Netiquette: 3 essential guidelines for online behaviour
I’m frequently asked for advice regarding online communication, and, in particular, social media etiquette. It’s a conversation I’ve had with people of varying online experience over many years, about a conversation about communicating with clarity, with regard for ethics and etiquette.
Plenty of guides exist, as a simple search would reveal. For example, the BBC‘s netiquette page is a sturdy place to start. Many are geared toward social media behaviour for younger people: Achieve Virtual offers a comprehensive guide aimed at students, and also lists pertinent references. The sources are a few years old, but still relevant. There’s a particularly handy hint here, too: Read everything out loud before you post.
The nature of online communication means that messages must be simple, as they’re digested quickly. Misunderstanding abounds.
Include sarcasm and you dance beside an online minefield. Emoticons may shield you from explosions of misunderstanding, but be prepared for collateral damage.
Same goes for “quirky” humour (*see below).
Some people will judge your poor grammar and spelling. They may be potential clients, employers, friends, or lovers. These are not necessarily mean people; they just have high standards*. (*Insert jokey emoticon of your choice here.)
Don’t steal other people’s stuff. Acknowledge where that meme, image, clever sentence, or concept came from. If you don’t know, at least acknowledge that it’s not yours. It works wonders for your credibility.
Understand that someone’s own perception is their reality, and try to empathise, perceptively, their reality. Understand that there’s a world of cultural differences out there.
After working with and teaching online communication (and using it personally!) for decades, I realise the conversation can spiral outwards like a lovely Mandelbrot iteration. Which is not a bad thing. But understanding the needs of social media communication, both ethical and etiquette, begins with three brief points. If you start here, you start well.
Note that we’re talking here about online communication for individuals, mainly. There’s a further level needed for commerce (including individuals – “influencers” – who virtually operate as businesses if they accept products and/or payment), but that’s an issue for another time.