Netiquette: Professionalism for the 21st Century

As the world of job searching and professional networking steadily moves further into the digital realm, it is becoming increasingly important for aspiring professionals to be aware of how their online behavior is perceived by others.

Just as your professional etiquette can make a significant impact on how you are viewed in the business world, your “netiquette,” or online behavior, can dramatically impact how you are evaluated by others – both online and offline.For that reason, I find myself spending more and more time coaching students about appropriate strategies for interacting online. Because many young job seekers have had an online presence for a significant portion of their lives, it is sometimes challenging to understand where boundaries lie and how their actions may be perceived by others. While those lines can be blurry, it’s important to consider your online image from the perspective of future employers – which often requires stepping OUTSIDE the viewpoint of your peer group.

Consider a recent study, which claims that 10% of young people have been rejected for a job because of their online behavior. We are now living in a professional world with great generational divides regarding what is common and what is acceptable behavior online. While much of the world is taking strides to adapt to us, Millennials must still take these important facts into mind when approaching their job search.

The truth is that you will probably receive a different opinion about netiquette from every person you ask. However, I think that the following 5 core rules are applicable to most professionals, regardless of age or social media mastery:

No Flaming

We’ve all seen them – the people on our Facebook newsfeeds that are constantly posting political, religious, or otherwise opinionated rants which come across as obnoxious and unseemly. Yes, it can feel good to vent your frustrations via social media at times. However, an employer who views such posts might consider you to be overly emotional or lacking in control and judgment. If this prospective employee feels so strongly about this issue, will he or she make it an issue in the workplace? To a hiring manager, it is better to avoid such a risk and go with another candidate who does not display such behavior.

What can you do? Most of us have been guilty of “flaming out” online at one point or another, so the best approach is to take steps to secure your online profile and prevent others from browsing through your posts. If possible, try to delete or bury any content that may come across as inflammatory.

Avoid Awkward “Friending”

As you begin to develop a more professional presence online, you should educate yourself about which social media platforms are appropriate for which situations. For example, Facebook is still largely considered a space for your “private life,” so be cautious about adding mentors, co-workers, and especially supervisors. If you complain about your job or post an update about shopping (on a day when you called in sick), you are not only placing your professional contacts in an awkward situation, but you could potentially lose your job.On the flip side, consider using LinkedIn to connect and stay in touch with your professional network. It may be uncomfortable to connect with someone you don’t know on Facebook, but LinkedIn is a perfectly acceptable platform for reaching out to acquaintances or people you may not know in person (as long as you have a professional justification).

Twitter falls somewhere in between the other two platforms. If you use Twitter primarily for professional communication, then you should apply the same rules mentioned above for LinkedIn. Connect with, follow, or message others using a professional communication style.

If your Twitter account is more for personal reasons – retweeting Justin Bieber’s posts and ranting about the latest episode of the “Bachelorette” – apply the same rules as you would to Facebook. Keep your connections personal, not professional, or consider starting a separate Twitter account for your professional brand.

Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

Regardless of what platform you are on or who you are communicating with, you should seek to appear intelligent online. That means, at minimum, utilizing proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Poor communication not only insinuates poor intelligence, but it also implies a lack of attention to detail and a disregard for your personal or professional image. Get in the habit of communicating properly via social media, and it will enhance your communication style for other venues such as email or professional correspondence.

Be Aware of the Public Sphere

There are a few general clichés that are handy when thinking about your online presence – “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see,” or “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of the news.”

While you may consider your social media profile a “private” space, the reality is that you never know exactly where the content you post is going or how long it may be available. As the recent NSA security scandal indicates, there is no guarantee that data existing “in the cloud” could not be accessed at some point in the future.

The bottom line? Think twice before posting something you wouldn’t want another person to read. The odds are, if you have any hesitation about posting something publicly, it is probably something that you should keep to yourself instead.

Customize Your Communication. Don’t Spam.

Finally, I think that it is important to remember the human element in your online communication. While you could easily cut-and-paste messages in the process of networking, or utilize the default connection invitation on LinkedIn, your efforts will be far more effective if you take a moment to tailor your message.

The same is true with other platforms. Are you simply retweeting the content of others on Twitter, or are you actually creating a dialogue? Are you posting chain-messages and viral images on Facebook, or are you interacting in a meaningful way that strengthens your personal and professional network? Be aware of whether or not you may be spamming others, and strive for quality – rather than quantity – in your online communications!

Updated: 20/03/2017

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