In previous posts you learned how to introduce yourself in German and also when to use du or Sie? When to be formal or informal in Germany!
And what you have read still applies. When you don’t know somebody, especially in the business world, you still use the formal ‘Sie’ unless the German tells you otherwise.
Does that also apply to social media?
How do you talk to Germans on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, in a forum or chat or even your website?
Generally speaking, people use the informal du.
Especially on Facebook and Twitter people us du plus first names. But not everybody does.
So, what’s the best thing to do?
If you connect to somebody on Facebook or Twitter, who you already know, then use whatever you used before. If, for example, you follow a friend on Twitter and you used to use the informal du, then continue to do so. The same applies to Facebook.
If, however, you have joined a German Facebook group and find that a member uses ‘Sie’, then please accept that they want to be approached formally and also use ‘Sie’.
If you read comments like “Kennen wir uns?” or “Seit wann duzen wir uns?” they are most likely from older people who don’t want to be informal, not even on Facebook. It’s only courteous to do the same when talking to them!
Facebook business pages generally tend to use the informal ‘du’ even in private messages, but again, if in doubt check the page and see how they post.
LinkedIn is more business related, so people tend to use the formal ‘Sie’. Again, take your cue from the Germans.
So, what about websites?
Most German companies’ websites use Sie, although IKEA doesn’t. They say it’s because in Sweden they wouldn’t, therefore they won’t on their German site either. So, customers are addressed informally with ‘du’. BUT, they have a part on their site addressed to businesses, and there they use ‘Sie’.
If you have a German part of own website it depends a little on what you’re selling. If it’s B2B, aimed at other businesses and/ or is a serious product, then it’s safer to be formal and use ‘Sie’.
If it’s B2C, about hobbies or fun products, you can use the informal ‘du’ if you wish.
In a nutshell:
Facebook and Twitter – du
LinkedIn – Sie
Your website in German – B2B Sie, B2C du
Of course, it’s entirely up to you and if you want to you can address everybody informally. But if there is even a hint of a doubt and you want to be polite, be formal and use ‘Sie’. It’s always easier to go from ‘Sie’ to ‘du’, then the other way round!