Let's Put The Social Back in Social Media: The Cocktail Party Test

By Melissa Libby, Melissa Libby &  Associates

When was last time you attended a cocktail party, wedding or other social event where a fight broke out? I mean a name-calling, yelling, party-shattering fight? Where most people at the party joined in to encourage the fight and throw a few barbs themselves, while a few quietly stood back and watched? Hardly what I would call “social.” And yet, this happens on social media every day. I’d love to see a movement to put the “social” back in “social media” and encourage people to remember what they learned in kindergarten about being nice. Or at least just being quiet when there’s nothing nice to say.

cocktail party
As a public relations professional, I’m curious why people feel they are able to behave online in ways I’m sure they never would in person. I’ll take the high road and assume they just don’t know better. After all, social media really is a new communication avenue, especially for adults. And perhaps not enough of us were taught how to use it. Our kindergarten teachers made sure we were nice and shared with others. Our parents did their best to see that we were well-mannered. (Sure we were not to talk to strangers, but who ever said we should be mean to them?) But, no one ever explained that the words flying off our fingertips to a group of Internet “friends” can be just as inappropriate as they would be coming from our lips at a cocktail party.  Without a Miss Manners for online communication I submit that people are just making up their own rules, frequently forgetting that friends, strangers, celebrities, and yes, even political candidates, have feelings.

In my ideal world of communications I envision online gatherings full of supportive contributors and respectful debates. If each of us asked ourselves if we’d say the same words in front of a group of people at a cocktail party, I bet a few incendiary comments may be avoided. And if we as PR professionals can take the lead here, perhaps we can start some changes. Let’s talk about it with friends and clients. Let’s use the cocktail party test when we respond to people we like and don’t like online. Let’s put the social back in social media.



Heidi Langer

Melissa – I completely agree with your story. We have a local community Facebook page and it is ruthless. There are over a 1,000 “friends” of the page, but probably a good dozen who are complete bullies and just tear people apart for no reason. If it weren’t for the immediate way to get information on what’s happening right now in my community, I would have dropped it a long time ago. I often wonder if those same sentiments expressed on social media would be said to the other person if they met in the local grocery store. I think not. Great article!

Deborah Trivitt, APR

Spot on Melissa. I think the “would I say this to your face” test is a good one for all of us to use before posting a comment to social media. As parents and grandparents, we need to encourage and insist that our children and grand children also use the “cocktail/birthday party” test.

Julie Dennehy

Great post, Melissa. Same could be said for nasty and unfair Yelp (and all online) reviewers after more recent guest/restaurateur kerfuffles. If you didn’t try to resolve the problem in person, a nasty online review is just cowardly. Thanks for this post!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *