothes to guys. If you invite him over for tea and you're in your jammies, you're sending a bedtime message whether you intend to or not." Ditto for texting and IM'ing after hours.
  4. Keep your beau to yourself. There was some study done (if anyone has the source, I would LOVE to see it) that said once people - especially men - find out who you're is sleeping with, and if that person is NOT your husband, they lose 25% of their respect for you. Wow! Stop writing posts, Tweets and posting pictures of your boyfriend. No one really cares and it makes you look 16.
  5. The women are watching. And, if you could give a crap what men think or feel - just know that there is some woman of importance in your career, someplace that's watching what you do and how you act; the more experienced of which are looking at you sideways everytime you make a faux pas. And, if you think they're not tallying your actions up and generating an impression about you - oft times before they even meet you! - I have a bridge to sell you.

This is NOT about getting approval from men, because men certainly don't call all the shots. And, it isn't about being someone you're not - 'cause I am who I am all day.

Rather, this is about comporting yourself in a way that invites - and even commands - respect. It's about understanding that while it isn't fair and we would love to buck the "rules", the fact is the unwritten rules are there and while well-behaved women certainly don't make history, their climb to the top is a lot more arduous, too.

Social media and its use puts us all (myself inclluded) in a SOCIAL mood. We think, "what's the harm in..." as opposed to, "how would it look if I...". And therein is the undoing.

I wish we could live in a time where women wouldn't have to thnk about crap like this. Maybe that time will come, but today ain't that day.


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Dr. Wright

Excellent post!
You are right, being too accessible is an issue.

Dr. Letitia Wright
The Wright Place TV Show

Lena L. West


You know, I never thought about it that're absolutely right. We don't know the rules or the rules change and before we know it, we're paying the price. Excellent point.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

See ya Saturday! :)

Smokie Sizemore

Your men working sign hit a cord and brought a chuckle. Men are working at making the 'rules'. Most women find out about these rules as they roar past them to land in the 'pile on' penalty box. Thanks for spreading the word.

Lena L. West


Ya know? The phone is often times ALWAYS better :)

And, yes, no "after hours" chats!

Thanks for reading and commenting...

Kelley Connors

Thanks Lena. I love to use twitter, but I subscribe to the belief that just because technology exists doesn't mean we have to use it all the time for everything. Sometimes an easier way to communicate with men with ease and clarity is by picking up the phone. If you have to leave a voice mail fine. I'm starting to see how everything that is old is "new" again. but not after hours!

Lena L. West

@ Diane:


Yes, the rules are very similar to IRL. I've always said, once you understand sociology, you understand social media.

Wow, SL is a WHOLE other ballgame - you were brave to be in there at night :)

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Diane K. Danielson

Spot on as usual Lena. And, note how similar these "rules" are to MIRL (meet in real life) rules. They still exist, even though they shouldn't.

I did though have to laugh at the no late night IM'ing because it reminded me of a late night on a Friday where I was trying to find my way around Second Life in order to give a presentation the next week. I finally had to sign off because not a single one of the guys on there would buy that I was just "doing research." Actually, what bothered me most was that the poor guys probably think I was blowing them off with such a lame excuse.

Lena L. West


Yeah, it's really sad. I keep wondering, "When's that day gonna come?"

Who's Penelope?

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

Your point "I wish we could live in a time where women wouldn't have to thnk about crap like this. Maybe that time will come, but today ain't that day." ... so true. It was true when I was in corporate land and quite's true as an entrepreneur as well. There are folks who buck that trend like Penelope and others...but it takes confidence and guts to do so.

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