Netiquette: What It Is, How It Works, and Where It Applies

From personal and private use to professional use, we are calling out the Dos and Don’ts (in many cases the PLEASE Don’ts) of online communication etiquette, or netiquette.

Throughout the decades, good and proper online behavior has taken the form of unofficial rules. We will be taking a look at the Dos and Don’ts of several platforms including email, chat, text messaging, forums, social media, and online dating apps. Not surprisingly, all of these platforms share several underlying key netiquette concepts.

It has become clear that we, as a digital civilization, are in dire need of a physical manifesto of online etiquette. Please feel free to pass along to family, friends, and coworkers that are in constant violation of online social communication conduct.

Email

With the introduction of email in the early 90s, the human population has had an opportunity to evolve in several areas, most notably communication and business. We now had an opportunity to communicate in real-time with our coworkers and business partners halfway across the world in real-time, quite the evolution. However, for as many leaps and bounds we’ve made in our communication, sadly, our email etiquette remains archaic.

Many business colleagues and managers seem to forget the social rules that come with the territory of any form of communication, whether digital or otherwise. If we take a step back, what is the objective of communicating? To engage in a conversation by getting our point across in a concise manner and anticipating a response. If we keep this basic 101 conversation concept in mind, suddenly writing an email doesn’t have to be so tedious or daunting. As such, here are a few Dos and Don’ts in email etiquette:

1. Do Think Twice Before Hitting ‘Reply All’

Many people have their email inbox synched with their smartphones, so receiving email notifications every 20 seconds for people can be quite excessive. Similarly, pop-up notifications and messages on computer screens can become distracting. Refrain from hitting “reply all” unless the email is intended for everyone on the distribution list.

2. Don’t Shoot From the Heart

We all know that Victoria in Marketing can sometimes get a little out of hand. However, muster up the best of constraints, regain your composure, and ensure you never send an angry email, or respond to quickly where you are also coming off terse. Instead of a quick piece of your mind, give your message thoughtful consideration. A good tip is to write your email, save it in your drafts folder, and revisit at a later (but still appropriate) time when you have regained your composure and have articulated an appropriate response. This is always the winner, trust us.

3. Do Include a Clear Subject Line

With the countless emails inundating our inboxes every day, from spam, promotions, and weekly newsletters, most of us have to compete for inbox placement, to ensure auntie Becky sees our birthday party invite. So, the clearer and to the point your email subject line, the better the odds of having your message read. For this example, your subject line could be, “Your favorite Nephew’s birthday party is this Saturday!” et voila. Aunt Becky will be sure to click on your email, and thus be in attendance (hopefully).

4. Don’t Forget Your Email Signature

Every email you send should include a signature, alerting your recipients who you are and how to contact you in return. Many examples of this include your full name, first and last, as well as your cell phone number. If it is a business email, oftentimes it is professional to include your position and title, office phone number and extension, and a professional LinkedIn link where colleagues may view your professional online resume. Email signatures can be set up once in the settings of your email provider and set to automatically appear at the end of your emails. Pretty spiffy.

5. Do Use Professional Salutation

Irrelevant of how well you may know your recipient, using slang such as “yo” or “hey” isn’t professional. Opt to use greetings such as “Hi” or “Hello” instead. If the email is more formal in nature, use “Dear” followed by the person’s name. A favorite go-to, that you don’t have to place much thought into, is something along the lines of “Hello Tony.” Simple, straight forward, and to the point, and always quite appropriate. Keep in mind not to shorten the person’s name, unless you are permitted to do so.

6. Don’t Use Humor

When in doubt, especially in business communication, ax the humor. Many times without the accompanying facial expressions or vocal tone, humor may be misinterpreted as sarcasm, or much worse. Simply put, humor does not translate well in email form.

7. Do Proofread

The way your email is composed says a lot about you. Proofread your email to avoid misspelled words, grammatical errors, or unfinished sentences. Sending an email across littered with errors can give the impression that you are a careless, sloppy, or worst-case scenario, uneducated! Hit “send” only having proofread your message.

8. Don’t Assume Recipients Know What You Are Talking About

Your email should be composed in such a way as to stand alone. Although your response may be a part of an email thread, this means not including any “one-liners.” Especially in business, include possible references to previous emails, conversations, and research. We’ve all been there. It can be frustrating, not to mention time-consuming when having to scroll 10 replies back for context. Your recipients may have hundreds of emails coming in each day, so being considerate in that regard will place you in a positive light: thorough, detailed, sharp. Doesn’t that sound better?

9. Do Keep Private Matters Private

In only a few clicks, it is way to easy for our liking to inadvertently share emails mistakenly. If you have something highly personal and/or confidential, consider sharing over the phone or in person. Always ask for permission before posting sensitive material, either as an attachment or in the email itself.

10. Don’t Overuse Exclamations!

See what we did there? As a general rule of thumb, keep all indications of excitement down to a minimum. Exclamation points and the use of other acronyms such as “LOL” do not translate well in business. Unless you know the person extremely well, these should be avoided whenever possible. Generally speaking, in a single email, no more than two exclamation points are suitable.

11. Do Reply to All Emails

Despite being inundated yourself, do give a timely response to every email that comes your way. Even if your response may take time to research and gather materials, kindly write a quick note alerting your sender you’ve received the email and are looking into it. If you have received an email by accident, also respond and let your sender know.

Chat

Not knowing proper chat etiquette can get you in trouble. In a world where messenger apps such as Whatsapp and text messages are the norm, we want to ensure you are in the know. Chat collaborating software such as Slack is also becoming more increasingly used in the workplace. As not everyone grew up in AOL or MSN chat rooms, not everyone is familiar or up to date with the implicit social agreements of chatting. Therefore, it is important to brush up on our chat etiquette:

1. Do Use a Real Image

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Use a real image of yourself via any network that requests a profile picture. Both in your private and in your professional life, using a real picture of yourself will help others identify who you are and establish more trust. For example, if you are in customer support, customers may wonder if they’re chatting with a chatbot or a live person. Having a photo of yourself instead will help facilitate.

2. Do Limit Exclamation Points and Question Marks

Some people chat as if they are in a perpetual state of awe. Using sentences or phrases such as “OMG!! Really??!! When?!!” “I’ll be right there!!!” is a big no-no. The more exclamation points and question marks weaken and diminish your message rather than reinforcing it. While exclamation points can liven up a chat or email, using in moderation is key. For starters, only use the exclamation point when you want to stress a point.

3. Don’t Use All Caps

Just don’t. It is the ultimate and primal sin of chatting. Using all caps in chatting represents shouting. Unless you want to give your recipient the indication that you are shouting, no caps.

4. Do Control your Emoji

Think of emoji as accents for adding a personalized touch or meaning to your message. Emoji can even shape the atmosphere of a conversation and help guide your recipient towards the intended emotion of your message like for a text message that is meant to be coy or humorous but may contain the smiley face emoji.

Even in business communication, an emoji can add value to the written message. With this being said, when it comes to emojis, more is not better! Generally speaking, only add emoji when it adds meaning or helps to clarify a message. Just as you avoid overusing exclamation points and question marks, avoid using too many emoji as it can weaken the message in the same manner.

Keep in mind that across various platforms (OS vs Android) emoji render a bit differently. Therefore, recipients may interpret meanings differently, so to avoid misunderstandings, it is always a safer bet to use the text versions of the emoji, such as 🙂 for smile face, and 😛 for a playful sticking your tongue out emoji. This is especially true for chat systems across various sites, including Facebook and customer support chats.

5. Don’t Randomly Abbreviate

Abbreviations have their rightful time and place to shine. While chatting is about speed and being as concise as possible, excessive use of abbreviations is not the best idea. Excessive use can give the impression of disrespect and laziness.

For example, the phrase “Y r u L8” could have been perhaps properly written out as “why are you late” with very little extra effort. When sending across messages like this, you forgo your recipient’s reading comfort. This is where the disrespect and laziness perception comes in, not a good look.

As a general rule of thumb, if the abbreviation will save more time, the more justifiable it is. In example, “brb” saves four words “I’ll be right back” and hence, more socially acceptable.

Don’t use slang abbreviations unless it makes sense. For instance, most people haven’t a clue of what ROTFL or SMH means. Consider who you are chatting with before doing so.

6. Do Tailor Your Formality

Chatting is a modern channel and as such, many chat users are experienced in writing colloquially. This being the case, tailor your conversation in such a way to match your recipient.

7. Do Assume Positive Intent

Interesting fact: The human mind is wired to interpret all ambiguity as negative. As stated above, it is easy to misinterpret or not fully understand the tone of a chat message. The lack of tone and what communication implies increases the chances of ambiguity, and consequently, our minds tend to wander towards the worst possible scenario. When receiving a chat, to prevent any serious discomfort, opt for the positive interpretation.

8. Don’t Stress the Typos

Chatting is about speed, so don’t stress about the typos. One can always send the follow up *correction if necessary. Which oftentimes, it is not. Your chatting partner understands.

Text Messaging

1. Do Verify Whom You Are Sending To

We have also all seen the tragic scenario where we send a text message to the very person we are talking about in our text message. More often than not, admittedly, we aren’t always praising their best attributes, and the notion of sending them the text message inadvertently is heart-wrenching.

2. Don’t Use Text Slang Unless You Know What It Means

If you aren’t exactly sure of what a text slang means, to avoid serious miscommunication mishaps, do not use a text slang.

3. Do Consider Your Recipients for Mass Text

While your few casual dates may have gone well, don’t include them in mass text messages. It can get awkward for you fast.

4. Don’t Text Let Me Get Back to You

Don’t text let me get back to you if you have no intention of getting back to the person within 24 hours. Instead, decline on the spot rather than keeping your recipient wondering. You always have the liberty to change your mind and confirm later.

5. Do Double check your Text

We’ve all seen the tragic auto-correct mishaps that could have been otherwise easily avoided.

6. Don’t Walk and Text

This is for obvious reasons, you may hurt yourself or others. Instead, step aside, out of harm’s way!

7. Do Call Your Friend Instead of Texting

If you are going back and forth with a friend, both being indecisive about plans, it is a better idea to call them instead.

8. Don’t Text and Drive

This one is huge. It is pretty self-explanatory, however, it is most definitely a worthwhile mention. Do not text and drive. Similarly, do not text someone whom you know is driving. You do not want to be responsible for any mishaps.

9. Do Avoid Heavy Topics

Avoid topics such as illness or death. These conversations require emotion and delicacy and better left for in person. They are too fragile to risk any misunderstandings.

Forums

1. Do Check Previous Threads for Your Question

Before posting your question on any forum thread or discussion board, it is common courtesy to check if your question has already been asked and received replies. Just as in a real-life scenario where you wouldn’t necessarily repeat a topic for discussion right after it has just taken place, the same concept applies in a forum.

2. Don’t Type in All Caps

Just as in all forms of online communication covered thus far (email, chat, and text), forums are no exception. If you don’t want to look like you are yelling, avoid using all caps.

3. Do Stay on Topic

Just as you would in a real-life conversation, refrain from contributing irrelevant information such as posting irrelevant links, images, thoughts, or commentary.

4. Don’t Write Anything That Sounds Angry

As we’ve covered in previous online forms of communication, refrain from writing anything that sounds angry, or can be misrepresented as anger. Even if the commentary is meant as a joke or sarcasm, the lack of implication and tone may leave some not realizing it was meant as such.

5. Do Remember Your Please and Thank Yous

Remember when you first learned this in grade school? Let’s continue the trend on online forums. Always remember to thank the online forum community for their questions, input, and replies.

6. Don’t Reply Unless Certain

Remember that your replies will permanently stay on the site forum. As scary as this is, ensure your answer is accurate. Many a person will eventually navigate to the website in search of your reply and feedback. Let’s be courteous by providing accurate information!

7. Do Respect Others

Remember in grade school when we learned about respecting others? Again, this applies to online forums and threads as well. Respect the opinions and commentary of others. Should you feel the need to disagree, by all means, do so respectfully and acknowledge valid points where possible. After all, it is a discussion forum!

8. Don’t be Long-winded

Be brief. Be concise. Get straight to the point. See what we did there? Keep in mind that if you post a dissertation for a response to a simple question, it is highly likely that no one will read through the response in its entirety. Instead, summarize your feedback briefly and effectively.

9. Do Quote Other Threads

If you are expanding or replying to the previous commentary or referring to a previous post, quote a few lines from the post so that others will not have to scroll through the entire thread or have to search for the post you are referring to.

10. Don’t Badmouth Others

Seriously, these are grade school throwbacks! Let’s all play nice. Even if you disagree with other’s ideas, it is okay to do so in a professional manner. You don’t have to mock the person.

11. Do Check the Website FAQs Page

More often than not, websites will provide an FAQ page with questions the administrators feel are the most asked. There is a high probability that your question may be asked and addressed here.

12. Don’t Just Reply

While we are all eager to share our findings, before posting a reply, it is a good idea to double-check recent comments to see if the issue has already been resolved.

13. Do Run a Spelling and Grammar Check

Before posting anything to the discussion board, it is a good idea to run a spelling and grammar check. Remember, your response will remain on the website permanently for all to see.

Social Media and Commenting

Much in the same way we interact with our family, friends, and colleagues, social media too can offer a tight-knit community and if done correctly, allow us to engage and meet new people! If we approach our social media behavior in the same way that we approach our daily lives, we will be golden.

1. Do Share Genuine Content

The easiest way to make new friends and engage with similarly minded people is to post genuine content of yourself and your interests. In the real world, people with like interests will naturally gravitate and spend time with each other. Similar to the real world, in social media platforms, if people or niche demographics enjoy your content, they will more than likely follow or befriend your account. The relationship may evolve to liking your posts and providing commentary as well.

All in all, it behooves you to post genuine content.

2. Don’t Hate

This one is a no-brainer. Approach every individual with respect. If you are not keen on the information being presented on a certain account, simply unbefriended or unfollow the account.

3. Do keep it Friendly

No cursing or swearing on social media. When you think about it, anyone anywhere in the world will have access to your social media account. With this in mind, always present yourself in the best light, this means remembering your grade school manners… no swearing!

4. Don’t Go There

We all have personal opinions. Strong personal opinions. However, avoid posting on controversial topics including politics, religion, and personal attacks. Anything that has the potential to cause embarrassment to others should be avoided. This information should not be placed on the public internet for others to see.

5. Do Make It Worthwhile

Don’t be the ‘that guy’. You know, the one that tweets about taking naps. Make your conversations worthwhile and engaging.

Dating Apps

As you’ve experienced dating can be an emotional rollercoaster. As such, there is no need to add even more baggage. If online dating is done properly, it can lead to several satisfying dates, and even a life-long commitment (yikes). If everyone just follows the proper dating apps netiquette, you can spare yourself an awkward date sitting across a total stranger. Remember, you don’t always have to swipe right.

1. Do keep it Genuine

So you’ve managed to spark a conversation with the object of your affections. What next? Firstly, keep everything genuine. Rule number one. If you mean something “your eyes are beautiful” or “your smile is as irresistible as candy” then say it. However, don’t muster up false compliments as this will come across as in-genuine and may sabotage your would-be relationship before it even starts.

Standford University study indicates that most lies, no matter how big or small, derive from the need to present ourselves in ways we think the other person will deem as worthy, and consequently, more dateable. Given an example, if a match states they are into fitness and nutrition, the person may lie about the number of times they frequent the gym in a week, or how clean their eating habits are.

2. Don’t Catfish

This goes with rule number one of keeping it genuine. Use an actual photograph of yourself, no false identities, or heavily altered images of yourself in profile pics. Studies indicate that men are more likely to lie about their professions, while women will use heavily altered images or older images of themselves.

3. Do Speak and Write Intelligently

While it is sometimes (very) tempting to use emoji instead of actual sentences, remember that the goal is you want sparks to fly with the object of your affection. As such, refrain from giving off the impression that your vocabulary span is that of a grade-schooler.

Begin opening messages and conversation starters with at least one sentence or two, ideally containing a question the person can respond to.

4. Don’t Play Games

Those silly games of reading a message, then waiting to reply to your beloved will not fly on dating apps. The pool is too wide and deep, filled with plenty of fish (hehe). Besides, playing such games so as to not appear desperate so early on in the flirting stage is setting a toxic precedent for the soon to be relationship. Just don’t do it. The best rule of thumb is to match the response times as you would a friend when you time and an answer.

5. Do Have a Well-Rehearsed Exit Strategy

If your dating app worked well, sparks flew, and you now have a date with the object of your affections, kudos to you. But what if the person you are now having drinks with is a total stranger than the person you’ve met online, and sparks do not fly? This happens more often than not, however, not to worry. Hopefully, you have an exit strategy prepared.

Rule number one, be polite in saying goodbye. Rule number two, while tempting, do not tell a far-fetched lie. Something simple along the lines of “Well this was great, but I have got to get going” will do the trick. Rule number three, do not dine and dash! Pay for your drink or meal, then bounce.

6. Don’t Social Media Stalker

What may start as innocent browsing through someone’s Instagram feed, may turn into a three-hour in-depth deep media crash dive. Refrain from going down this rabbit hole. While it is acceptable to do a little browsing before your date to get a feel for their personality and common interests, keep your searching to a minimum.

This will do several things, spare you from having to fake-react to something you found out via social media, and more importantly, you will get to meet and come to know the real person in front of you, versus a fabricated image you conjured up via their Instagram feed.

When Someone is Not Playing Nice

Sadly, there are those who exist and are using and abusing social media outlets to spread hate, and even worse, endanger the safety of others. We’ve all heard the horror stories of fake social media accounts luring unsuspecting victims.

Luckily, every major social media platform has made it relatively easy to report a false profile, or report any posts that violate user agreements. User agreements usually encompass protecting users from hate speech and sexually explicit content. If you come across anything negative along these lines, it never hurts to report a profile or post.

Psychological Ramifications

What may start as a joke may turn into a serious thing. Self-esteem, reputation, and psychological ramifications are almost always incurred when someone falls victim to cyberbullying. The psychological ramifications of cyberbullying have also made headlines in the recent past.

Cyberbullying can lead to emotional distress, anger, frustration, sadness, and isolation and withdrawal. Often, the degree of offline influence incurred by cyberbullying is proportionally related to the amount of cyberbullying being done. In other words, the more online bullying, the higher the symptoms of depression will be exhibited.

Some victims of cyberbullying may turn to outlets such as smoking and/or heavy drinking. They are also susceptible to taking less interest in school or engage in productive behaviors. This stress can often lead to skipping school, decreased grades and productivity.

If you suspect someone as being cyberbullied, getting help for them before the problem worsens is key. Being there for support will also go a long way.

Legal Ramification of Cyberbullies and Stalkers

Oftentimes, the person who is commuting the cyberbullying may be engaged in defamation, or causing harm to the person’s reputation by spreading false information about another person.

The cyberbully may also be creating an unsafe environment by making the target feel that they cannot go to school or work without facing violence or harassment. Under criminal law, harassment falls under the Criminal Code. Defamation also falls under the Criminal Code.

The ramifications of cyberbullying, in America include imprisonment and fines for up to two years, and in Canada, for up to five years. Ramifications also include the removal of all devices used to share the hurtful images and posts (laptop, smartphone, and computer), and the cost of the removal of all images and posts. In the UK we have seen cases where 18-year-old teens have been arrested for cyberbullying.

The good news is that judges now have the power to order the removal of intimate images and posts that were made against or without the consent of the victim.

Often, cyberbullying offenders will remark that threats that were made were not serious, or that it was a joke. To avoid any possible scenarios, and often the sure way to prevent anything from escalating out of proportion, is to encourage and foster an atmosphere of positivity and promote healthy relationships.

Let’s Start Chatting!

One of the things to keep in mind is that when it comes to netiquette, we must exercise forgiveness. We can kindly point out the mistakes our friends are making whilst chatting, and in doing so, slowly but surely teach them the ways.

Across all of the platforms, we have examined, certain key concepts and unspoken rules persist. It is always essential to come across as knowledgeable and considerate, and that means making use of spell and grammar check tools.

Another commonality is that the use of all caps is unacceptable unless you desire to come across as yelling of course. Keeping your audience in mind while chatting and messaging is also crucial, which will help dictate if it is appropriate to use internet slang and acronyms.

A universal rule when it comes to online communication is to not send any emails or make posts of any kind while experiencing anger. Chances are, if you give it a few hours, you will not feel the same in the morning, doctor’s orders.

If we approach all of our 21st-century communication platforms as we would in our everyday life, we will get along just fine. Most often than not, keeping the commandments we learned in our grade school years will serve us greatly in our online communication endeavors!

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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