How to Help Employees Mind Their Manners in an Online World

By Scott Steinberg Feb 8, 2017
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Today's organization operates in a world of 24/7 connectivity, social media and streaming video, where any message can travel farther and faster than ever before—and quickly trend online. Likewise, millions of employees are increasingly being asked to integrate mobile devices and Internet-based apps into their daily routines. But what rules of modern etiquette should be observed when using high-tech tools to conduct business or social networks to communicate? Until now, answers have been hard to come by. Happily, Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World (Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2017), my new book with co-author Damon Brown, offers simple training tips and suggestions to help employees enjoy more-positive high-tech interactions—and put their best foot forward online.

Among the topics the book covers:

Establishing a Social Media Policy

  • Make it clear to employees what's OK to share online, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. With every employee a brand ambassador, training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce and instill the importance of these corporate values. Establishing formal rules of engagement, clearly communicating them to workers and explaining what's expected from hires are crucial.
  • Guidelines are only the beginning, however: Establish an internal program designed to teach social media literacy and aptitude, provide continued education efforts, and reward employees for successfully practicing these skills. You may wish to consider regular skills refreshers, training sessions, certification courses and gamification-based programs to reinforce these maxims.
  • Be straightforward and specific about what's expected in terms of tone, attitude, end results and output from your social media professionals, and regularly monitor and assess how well their actions align with and meet these goals. Providing continuous feedback to help staff grow and improve is a vital way to bolster performance in these areas. To this end, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts or updates to provide a sense of how to shape these communications efforts.
  • For the sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, post formal guidelines for online communication within your own corporate blogs, communities and online venues, public-facing or otherwise. Having established guidelines in place helps set expectations upfront and helps you address any issues that may arise, such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.

Expressing Your Brand's Online Personality

  • When people go to social media sites, they expect exchanges to be more personal, more immediate and more engaging. Be less formal, but make sure you teach employees to adhere to the rules and guidelines your organization sets forth about your brand, message and tone of voice while also creating value for your audience.
  • Casual and fun doesn't equate to flippant, glib or self-centered. Encourage workers to think about how you or your brand may be perceived, and take care to present yourself as affably and respectfully as possible in all situations. Be cognizant of post quality as well, including taking care to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors. Note that kindness, courtesy, positivity and empathy should be reflected in every post.
  • The use of humor may be appropriate depending on the context. However, it should be the same sort of humor that is acceptable for use in an office or business casual setting. Avoid risqué or controversial statements.

Determining Tone of Voice and Attitude

  • Professionalism is imperative. Remind workers that if they wouldn't say it in a social or work setting, they shouldn't say it online.
  • Politeness and respect are vital. Teach members of your organization to always be considerate of others and to treat them with respect.
  • Maintain a positive tone and attitude. Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster.
  • Remind workers that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in translation and that individual users may interpret messages differently. Consider how posts will be read and interpreted before sending.

Using Phones and Mobile Devices for Business Purposes

  • Business calls made in public should be kept as short, sweet and quiet as possible and should be confined to crowded or noisier areas.
  • When speaking in public spaces, employees should avoid sharing private information, as it may be overheard and subsequently shared with others.
  • Phones should not be used in enclosed spaces such as stores, subway cars, gyms, restaurants, airplanes and autos where conversations may disturb or annoy others. Employees who need to make a business call should politely excuse themselves and step outside to do so or wait until they're in a more private setting.
  • Phones placed on vibrate should be stored in a purse or pocket so as not to make noise when they shake against a hard surface—for example, a boardroom table—disturbing others with the sound of the vibrations.

Using Devices During Meetings

  • Employees should text, send e-mails and check messages only after meetings are finished or during official breaks.
  • At no time during meetings should devices be used for personal purposes (e.g., updating social media accounts or flipping through a favorite video game).
  • Employees may want to consider having an alternative voice message for the times they're in meetings. The message would let callers know that the employee is engaged so callers don't feel that they've been left hanging by a delayed response.
  • Employees who must use an app during a meeting should set their device to airplane mode so it won't accept any outside calls or disturbances and should turn sound effects and volume levels to off.
  • Employees should always turn their phone's ringer off when they are in a professional gathering. Note that many wearable devices such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit Charge can push call and text notifications to a user's wrist, where he or she can quickly receive and parse them without disturbing others.
  • Phones placed on vibrate should be stored in a purse or pocket so as not to make noise when they shake against a hard surface—for example, a boardroom table—disturbing others with the sound of the vibrations.

With proper training and guidance, every employee can practice online manners that reflect positively on them and your organization.

Scott Steinberg is an award-winning speaker and the best-selling author of  Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty and Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap. His website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.

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