Digital Etiquette For Dummies
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As you go about your day and navigate the world with virtual meetings and cellphone calls — and deciding whether to respond to your aunt's latest post on your social media — it’s important to know the best way to connect, meet, respond, call, post, chat, and more.

Before you pick up your phone in a movie theater, respond to a chat message that has a tone you don't like, or send an email to your boss, see this Cheat Sheet for some tips and reminders designed to ensure that you're coming across in the way you intend — in the best light possible.

The fivefold path to digital enlightenment

Okay, it might not lead to enlightenment, but they’re still good rules to follow:

  • Know the goal of your communication. Understand why you’re chatting, meeting, posting, or talking. Communicate with intention and purpose, whether personally or professionally. If you need someone to take an action or if you’re just telling your favorite joke, you nearly always have an anticipated outcome.
  • Match the communication vehicle to your audience. To help you draw the response you want, it’s best to communicate with your audience how they want to be communicated with! You know whether your manager prefers phone calls to texts, your friends use a messaging app over text, or your coworkers are busy and prefer emails over meetings. It’s much better to understand how each one wants to be communicated with, if you want to attract the response you’re looking for.
  • Follow society’s larger norms, behaviors, and guidelines. Paying attention to the culture of each digital platform you’re using for communication helps improve your success. Consider how to be respectful in your online communication, and follow the accepted behaviors (and guidelines) of society, the platform, and your employer (if you’re in a professional setting).
  • If you’re in doubt, don’t do it. Unlike in your day-to-day life, digital platforms leave a history that lives on, long after it happened. This means that if you’re in doubt about making a questionable post on social media, responding to a post or an email, or oversharing in a group, don’t do it. At the very least, take a break and step away from the digital device so that you can regroup and come back to it later.
  • Understand the laws that affect your communication. The days of the wild west on the Internet are long gone, and plenty of laws are on now the books that govern how you can communicate on the web.
    • For example, the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States governs how your business connects with people on the web to promote your products and/or services. Some US states, like California, have additional laws on the books you should know. Other countries and regions have their own laws, too, such as the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union.
    • Oh, and don’t forget that social media websites have their own rules for behavior on their platforms. You may want to look in the Help pages of those sites so that you don’t suddenly find yourself banned — and gobsmacked.

The ten golden rules of digital etiquette

Here are the ten golden rules of digital etiquette:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Remember that a person is on the other side of the screen.
  3. Know the culture of the digital platform you’re using.
  4. Match the communication platform to your audience and goals.
  5. Assume the best intentions from the person who sent the text, message, or email.
  6. People have different styles of communication, so learning the styles of the people you’re communicating with can help you achieve the outcome you want.
  7. Never click the Reply All button unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  8. Digital posts can last forever and are never truly private, so consider how you want to be perceived today as well as in the future.
  9. Protect yourself. From digital privacy to the federal communication and copyright laws, you should be familiar with the laws and regulations.
  10. If you’re a business, have established guidelines, protocols, escalation processes, and more to ensure that your employees know where and how to communicate and what they can do to best represent your brand.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Sonmez is a software developer and the author of two best-selling books, The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide and Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual. He is also the founder of the Simple Programmer blog and YouTube channel. Eric Butow is the owner of Butow Communications Group (BCG), which offers website design, online marketing, and technical documentation services for businesses. He is the author of 32 computer and user experience books. Kendra Losee is a social media marketing consultant and an instructor of social media business at San Diego State University. Kelly Noble Mirabella is a social media and chat marketing consultant and YouTube content creator.

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