Digital Insights: Miss Manners Applies to Netiquette as Well

March 3, 2009
Treat all conversations like your grandmother and boss were listening, and other digital rules to live by.

My mother enrolled me in an etiquette class at age nine hosted by Miss Manners. Once a week after school, I wore the white gloves, practiced formal greetings and tried to remember which fork went where. Although I spent most of this time wishing I was rolling around in the sandbox and wondering why my sister was spared the humiliation of having polite tea parties with strangers, I did retain many life lessons from Miss Manners that helped me in the real world. Most of these lessons, with the exception of how to set a table for 12, have carried over to the digital world of social networking. As the lines continue to blur between personal and professional within social media, here are some etiquette tips to ensure the most beneficial interactions in your digital existence.

1. Be upfront about your intentions and establish your purpose.
When using any social networking forum, it is necessary to make clear why you are there and who you represent. It is a good rule of thumb to keep your personal and professional lives separate when networking and use separate sites for your personal and professional contacts. Always try to be as honest as possible in your profile description. As an employee of any company, you represent that organization and it may be hard to separate yourself. You need to draw the line. If a work colleague sends you an invite on your personal networking site, politely send him/her an invite to join your professional networking site. Or if you are connected to industry contacts, make sure to utilize site privacy settings and segregate your contacts into specific groups. Try to be as selective with letting people into your virtual life as you are with those in your real life.

2. Your profile should be complete and match your aspirations.
People will form an image of you based on what they read and see on your profile. Just like in real life, digital first impressions are important. Keep all your information honest and appropriate. Put in the time to set up your digital self just as you would to present yourself at a cocktail party or industry trade show. If you attempt to connect with someone, yet you provide little to no information about yourself, it appears that you do not trust your contact.

You should, however, protect your privacy by holding back sensitive information about your family, company, etc. Avoid posting inappropriate photos or allowing yourself to be tagged in photos without your approval. Utilize your privacy settings to keep your profile confidential to just your approved contacts, and not the entire world-wide web.

3. Share information and add value.
It is best to add value to your connections and networks through interesting commentary and information sharing. Try to avoid self-promotion or just joining social networking sites to simply share links to your own personal or corporate website. Don’t be afraid to stir debate and define your views, but in a way that provides value to your contacts or stimulates conversation and commentary. Tweeting your grocery list and what you’re cooking for dinner doesn’t do much for anyone except maybe your spouse.

4. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper.
When participating in social media, you are leaving your digital signature on the web. Regardless of whichever privacy settings you have in place, your information will be searchable for years to come. For a real-life disaster story, read the Marketing Profs article, “The Dark Side of Twitter: What Businesses Need to Know.” A good social networking practice: treat all conversations like your grandmother and boss were listening. You never know who may be your future boss, client or friend. It is bad form to participate in web rants and public wall/comment/tweet arguments. Use your judgment during social networking debates. Avoid profanity at all costs.

5. It’s not a popularity contest: follow/friend/connect appropriately.
You should only follow/friend/connect with people you trust. You should not feel obligated to follow someone on Twitter after you are notified they are following you, nor guilt-tripped into accepting a contact just because you were asked. It is the quality of your connections vs. the quantity which will promote the most meaningful relationships within your networks. Rushing to friend/connect/follow every person you have ever met is frowned upon greatly within social networking. You are the gatekeeper of your digital relationships and it only takes one picture, comment or message to undo years of resume building for not just yourself, but those digitally associated with you.

6. Add that personal touch.
Humanize yourself when attempting to make connections. Most social networking sites provide stock greetings when reaching out to others, “Join my network,” “Be my Friend,” “Follow me.” It is proper etiquette to add a bit of personality along with your standard greeting so your potential contact knows they are just not on a giant list of people you are acquainted to. You wouldn’t walk up to a business acquaintance at a conference and command he/she, “Join my network on LinkedIn,” so why should it be acceptable digitally? Take time to learn more about the people you are connected with and make a good electronic first impression. And avoid using all capital letters; it is the digital equivalent of screaming.

7. Don’t abuse applications, group invites, etc.
Try not to put your contacts in uncomfortable positions concerning joining your groups, adding applications or retweeting your tweets. Don’t ever send spam or confront people about their privacy settings. Never ask for endorsements via social networking or push your sales pitch to your trusted networks. And always avoid using your network email contact lists as mailing lists to promote your own company, self-service or to sell leads. Be respectful.

As Miss Manners says, “A little etiquette…goes a long way.”

About the Author

Michele Vaccarello Wagner | Senior Digital Editor