The employee's guide to netiquette

Frustrated computer graphic
© Klara Viskova |

With the unlimited power of the World Wide Web and the proliferation of social media platforms, it is naïve to think that our online presence has nothing to do with our real life reputation. Whether we like it or not, our two personas are intertwined and our online activity can often affect our professional image and hinder our job prospects.

According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, young people will one day have to change their names to escape from their online mistakes. To avoid this dilemma it’s best to act with your wits about you now and avoid any such unnecessary action in the future. To minimise the risk of negative repercussions from our online activities it’s vital to exercise network etiquette, otherwise known as netiquette, not only when we’re at work but at all times.

1. Control your own presence

By creating your own online presence in the form of social media profiles, you will be able to have some control over what is published about you in cyberspace. With an active online presence you will be able to monitor and filter the content you want other people to see and portray an accurate, or rather positive, image of yourself. However, there is a difference between creating an online presence and saturating the market. Remember, the more profiles you have, the more you will have to monitor and update.

2. Terms and conditions

With each online profile you create or website you sign up to, make sure you are up-to-date with the privacy settings. With sites like Facebook constantly updating their privacy regulations, make sure you are aware of what is visible to the general public and what can only be seen by your friends. And, while ticking ‘I Agree’ without reading pages and pages of terms and conditions can seem like the easy option at the time, it is best to make sure you’re not selling your soul to the devil before you sign your life away.

3. Keep tabs on yourself

While Googling yourself can sound like an egotistical task, it will give you an idea of what information people can access about you from a simple web search. If you come across any unsavoury information or images of yourself, find ways to erase or limit the content. Signing up to receive Google Alerts every time your name is published online is another way for you to keep on top of any information that concerns you.

4. Emailing in the office

There are so many issues concerning the use of email – tone, length, relevancy, informal versus formal, smiley face versus no smiley face – that sometimes it’s easier to walk from your desk to your desired recipient’s desk and converse like they used to do in the olden days. Email and online policies can differ from workplace to workplace so it’s best to become familiar with your own workplace’s policy before you start forwarding dubious chain mails to your team. Be aware that there is always a backup system for office computers, so keep your emailing relatively business related. Messages should be short and to-the-point. Remember you have no control over what the recipient or recipients do with their copy of the email. Refrain from using excessive capital letters and ‘emoticons’ unless you’re informally addressing your immediate work team.

5. Sharing is caring

The power of the Internet is in its ability to bring together millions of people and inconceivable amounts of information. Social media sites such as Twitter have helped to keep this ball rolling, making it easier to share everything from your daily activities and opinions to information and news. Don’t be afraid to offer your two cents and share with others what you believe to be interesting. However, what you share and how you share it should depend on the situation. Refrain from forwarding on annoying chain emails or attaching large files to emails, especially to clients or strangers. In the workplace, share information that is relevant to the recipient’s role or industry, or related to their interests.

6. Remember where you are and who you are

It is so easy to feel invincible when you’re surfing the Net in the comfort of your living room. However, the Internet is a glass room of activity and your actions and reactions are there for the world to see. Refrain from pulling a ‘Stephanie Rice’* and using offensive language in a public forum, especially if you’re a public figure. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. It is easy to think that being online makes you invisible, however this is never the case. Like a real-life crime scene, your online activity leaves evidence that can be easily traced back to you.

7. Be smart

It is easy to forget that the Internet is a giant invisible storage warehouse, where uploaded information and interactions float around, bumping into binary code. Once something is uploaded into cyberspace, there is a great chance it will come back to haunt you, even if you think you have gotten rid of all the evidence. Remove photos and comments revealing any illegal or unsavoury behaviour. Never make negative comments about your work, work colleagues or anyone on social media sites. This has the potential to turn around and bite you on the arse. And never publicise that you’re taking a sickie, especially if you’re not actually sick. Previous experience has shown that you will definitely come to regret this.

*Stephanie Rice lost her sponsorship deal with Jaguar after posting an offending word on her Twitter profile.

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