online manners

By Scott Steinberg

Say what?! If you’ve ever wondered what a particular business, brand, or individual was thinking before they stuck their foot in their mouth on social media channels, here’s the quick answer: They probably weren’t thinking twice about what they were doing – and not nearly enough about the message that they might be sending to others. Luckily, as common as these types of online mishaps have become (and as much as they can cost an organizational or working professional) they’re easily avoided with a little more poise and forethought. As we note in new book Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, avoiding costly social media mistakes is easy when you follow the below hints and tips, each of which can help you mind your digital manners, and put your best foot forward online.

  • Social networks may seem like informal settings, but they should be treated with the same respect as any public place of business: Professionalism is imperative – if you wouldn’t say it in a social or work setting, don’t say it online, in the most public of forums. As a working pro, don’t forget to maintain a positive tone and attitude either: Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster.
  • Be advised that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in translation, and that individual users may interpret messages differently: Consider how posts will be read and interpreted before sending. Note to outspoken individuals: Sharing extremely-opinionated viewpoints (e.g. political leanings or thoughts on controversial topics) can be a lightning rod online. Think twice before liking supporting status updates or posting such opinions, which can incite and aggravate others (and live on in perpetuity).
  • Before connecting with your colleagues on social networks, consider if you’d still want to be connected to them if they weren’t your coworkers, i.e. if you ever leave the position. Prior to requesting or accepting connections from coworkers, think about material you’re apt to share as well – is it appropriate for their consumption?
  • Avoid posting on social networks unless you have a tight grasp over your privacy settings, and are completely comfortable with the group of online friends that your updates will be shared with. Also note that anything shared online, although designated as private and confidential, has the possibility to become public at any time – if it’s best left unsaid, don’t say it.
  • Understand that various online forums (social networks, blogs, digital communities) have their own rules of conduct, social norms and methods of interaction. Before utilizing one, take a moment to step back and observe how interactions take place, so you can discern appropriate rules of posting, sharing and behavior. Never forget either: Despite their seemingly intimacy, social networks and online forums are among the most public of spaces – it’s important to conduct yourself on them as you would in any shared setting.
  • If you’re a business, make it clear to employees of your organization what’s OK to share online, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. With every employee a brand ambassador, training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce and instill the importance of these corporate values – establishing formal rules of engagement, clearly communicating them to workers, and explaining what’s expected from hires is crucial.
  • Be straightforward and specific about what’s expected in terms of tone, attitude, end-results and output from your organization’s social media pros, and regularly monitor and assess how we’ll they’re aligning with and meeting these goals. Providing running feedback and commentary to help them grow and improve is a vital way to bolster performance in these areas. To this extent, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts or updates to provide a sense of how to better shape these communications efforts.
  • For sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, also post formal guidelines for communication within your own blogs, communities and online venues, public-facing or otherwise. Having established guidelines in place helps set expectations up-front, provide level playing field, and help you address any issues that may arise, such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.

Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty and Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap. The founder of Select nightlife magazine, and host of Next Up on NewsWatch, his website is