Five ways to practise good netiquette

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.

What’s 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:

  • Unspoken rules, e.g. how you behave
  • Formal rules, e.g. posting rules for platforms like Reddit

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. So 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 okay 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.

Why online communications are difficult

Communicating in the digital world has unique challenges. In emails, texts and social media, it’s 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 is intended. As a result, we’ve all seen flame wars started by a simple message taken the wrong way.

You’re probably automatically practising a good standard of netiquette already, but here are the basics:

5 tips for perfect netiquette

Tip 1: Behave online as you would offline

Keep to your usual high standards of behaviour, whoever you interact with – online or offline. For example, if you wouldn’t call out someone on a mistake offline, then don’t do it online. Instead, practise your everyday 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:

  • Take a few deep breaths, walk away or count to ten to reduce that initial burst of emotion. It’s important to get some space between the trigger and your reaction.
  • Think of the human behind the words when (or if) you respond. Be more forgiving of people if they’ve made a mistake.
  • Check the facts before you respond or share.
  • Challenge politely and respectfully.
  • Don’t respond at all. Your time is more important than getting involved in online arguments.

Tip 2: Respect other people’s time

When you’re new to 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? In addition, emails that you don’t need or 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:

  • No work emails during non-work time.
  • Think before you hit “reply all”.
  • Only copy the team in by exception, not the rule.

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:

  • If you use all caps, YOU’RE SHOUTING.
  • Be very careful when using exclamation marks. Too many can make you look overexcited or lightweight!!!!!!!
  • Go easy with emojis and emoticons unless you know the recipient well.

Tip 3: Respect the rules of the platform you’re using

It’s essential to familiarise yourself with the rules and guidelines on any platform you’re using not to 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 particular rules on how to show your professionalism. Here’s what to do (and what not to do:)

  • Be on time, as you would be to an in-person meeting.
  • Have your video on, and mute your microphone when you’re not speaking.
  • Raise your hand if you’d like to speak: your meeting host should be chairing correctly, so you’ll have your say.
  • Don’t be texting or dealing with something else while you’re in the meeting: inattention looks rude. To avoid distraction, switch off your mobile and computer notifications.
  • If you’re hosting the meeting, have a clear agenda.
  • Wear meeting-appropriate clothing. What you wear will depend on your team culture.

Tip 4: Work on your professional social media profile

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 beneficial 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:

  • Comment professionally and politely on subjects and work areas that interest you.
  • Get networking – connect with others but don’t make it look like you’re collecting contacts. Instead, do a little background reading about your target connection and ask them a genuine question or comment intelligently about something they’ve written or done. Then they’ll know if you’re inauthentic.
  • Be respectful of others’ views and opinions, and don’t be afraid to share your own.
  • Update your skills and experience on your profile.
  • Try writing and posting a helpful, professional piece from your perspective or expertise.
  • Follow a few groups that interest you, and be active in those groups.

Tip 5: Use an appropriate email sign-off

When you’re sending an email, make sure that your sign off – technically called a valediction – is appropriate to your audience and always polite:

  • Ultra formal: Write as you would a formal written letter: use “Yours faithfully” when you don’t know your recipient’s name and “Yours sincerely” when you do.
  • Less formal: You’ve more choice of warm, all-purpose phrases such as “Kind regards”, “Regards”, “Best wishes” and, even less formally, ‘Best” or “Cheers”.

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 the 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-around online presence to be proud of.

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