Manners in the Digital Age : Use Old-School Etiquette to Rise Above the Social Media Mainstream

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Today’s blog post is written by my guest Jennifer V. Miller. Jennifer is the founder and Managing Partner of SkillSource. She advises executives on how to improve workplace productivity via positive workplace dynamics. Jennifer blogs at The People Equation and considers her old-school professionalism a key to her personal brand. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferVMiller .

Where did our manners go? According to a Rasmussen poll taken last fall, 75% of adults polled said we’re getting less civilized as a population. In the workplace, the numbers are equally dismal: according to a Forbes.com article, author Christine Pearson cites research that says 96% of Americans report experiencing rudeness at work. The Digital Age, it seems, may also be the Age without Civility. Nowhere is this more evident than in our online worlds. Instant access to information and the ability to comment behind the safety of our avatars has, in some cases, created an ugly, snarky monster. Even those of us who resist the vitriol still have questions about how to “mind our manners” online. What are the rules? Do I thank someone publicly or privately? Do I even need to thank them at all?

It’s really not the complicated. Yes, there are some different etiquette rules evolving for the social media world, but in general good manners are still good manners. Princeton University defines etiquette as “rules governing social behavior.” Inexplicably, people seem to forget the “social” part of “social media”, leading to rude comments, thoughtless actions, or spamming. Judith Martin (aka “Miss Manners”) says, “Many people mistakenly think a new technology cancels out an old one.” Simply because our technology allows us to do things faster and with a broader reach, doesn’t mean we should forget the foundation upon which all of this rests: human interaction. So what’s a savvy business professional to do? Go back to the basics.

Exercising proper online etiquette really is as simple as remembering the basics of courtesy. It’s about thinking about the other person’s needs first, using “please” and “thank you” and being gracious in all interactions.

It’s About Them. Above all, etiquette is about helping people feel comfortable, not necessarily about knowing the proper fork to use. The same applies to social media interactions. Consider: are you coming across as too pushy, or too self-promotional? What’s the ratio of your offer for help to your request for help? Think carefully about the way you communicate across social media platforms. Third-party applications like Ping.fm are very efficient, but are they effective? True, you can quickly post a comment across 3-10 social media platforms—but to what end? Sometimes that approach may be useful. Other times, it may just serve to irritate your followers who are on multiple platforms.

“Please and Thank You”. These are still powerful words. Here are a couple of old-school ways that shouldn’t be abandoned, even though some would say they aren’t necessary anymore.

  • When asking someone to join your social media network, send a personal note that includes a sentence or two that describes your connection and why you’ve made the request.
  • If you’re a blogger, ask permission to use a blog reference. Even if the blogger has a Creative Commons notation on the blog, it’s a good way to build rapport and show courtesy. Be sure to let the blogger know when your post is published, along with a quick note of thanks.
  • If you post photos of someone on Facebook, ask for permission. Yes, this is very old-school, but it’s a rare form of courtesy that will keep you from having a potentially uncomfortable backlash.
  • When people help you out, thank them. If it’s a really big assist, go very old-school and send them a hand-written thank you note.

Be gracious. Being a good sport, even when others aren’t, will serve you well. It’s tempting to want to lash out at a rude comment, but resist. Doing so only brings you down to that person’s level. Strive to maintain a professional and open demeanor, even when those around you do not. Some other pointers:

  • Keep in mind that the written word doesn’t allow for tone of voice. It’s possible that the person did not intend for the comment to be rude.
  • Remember that social media is public. Anything you say on a LinkedIn discussion group, Facebook wall, etc. open for all to see. Be professional at all times.
  • Cut people some slack. We’re all still learning the “rules” for social media. One person’s criteria for “friending” someone is another person’s personal rebuff.

Emily Post, whose name is synonymous with good manners, once said: “Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces ethics. It is honor.” Use this as a guiding principle in your social media use and you’ll build a personal brand for impeccable manners. It won’t banish the boorish behavior of some colleagues, but it will ensure that your interactions are of the utmost professionalism.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for posting this information, this just reiterates how important it is to conduct yourself properly no matter what medium is chosen. It’s so easy to forget who you are representing. Thanks again

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