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The Rules of Netiquette -- To Tag, or Not to Tag

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I recently received an email on my BlackBerry notifying me that I had been tagged in a video on Facebook. My first reaction was one of social media joy. I tried to remember what video in the past year that I might have been included in and went straight to my iPad to see my wall posting. It was a social media friendly gesture -- or was it?

Before I went and falsely accused someone of tagging me to get to my friends' list, I decided to view the entire video to make sure I wasn't jumping the digital gun. As I enthusiastically looked at my Facebook wall with my thousands of loyal friends, I watched the entire 5-minute video of two people, none of which were myself. It was a video sales pitch for an event promising big results for those who attended. It wasn't my product or service that was being sold to over 2200 of my friends. My digital knee-jerk reaction was to untag myself and delete the post from my wall. Sound familiar? Read on.

Not only was I not hosting this event that appeared above the fold on my Facebook page, the aggressive tagger didn't personally ask if they could post their pricey event on my wall. I was never spoken to see if I'd like to become an affiliate for this event, of which being an affiliate typically pays 50% to your partners on sales initiated by your social networking list.

Out of curiosity, I went to the sales page for this video to find out what this free advertorial on my page would cost any of my friends, should they decide to join in on the party. I was stunned to find out this seminar was being sold for $2000-$2500. It was a double-whammy of sticker shock after being tagged in a video in which I never appeared.

I took a screenshot of all of the 50 people, I call them the "tagees." Forty-nine of us were never mentioned nor seen in the video. I wondered if any of the others would untag themselves as well. Apparently several of the other "tagees" felt the same way, as by the end of the day, 15 had dropped off the list and deleted the sales video from their Facebook pages as well.

Being tagged in a video without your permission where you have no sales relationship with someone simply breaks the rules of netiquette. It creates a false endorsement of someone's products and services. It's been on my Top 10 Rules of Netiquette list for quite some time. It's nothing short of spam. My followers would assume I was endorsing and approving a service that I knew nothing about. At $2500 per person, that's a lot of free advertising.

What this business coach did was wrong. It was a netiquette no-no. I calculated that the average number of friends among the 50 of us came to 1500 each. The total estimated reach at the time of incident averaged out to approximately 75,000 people without buying a Facebook ad. It may be smart aggressive marketing, but it won't win you any digital popularity contests. Even after 15 of us dropped off the list, there was still a reach of approximately 50,000+ people.

I'm the first to be social media friendly and congratulate competitors and friends on their successes. I participate in book launches and cheer people on as they successfully build their brands. I join affiliate programs for services that I believe my friends and followers would benefit from. I love the power of social media.

I think about those who worked hard to build their email lists by providing irresistible opt-in offers on their websites and blogs. We work hard to build and maintain our digital reputations with friendships that we cultivate offline and online. In one quick moment, 50 of us became digital endorsers, or victims of drive by tagging, many without permission. It's quite likely that many of the other "tagees" were unaware that they had been targeted in this tagging frenzy, as they might not receive email notifications. Not everyone knows you can change your privacy settings to prevent people from tagging you in photos or videos.

Is this type of marketing acceptable? Shouldn't there be some permission requested before you go on an aggressive sales and tagging campaign? If 1% of our collective friends signed up for this program at $2000 each, the tagger could receive up to $1.5 million. If we lose 10% of our friends, we might lose 15 formerly loyal social media friends. Perhaps it's a numbers game, of which I've opted out of playing.

At the end of the day, I felt like it was played in a game of "Tag, You're Not It."

Have you ever been tagged in a video or photo without your permission? Your comments and thoughts are welcome.

Julie Spira is a netiquette expert and author of "The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web. Like her at Facebook.com/rulesofnetiquette.