Here’s a status update that’s hard to ignore: Social networks and online apps are suddenly among today’s most popular communications tools, with over 1.23 billion people now logging in daily to connect with friends, family, and colleagues on Facebook alone.
But as we often forget, they’re also among the most public and visible of digital forums – and one in which it’s increasingly important that we comport ourselves professionally, as we now share them with friends, family, and colleagues the globe over. Likewise, from a career perspective, prospecting for sales or promotional leads and hunting for career-related opportunities rank among today’s most popular high-tech activities amongst working professionals in every field.
Which rules of conduct should you be following when connecting and communicating with others online, or reaching out regarding potential business opportunities via social networks? As we discovered while researching new book Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in an Online World, the answers may surprise you:
- 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.
Don’t forget to maintain a positive tone and attitude either: Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster. Poor spelling, punctuation, grammar and choice of words can also reflect poorly upon the individual – proofread all communications before sending. Shorthand, abbreviations and online slang should be avoided if possible, and used only in the most informal of conversations.
- Be advised that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in the translation to digital, and that individual users may interpret messages differently: Consider how posts will be read and perceived 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).
- Note that images can easily be taken out of context online as well: Posting embarrassing, revealing or negative photos of yourself should be avoided at all costs. Remember: Pictures you share may be taken at face value, and/or viewed as representative of your character – not to mention live on forever on the Internet. What seems cute in high school or college may not seem quite so endearing to potential employers.
- 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 colleagues, think about material you’re apt to share as well – is it appropriate for their consumption?
Consider that connecting with colleagues and supervisors may expose you or they to information and influences that may make either party uncomfortable – be certain to understand the risk you’re taking in doing so.
- 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.