Giles O’Halloran underlines the importance of minding one’s Ps and Qs in the online world

Technology has a massive impact on the way we communicate. It influences how we engage and connect with people, groups and communities around us locally and globally.

The last two decades has seen the birth of the Internet as a truly public and global platform, allowing us to interact with other across continents in an instant. How we connect, build relationships and work with people in this virtual environment is becoming more of a critical skill, especially with the rise of social media over the last decade.

Netiquette is a simple and kitsch portmanteau word combining Internet and Etiquette into one short word. It is about how we treat and work with others in the online world – a set of guidelines in order to create productive relationships and collaboration. The idea of netiquette is nothing new and it was first created as a code of conduct in the age of bulletin boards during the 80s and very early 90s. However, the first documented example of the word netiquette was cited in a 1995 document by Intel, the aim of which was to educate and guide the growing number of users who were seeking to be part of the Internet phenomenon.

This initial document broke down online communications into three key areas – one to one communication, one to group communication and internet services. This guidance was then followed by another suggested by Tim O’Reilly called ‘the bloggers code of conduct’ – aimed very much at the Web 2.0 and growing social media space. Much of the original guidance is still true today, so it is worth reading, but this article will aim to advise you on things you should consider if you are going to present a professional and personable online persona to the world.

The simple fact is that in this day and age, how you behave, interact and treat people across the ether, does and will have an impact on your employment prospects. So consider the following…

Taking Responsibility

The presence you portray online is the persona that others will see – anywhere and at any time across the world. How you word what you say, who you engage with, how you engage with them, items you post etc. all come back to defining who you are as a digital persona. You are responsible online for what you post and you have to remember that in a truly connected world, what you say can echo many miles away and for many years to come. You therefore need to be very careful about what you post and who has access. As soon as you post it online, someone will have access to it and can use it, and no matter what influence you have, the control is lost. This has been seen countless times via email.

The simplest thing to do is always second check what you are proposing to put, are you in the right frame of mind or could someone seriously misinterpret what you say? It is not about what you say, but it is about who you exchange with and how you say it. You may have certain strong convictions about a subject matter and wish to express yourself. This is fine and should not be hindered, just be wary of what and how you articulate what you want to say. You do not want it come back to haunt you if an online background screen pulls something up that could prevent you getting your dream job. So be careful and remember that you are responsible for what you post, and it is often better to take a step back before communicating.

Who you engage with matters

Social media is an everyday word and continues to develop. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other of the other popular platforms out there, you are able to engage with lots of different people, with lots of different opinions and from lots of very different perspectives. You therefore have to be careful what or how you say things to others, and you need to determine what you say, whether it will have the desired impact, and ensure that it will not negatively impact your professional profile.

In the same light, if you are in contact with people or have friends who perhaps post sensitive, inflammatory or degrading material, you need to be careful of how this may come back to you or be associated with you, irrespective of whether you share their opinion, outlook or interests. Employers, recruiters and people in general are becoming more savvy about who they connect with and the impact that has on them and their brand. Employers are going to be mindful of your presence online and people who have influence will also be that way inclined.

So, set expectations with people you know, inform them if you are keeping two profiles separate, and let them know which is best to contact you on. In the same light, if people are posting stuff that you might find offensive or potentially damaging, either inform them politely or ask them to stop. It is up to you whether you wish to disconnect with them, but always do so carefully and politely so that you are not a victim of spamming, trolling or similar later. People online will judge you on how you behave in every situation, so treat others as you wish to be treated, show respect and be polite so that whatever happens, you maintain a clean profile.

Don’t say anything online you would not say in person

Just because you may have a screen and an online persona or avatar, it does not mean you can simply hide behind it. People can and will find out who you are. It is therefore better to be yourself or the person you want to portray behind your online projection. Not only does this make you more genuine and sincere to those connected with you or in your network, it also means that you are more trustworthy and credible, which are two key currencies in the online world.

Keeping a realistic and honest profile means that you are more likely to attract people to your network and you are also more likely to be appealing to employers, recruiters, influential networks etc. Remember not to post things that could be deemed inflammatory or degrading as it will indeed come back to haunt you over and over again. Take responsibility for your actions and comments, respect others and engage positively to enhance your network and your influence.

Do not collect, but try to connect

Building online networks can be a difficult thing to master, but is a very powerful tool. You want to connect with as many people as possible in order to strengthen your network, but you also have to add value to that network in order for it to be useful. Too many people try to collect as many friends or followers as possible on social media, but they do not then engage with the connections they have. They use it simply as a number that has no real value – as people will disconnect from you very quickly if they realise you are just a collector.

Take time to connect with your network. Drop them an introductory note explaining why you wish to connect, offer help, access to your network and continually share useful things with your network. Dropping the occasional note also helps keep your networks alive. Through doing so you start to build more credibility and become more respected. In the same light, the more active you are in sharing and helping people connect, more people see you as an influencer and then want to connect or share with you. By being an active and participative member in your network, you not only help others and create greater social capital, but also build a much stronger personal profile.

Take it offline if online is not the right time and place

Sometimes you will get people who will continually post material or comments you wish to respond to. You both have rights to express your opinions, but be careful of what the repercussions could be. In light of this, it is sometimes better to use a direct message or private chat option to share thoughts, rather than publishing something publicly. This way of behaving dates back to the bulletin board era and prevented people taking over discussions or destroying other people’s enjoyment of a social platform. So, consider this as an option if you are going to engage with someone and it might get a little heated. Handling conversations sensibly and professionally only makes you a more respected online operator and digital citizen.

Google has a long memory

As I have stressed throughout this article, you need to be careful about what you say and who you say it to. A simple error, mistimed message or regretted posting could come back to haunt you again and again in the future. Once it is in the ether, you have no control over where it ends up, who has access to it or who can use it. You therefore need to take a step back sometimes and consider what you need to do.

This does not mean you have to be super security conscious, as we are all human and most people understand that you will have opinions etc. However, as social media and platforms are communities that allow people to interact, to discuss ideas and essentially allow them to have a say, you should respect that right and the right they have. If they are the ones being inflammatory, they will suffer for their actions, but if you remain polite, engage sensibly and choose what to say when and for what reason, you are likely to be more respected.

Give back

In the adapted words of Kennedy, I always say “ask not what your network can do for you, but what can you do for your network.” Real netiquette is about being polite, respectful and helping others. The more you offer to help those who connect with you, the more they are likely to help you connect to others or to help you longer term. It really does work, and being a catalyst in your network, helping others connect and sharing information etc., can pay real dividends over time as your online persona and profile develops. Always be helpful, constructive and communicative – it will build long term success.

So, on a final note, do consider reading the Netiquette articles out there and the points I have made above. The more genuine, professional, polite and personable you are, the more respected, influential and trusted you will become. It really is down to you.

About The Author

Giles O’Halloran is an experienced Recruitment and HR professional, with a wealth of knowledge in both sectors. He has worked for a number of large and respected organisations, including blue chip and global recruitment companies. Giles has spent over 15 years providing CV writing, interview preparation and professional networking support to clients in both the public and private sector. He also has over a decade of service in two branches of the Reserve Forces. Feel free to connect with Giles via LinkedIn or follow him onTwitter