Etiquette – what exactly is it? Etiquette is a set of unwritten rules that guide people in certain social situations. These guidelines for “good etiquette” can differ depending on cultural expectations, as well as where the exchange takes place, and with whom. You may be following “good etiquette” and not even realize it. Common rules include saying please and thank you, not talking with your mouth full, not inquiring about personal matters (unless you know the person) and keeping eye contact when conversing.

These specific rules apply to in-person social situations, but what about non-face-to-face interactions, like in online spaces? This is where netiquette guidelines come in.

According to DataReportal’s Digital 2020 report, the average internet user spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online a day, equating to 100 days per year. Whether we are shopping online, writing a report, or commenting on a Facebook post, there is no denying that we spend a massive amount of our time communicating online. Especially now, as we face the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has become necessary for us to adapt to online communication.

As this progression to online communication takes place, the widely accepted etiquette for in-person interaction cannot be applied to online spaces. So, is there etiquette for online communication? Yes, but it is ever evolving. It’s referred to as “netiquette.”

What is netiquette? Netiquette is etiquette for online socialization. Practicing good netiquette is important for everyone, especially working professionals, because any interaction you have online is there forever. The importance of netiquette cannot be overemphasized because your online identity has the potential to benefit or damage your professional career, employer, and personal life.

Lee E. Krahenbuhl, Communication Studies Program Coordinator, reiterates this by stating:

When you first go on social media, you quickly learn things that you never knew and never would have known about people. This is because when people are face-to-face, there are things that they don’t share. There is this phenomenon and communication we call disinhibition. When we go online, we are dis-inhibited. We lose all our inhibitions about sharing extremely private information. We share everything we are comfortable with, and we are comfortable with everything, and sometimes it is incredibly inappropriate. This can lead people to lose their jobs and relationships.

With that said, here are some netiquette guidelines you should consider when communicating online.

Netiquette Guidelines

Read, think, and then respond.

This netiquette guideline is one of the most important to follow because it can prevent unintended repercussions, such as misunderstandings, arguments, and negative views from outsiders. Let’s say, you skim over an email and felt the sender’s tone was hostile, you then you quickly respond with an equally hostile email. Imagine that the sender’s tone was not hostile at all and you just misunderstood their tone. You have now risked your professional reputation and relationship with that individual.

Therefore, it is important to abstain from skimming over material and quickly responding without much thought. Remember read, think, and then respond. This guideline also applies to social media. Before sharing your opinion about an article or updating your followers about something personal, read and/or think before responding or posting. Doing this can also benefit your professional reputation because it shows that you are attentive and not reactive.

Mind mechanical and grammatical errors.

Although mistakes are inevitable, it is important to be aware of your spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. Not only can poor mechanical and grammatical errors cause confusion and frustration for the reader, it can also harm your professional reputation. Repeatedly making the same mistakes may cause you to appear uncreditable, unintelligent, and in some cases disrespectful.

This is important to understand because it can reflect poorly on your employer as well. Following this netiquette guideline when communicating with your superiors and new individuals can lead to good first impressions. Susan Adams, a writer for Forbes, reiterates this by saying “Good grammar and clear sentences suggest respect.” Lastly, this is important off the clock as well. When on social media, you should practice good writing mechanics and grammar to improve your overall writing skills and reputation.

Mind word usage and tone.

Depending on your situation using jargon, idioms, and slang may be appropriate, but it is important to know your audience and setting. Be sure to provide context, avoid repetition, and differentiate between these different types of word usage. Using them inappropriately can have a negative effect on your professional reputation.

Similarly, to the “Read, think, and then respond” guideline, it is important to be aware of your tone. According to Britannica, communicating online can result in people “los[ing] sight of the feelings of, or to be insensitive to, others; consequently, users tend to be more blunt in stating their views than they probably would be face-to-face.” With that, be mindful and try to be respectful and kind, avoiding a blunt tone.

Other netiquette tips:

  • Avoid using all CAPS
  • Avoid sarcasm
  • Respect other’s privacy
  • Upload appropriate file types
  • Check the facts
  • Remember your communicating with a person

While you consider these guidelines, also remember to consider who you are speaking with and on what platform you are socializing. Netiquette rules or guidelines can differ across various situations, so it is important to be cognizant of your particular situation.

Are you looking to expand your communication skill set? Stevenson University Online’s Master’s in Communication Studies program equips working professionals with the skills to develop innovative strategies for effective communication.

Stevenson University Online offers Bachelor’s and Master’s programs that can equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s professional landscape. Programs include Business Communication, Business and Technology Management, and Communication Studies. All courses are online, allowing you to continue working while pursuing your degree.