After studying this unit, you will be able to discuss emerging netiquette standards in social media used for professional purposes.
We create and curate personal profiles, post content and comments, and interact via social media as a normal part of both our personal and professional lives. How we conduct ourselves on the open internet can leave a lasting impression, one not so easily undone if it’s regrettable. The hilarious but compromising selfie you posted on Instagram five years ago is still there for your potential employer to find, judge for what it says about your professionalism, and speculate about what customers might think if they saw it too. That sarcastic but not-so-PC reply to a public post on Facebook or Twitter in a heated moment a decade ago can come back to haunt you. We’re all learning as we go in this new media environment, but any mistakes we make along the way, no matter how much we’ve matured since, are still there for all to see and can have lasting impacts on our careers. Many candidates for political office have been taken down by their past social-media posts and the agents tasked with digging them up  and you can be sure that untold numbers of job applicants have similarly scuppered their chances with similar cavalier shares. Some guidance about what can be done about those mistakes, as well as how to conduct ourselves properly moving forward, can help improve your employability 
Virginia Shea’s Rules of Netiquette offer helpful guidelines for online behaviour:
- Remember the human on the other side of the electronic communication.
- Adhere to the same standards of behaviour online that you follow in real life.
- Know where you are in cyberspace.
- Respect other people’s time and bandwidth.
- Make yourself look good online.
- Share expert knowledge.
- Keep flame wars under control.
- Respect other people’s privacy.
- Don’t abuse your power.
- Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes (Shea, 1994).
Her rules speak for themselves and remind us that the golden rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) is relevant wherever there is human interaction.
Your writing in a business context means that you represent yourself and your company. What you write and how you write it can be part of your company’s success but can also expose it to unintended consequences and legal responsibility. When you write, keep in mind that your words will keep on existing long after you have moved on to other projects. They can become an issue if they exaggerate, state false claims, or defame a person or legal entity such as a competing company. Another issue is plagiarism, using someone else’s writing without giving credit to the source. Whether the “cribbed” material is taken from a printed book, a website, or a blog the reproduction is plagiarism. Plagiarism can create both legal and professional difficulties for you. The owner of the content may initiate a copyright claim and the act of plagiarizing will be viewed as unprofessional and may violate formal company policies. In addition, industry standards often have legal aspects that must be respected and cannot be ignored. For the writer, this can be a challenge, but it can be a fun challenge with rewarding results.
The rapid pace of technology means that the law cannot always stay current with the realities of business communication. Computers had been in use for a couple of decades before the Copyright Act of 1985 was amended in 1997 to deal with internet-enabled copyright infringement. Technology advanced even further before the next major amendment came with the Copyright Modernization Act of 2012. Developments since then will continue to demand new laws to clarify what is fair and ethical, what should be prohibited, and who owns the rights to what.
For example, suppose your supervisor asks you to use your Facebook page or Twitter account to give an occasional “plug” to your company’s products. Are you obligated to comply? If you later change jobs, who owns your posts or tweets—are they yours, or does your now-former employer have a right to them? And what about your network of “friends”? Can your employer use their contact information to send marketing messages? These and many other questions remain to be answered as technology, industry practices, and legislation evolve (Tahmincioglu, 2009).
Our product is better than X company’s product. Their product is dangerous and you would be a wise customer to choose us for your product solutions.
What’s wrong with the two sentences above? They may land you and your company in court. You made a generalized claim of one product being better than another, and you stated it as if it were a fact. The next sentence claims that your competitor’s product is dangerous. Even if this is true, your ability to prove your claim beyond a reasonable doubt may be limited. Your claim is stated as fact again, and from the other company’s perspective, your sentences may be considered libel or defamation.
Libel is the written form of defamation or a false statement that damages a reputation. If a false statement of fact that concerns and harms the person defamed is published—including publication in a digital or online environment—the author of that statement may be sued for libel. If the person defamed is a public figure, they must prove malice or the intention to do harm, but if the victim is a private person, libel applies even if the offense cannot be proven to be malicious. You have a Charter right to express your opinion (section 2[b]), but the words you use and how you use them, including the context, are relevant to their interpretation as opinion versus fact. Always be careful to qualify what you write and to do no harm.
Review sites, blogs, tweets, and online community forums are some of the continually developing means of social media being harnessed by business and industry to reach customers and other stakeholders. People’s comfort in the online environment forces businesses to market and interact there or risk a massive loss in sales and interest. Though most users learn how to use social media as an extension or facilitator of their social lives, using the same platforms for professional reasons requires some change in behaviour.
First, recognize that every modern business or organization should have a social media presence in the sites they expect their customer base to frequent, especially popular sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Messaging here must be consistent across the platforms when alerting the customer base of important information such as special events, deals, and other news.
Next, follow expert advice on how to properly take advantage of social media in detail to promote your operation and reach people. Large companies will dedicate personnel to run their social media presence, but small businesses can do much of it themselves if they follow some decent online advice such as the following:
- The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Use Facebook for Business [Infographic]
- The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Small Business in 2017
- How to Use Instagram for Business: A Complete Guide for Marketers
Know also that social media is a constantly evolving environment. Stay on trend by continually searching out and implementing the latest advice similar to the above.
Finally, always consider how the sites you access and what you post represent you and your employer, even if you think others don’t know where you work or who you are. Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to archive information concerning the use and traffic of information that can become available under subpoena. Any move you make leaves digital footprints, so you will have to answer for any misstep that brings shame upon you or your company
Whether in the public or private corners of the internet, conduct yourself online in a manner that is always conducive to your professional success, following established netiquette principles, as well as using social media effectively and responsibly.
1. Recount how you have experienced a breach of netiquette such as online bullying. Were you a perpetrator, enabler, victim, or combination? What did you learn from it?
2. Identify and explain three ways that you can professionalize your online presence using social media.
Additional content from Business Communication for Success.
Dawley, S. (2018, January 30). How to use Instagram for business: A complete guide for marketers. Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-instagram-for-business/
Harris, K. (2015, September 17). How political operatives dig up dirt to take down candidates. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-vetting-candidates-media-1.3229594
Jackson, D. (2016, December 20). The ultimate guide to Twitter for small business in 2017. Retrieved from https://sproutsocial.com/insights/twitter-for-small-business/
Mineo, G. (2017, September 19). The do’s and don’ts of how to use Facebook for business [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/dos-donts-facebook-business-infographic
Tahmincioglu, E. (2009, October 11). Your boss wants you on Twitter: Companies recognizing the value of having workers promote products. MSNBC Careers. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33090717/ns/business-careers