I’ve had some readers email me, asking about the proper etiquette for social networking “endorsements” and requests, so I thought we’d dig into that issue in this week’s column.

Every social network possesses its own endorsement system. You can friend, follow or like people or their business’s page, and you often are put into the uncomfortable position of being asked to do so. LinkedIn goes one step further, and instead of just liking or connecting to another person, you can write recommendations or endorse specific skills they possess.

It always feels good to have someone you know and respect acknowledge you. Whether you get a LinkedIn recommendation or endorsement or earn another Facebook like, the question is, how do you respond? 

You need to understand that you never have to return the favor. A follow or a like does not create an obligation on your part. There’s nothing that says you must return the favor, and it’s very tacky if someone suggests that it does.

Let’s take a closer look at this, one social network at a time.

Twitter: The rule of thumb on Twitter is that if someone follows you and they have a legitimate icon (no egg – meaning they haven’t personalized the account) and their profile seems like they ‘re talking about topics that interest you, it’s common to follow them back.

Facebook friends: This is a very personal choice, and a little forethought can save you a lot of grief down the road. Do you want to use Facebook and just connect with your family and RL (real life) friends? Or, do you want to open your Facebook profile to include a wider circle, like the kids you went to grade school with or professional contacts?

If you decide to keep your Facebook circle very small, you’re going to receive a lot of friend requests that you will need to refuse or ignore. Ignoring them is rude so draft a couple sentences that explain that you reserve your Facebook time for family.

Facebook page likes: If someone likes your company’s Facebook page, do you have to like theirs in return? Or if a friend invites you to like their page, should you? The answer is simple. Is their page going to provide you with content you’d like to see in your newsfeed? If not, unless you want to simply lend your support to a brand you like, don’t like the page. If you do want to show your support without receiving their updates, you can select that option.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is usually the afterthought, but in this discussion, it’s actually the most interesting and complicated of the networks. When it comes to accepting someone’s LinkedIn connection request, think of it as building your Rolodex. If it is someone you actually know or have a professional connection to, accept.  But remember that other contacts may ask you to make an introduction or pass along a message. So be sure you know them well enough to do that.

As for recommendations and endorsements, be careful. It’s not a barter situation. If you would recommend them to a friend or colleague, then by all means, share your opinion. But keep in mind that people will be using these endorsements and recommendations to potentially leverage your name/network. So don’t say what you don’t mean.

Here’s the bottom line for all of this: Your digital footprint is a snapshot of who you are, whom you work with, whom you support and whom you believe in.

If you wouldn’t do it in a room filled with your most important friends and clients, don’t do it online. Even if they did it to/for you first.