The importance of practicing good ‘netiquette’

By Pia Ward

Have you prepared for a business meeting by Googling the attendees or putting their names into LinkedIn to gauge their experience, background or views? We’ve all done it, yet many of us still pay little attention to the information we upload onto the internet and how it could be perceived by others.

The line between our personal and professional lives and reputations is becoming increasingly blurred through the advance and prevalence of mobile devices, and the popularity of social media as an immediate and viral information source.

Any information posted online or controversial opinions expressed, even in a private capacity, can spread like wildfire and, most importantly, never go away, even after years have passed.
While much time and effort is often put into protecting our own reputations as individuals, professionals, and by default the reputation of our employers, it is now essential that we also recognise the value of a strong online reputation, and the perils of a poor one.

Just observe the now infamous Justine Sacco case study for an indication of the power of an online reputation… When boarding a flight to South Africa last year, she sent out an offensive tweet to her 200 followers which, after being retweeted over 2,000 times, resulted in her being fired the following day. While her actions were no doubt foolish, I’m sure she didn’t expect that her tweet would travel around the world at such a ferocious rate and have such widespread implications.

Though this is an extreme example, incidents like this highlight just how cautious we should be when communicating online and that once something has been sent, posted or tweeted it is forever accessible, even after it has been deleted.

Sacco’s employer also played a role in this incident. While they moved swiftly to disassociate themselves from the tweet, would the scenario have been different if they had better informed their staff of the company’s online engagement protocols?

Whether you are at work or at home, your actions can have a detrimental impact on your employer’s reputation, and by default your own. Companies are realising this and are becoming more interested in what their employees or potential new hires are doing online.

Savvy businesses are also recognising the opportunities and threats which social media presents and taking steps to inform their employees of company policies around its use, rather than leaving anything to chance. 

Taking a proactive and preventative approach to protocols around social media is essential for companies, but also invaluable for employees. It is becoming increasingly critical that employees are cognisant of what opinions they are at liberty to express on Twitter or Facebook, without putting their current job or future employment prospects at risk.

While communicating online will never be totally controllable and always require individuals to apply a certain amount of common sense to any given scenario, preventative measures can be taken by companies in order to mitigate their exposure to any social media risks.

According to Jeanne Meister, who developed the ‘5 Rs of Social Media’ there are a number of golden rules which companies should abide by when developing social media guidelines:

  1. Reason. Simply put: use reasonable etiquette, the same as you would offline.
  2. Represent yourself. Anonymous profiles lend themselves to more negative content.
  3. Responsibility. Make sure that what you’re saying is factually correct, and also that it doesn’t violate any legal guidelines that prohibit revealing information that is material to a company’s stock price.
  4. Respect. What you say online is a permanent record, so don’t say anything online you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to the whole office – with a camera rolling.
  5. Restraint. Before you hit that send button, pause and reread. If you wouldn’t want that particular thought or contribution forever associated with your name, don’t post it.

This last point is particularly important. You never know where your business will take you, or who you could be working with in years to come. So before you comment, tweet or post, ask yourself whether you are happy for your comments to be viewed by your employer, business partners or clients now or in the future. If the answer is no – back away from the keyboard!

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