Minding Manners in the Digital Age

Sponsored by Robert Half Management Resources

Are you following proper business etiquette while online?

April 7, 2011

It wasn't that long ago that good manners at work meant knowing how to act while out to lunch or during the company holiday party. Now it also includes understanding how to navigate the tricky world of social networking sites, e-mail, texting and other forms of digital communication.

It's amazingly easy to make a mistake online today, one that can be harmful professionally. Three out of four (76%) of human resources managers polled by our company said technology etiquette breaches can affect a person's career prospects.

To help professionals stay on track, Robert Half recently released a new resource, Business Etiquette: New Rules in a Digital Age. Following are some key tips from the guide:

Share selectively.
When it comes to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, limit information that can be viewed by professional colleagues or make sure all of your postings are appropriate for everyone in your network. Your complaint about a new company policy can easily be shared with others, for instance, so always think twice before posting.

Additionally, block updates about your use of any Facebook applications. Business contacts — and even personal connections — are not likely to be interested in learning about every time you add a sheep in FarmVille, for example.

Don't limit yourself to social sites.
Networking sites such as LinkedIn are designed to connect people on a professional level and can be a great way to nurture and expand your base of contacts. But don't forget to reciprocate. Becoming known as someone who is always asking others for help but fails to offer assistance in return is a quick way to damage your professional reputation.

When you ask for a recommendation, send a personal, individual note to the person you want to help you. A mass message asking all of your connections to endorse you will likely fall flat. Think about it: Why create a recommendation for someone who can't bother to personally request one from you?

Be choosy about connections.
Focus on quality and relevance rather than quantity. If there are strangers in your online network, you're at much greater risk that they'll post something inappropriate on your page.

If someone wants to connect with you and you'd rather not, the best strategy is simply to click "Ignore." Don't feel pressured to explain your reasoning.

Avoid jargon and acronyms.
Whether you're communicating via networking sites, texting, e-mail or other digital communication, use plain English. The harder people have to work to understand what you're saying, the less eager they will be to hear from you or read your posts. A friendly "TTYL" (talk to you later) may be irritating to someone who doesn't know what that acronym means, for example.

Don't expect instant responses.
Recognize, too, that while technology has made it easier to reach people, it may still take some time to hear back. Just because someone appears to be online or available via a mobile device, doesn't always mean they're in a position to respond right away. If you do need an immediate answer to a question, it may be better to call.

Watch your words.
With digital communication, being concise is golden. Don't make readers wade through a sea of text to get to your point. If you find it difficult to condense what you need to say in written form, this may be a sign you should call or talk to someone in person to discuss the topic at hand.

Also understand that humor or sarcasm can be misinterpreted easily online. Using emoticons may help if you do use a lighter tone, but apply them sparingly so you remain professional. It's usually best to be straightforward.

Etiquette rules will no doubt continue to evolve as technologies change over time. Yet, there's an easy way to be confident you're doing and saying the right thing: Act as you would if you were talking to someone in front of your boss. If you're exercising caution, chances are you'll make the right choices.

For additional insights on maintaining manners today, download a free copy of Business Etiquette: New Rules in a Digital Age at www.roberthalfmr.com.