Today, social media platforms are everywhere. We are constantly fed stories and updates from brands and companies by social media feeds all the time.
With the power of the picture, or in almost all cases the photograph, telling a thousand words, most of these updates are essentially photo stories, depictions of "reality" featuring normal everyday situations with normal everyday people.
Whether this is someone enjoying a packet of crisps on a park bench, getting a haircut, working out at the gym, diving into a pool on holiday... we now all know these images all too well - real people having a fantastic time! These images first appeared as updates from friends and now brands and companies have taken up this candid approach to communicate commercial sales messages to their target audiences.
Which poses an interesting question, particularly when these brands and companies are featuring real people, not models, in their social media feeds. What exactly are the dos and don'ts in this new area of etiquette, both for the individuals themselves and for the brands that want to feature them in their social media?
Despite the enthusiasm of the Millennial generation to share everything across their social media channels, increasingly many people are not actually happy to be featured, particularly if, for either personal or professional reasons, they do not want to be seen to be associated with the brand in a particular environment.
Being seen out at a bar when you have just told your partner you are having a quiet night in would spell the end of a relationship, all thanks to an innocent social media update. Innocently being depicted enjoying a brand whilst actually working for its key competitor could prove awkward the next day in the office. There could be real issues if you are working in the military or police where anonymity can be key. Even just being photographed by a third party, without being able to approve the images, can be really embarrassing and even traumatic for many people.
So the need for an etiquette is clear. No business wants the issues management headache of any individual questioning the use of images that feature them after an update has appeared across all their social media channels.
For brands and businesses, it is really important to have a clear procedure in place to check that anyone featured on social media has specifically approved the image before it is then broadcast across all the chosen channels. If possible, although this admittedly can take a bit of time, it would also be advisable to even show them the image in question, to make sure that they are happy with it, before it goes out. It is far better to spend a little bit of time before the pictures are posted to avoid any possible fall out later. It is also a really good idea to be clear about which channel it is going to be broadcast on as well.
In terms of the individual, in this digital age everyone has a right to protect their image, either personal or professional, online. If you are aware that you are in an environment which might become the subject of a social media feed, and you are unhappy about being featured, then make your feelings very clear to whoever is in charge of the social media feed, or even to the person taking the actual shots. Any responsible brand or company will immediately take note and will act accordingly, so that you're not included.
Essentially this whole new area of etiquette is based on clear communication, both for the individual and for brands and businesses. It is wonderful that we can highlight the best aspects of brands and businesses in such a candid way, so that everyone can see the reality of the value they offer, but it is also important to respect the rights of the individual along the way.