How you behave online can hold you back professionally, or it can boost your reputation. Learn how to practise perfect netiquette.
Whenever you’re online - sending an email, taking part in a video conference, tweeting something that made you laugh or adding your latest puppy pic to Instagram - you’re stamping your personality and attitude to life on the internet. And because the internet always remembers what you say and what you do, it’s a good idea to make sure you know your netiquette.
Netiquette is a mash-up of the words “internet” and “etiquette” and it describes the accepted way of doing things online. It’s a wide subject and sometimes context-specific but broadly netiquette covers:
At its heart, good netiquette is about good behaviour. Everything we say and do gives people we meet clues to our character, and it’s the same online. Whether you’re following or flouting the rules of netiquette, people will gain an impression of you. You might think that being your wildest self might be fine because it’s just for your friends and family, but the internet is never just for friends and family. In the world of social media, once something’s online, it’s there forever. So make sure that you manage your online social profile well.
Communicating in the digital world has special challenges. In emails, texts and social media, it’s so easy to be misunderstood because, unlike talking to people face-to-face, you don’t get those subtle, visual clues like expression and gesture, that tell you that your message is being received in the way it was intended. We’ve all seen flame wars started off by a simple message taken the wrong way.
You’re probably automatically practising a good standard of netiquette already, but here are the basics:
Keep to your normal high standards of behaviour, whoever you interact with - online or offline. If you wouldn’t call out someone on a mistake offline, then don’t do it online. Practise your normal politeness and thoughtfulness in your emails, texts, video calls and social media as you would to a friend or colleague.
It can be very understandable to feel triggered by things we read on social media. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t react. Instead respond by:
When you’re new into a job, an inbox that’s full to bursting can be stressful. How are you ever going to get time to deal with it all? Emails that you don’t need or that need no action take up your time and headspace. So, when you’re sending emails, it’s your opportunity to be part of the solution. Send emails only to the people who need that information. Perhaps talk to your colleagues and make some rules about email, for instance:
There’s netiquette for your email style, of course. Work emails, or emails to prospective employers, will need a very different style from those to your friends or family. Don’t forget:
It’s important to familiarise yourself with the rules and guidelines on any platform you’re using, so that you don’t frustrate other users. Accepted behaviour can vary widely - for instance, Reddit netiquette is very different from that of LinkedIn. Take a look at the ground rules before you post, or lurk for a while to get the feel of the platform.
Video conferencing: special netiquette
Video conferencing is a special case: it’s real-time and face-to-face and so there are very specific rules on how to show your professionalism. Here’s what to do (and what not to do:)
While you’re looking for that perfect job, it’s a good idea to spend some time being active professionally online. More and more, employers are starting to screen applicants through their social profiles - not necessarily looking for something terrible about the candidate, but something great, like useful experience or a personality that will ‘fit’ their culture.
If you view professional platforms like LinkedIn as your walking, talking CV, then you can’t go far wrong. The trick is to be yourself, but your most professional self. To enrich your profile:
When you’re sending an email, make sure that your sign off - technically called a valediction - is appropriate to your audience and always polite:
Sounds a bit dull? Not if you’ve already closed your message with something upbeat, personal and connecting, for instance, “I’m really pleased to be working with you on this.”
Much of netiquette is common sense, and chances are that your standards are already high. But it’s worth taking the time to make the best of yourself online to create an all-round online presence to be proud of.