Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is social media a welcome guest or party crasher?

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NEW YORK -- It's so easy to share all that holiday fun in an instant: One click and you can cover Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all your other social media accounts. Two seconds later, everyone who wasn't included will know about it, too.

Or someone might notice that you've checked in at a store that holds the item at the top of their gift list. There goes that surprise.

Surely no one wants to make hurt feelings or spilled secrets part of the holiday tradition, yet it can be as tempting to post pictures as it is to grab an extra helping of pecan pie.

To avoid uncomfortable situations, take a breath, experts say, and think about how your status update will be received. What will it say about you beyond your enjoyment of some seasonal cheer?

Social media will be part of the holidays this year -- parties, gifts, photos, shopping -- in a way it was not five years ago, notes Anthony Rotolo, who teaches social media strategy at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. He thinks that's mostly a good thing, since your followers or friends are there because they want to be.

Be mindful of others' feelings, however, and try to grow a tougher skin yourself, he says.

Guest lists can be particularly sensitive. The very social Samantha Yanks, an avid Tweeter, Facebooker and Instagrammer and editor-in-chief of Hamptons magazine, says she uses them all to keep up to date with people she likes and admires. She reminds herself that social media is not an accurate popularity barometer. If others are out having a good time, she tries to celebrate it.

And she'll do the same. "I don't want to feel guilty for being there," Yanks says.

Someone might very well know they've been left out, says party planner Kia Martinson of Storrs, Conn., so she encourages her clients to deal with it up front. Some people spell out on the invitations whether they want social media use at the event or not, she says. Most of her hosts fall into two categories: those who embrace a public-facing party, dreaming up their own hashtags and arranging shared photo sites, and those who want to do it on the down-low and don't want any social media "coverage" at all.

If someone calls you out for leaving them off the guest list, Martinson says it's best not to dance around it. "If someone says, 'Looks like you had a great party,' just say yes, you did, thanks."

If you're feeling left out, remember that what people post is a selected window into their lives, not a panoramic view, says digital strategist Tamar Weinberg, author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web (O'Reilly, 2009).

"While social media is a great thing, and I love to see all the kids growing up, and the engagements and marriages, but yes, sooner or later your feelings will be hurt too," she says.

Yanks asks permission to post updates and especially photos if they involve anyone else. She doesn't want to jeopardize someone else's job or relationships. And, she notes, parents are sensitive about having images of their kids posted.

She had an early conversation with her sister-in-law, and now there's a blanket deal that photos of her niece and nephew are OK.

Besides hurt feelings, Rotolo is concerned about the botched surprises that can come when people check in at an airport (or even an airport coffee shop), or if they claim an online shopping deal that's visible to their network. "At this point in time, there's not much surprise left. You have to go off the grid to keep a secret.... If you want a holiday surprise, you need to plan a connection-less strategy."

However, Weinberg says that with so many people now online and comfortable using social media, there might actually be fewer faux pas going forward.

"There is a growing sensitivity on the part of the poster, but people also are growing that thicker skin," she says. "You don't want it all to be fully sanitized. As long as you are not intending to be exclusionary, people will forget and forgive."

She adds, "We are still in an age of oversharing, but it's getting better."

Perhaps you are digitally savvy enough to untag yourself in the photo or post you don't want to be in, Weinberg adds. And, if you're the poster, consider utilizing your lists to be more selective in distribution.

Rotolo has one ground rule that he thinks will keep everyone out of trouble: "It sounds like common sense, but I don't think people should share anything on social media they wouldn't want their mother to see. It's a good standard to use professionally, socially and with family."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2013 D4

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