Etiquette Rules For The Online World

By: Lesly Bailey Last Updated: August 28, 2011

etiquetteIn the real world, the standards of manners are clear: say “thank you,” share, wait your turn, and hold the door or the elevator. These are just some of the rules instilled in us since childhood.

Now, with so many of our interactions in the virtual world, what are some key principles of politeness that entrepreneurs should follow?

Theresa Valade, CEO of Success Trek, which offers services from executive coaching to team development, pinpoints email response time as one area of etiquette.

“Small business owners are insanely busy and pulled in so many different ways. I can completely understand why answering emails falls to the bottom of the list,” she said. “But the reality is, in today’s world we have to accept that email is as important to many people as a face-to-face conversation would be.

“If someone was in front of you and asked you a question, you’d never wait three days to answer it. Why is it somehow ‘okay’ to take three days when they ask it over email?”

She emphasizes organization and work flow to stay on top of emails and other day-to-day responsibilities. She suggests starting with goals, then outlining criteria that determines levels of importance and finally, prioritizing and letting the rest go.

“If you don’t have an effective organizational system (one that you’ll actually use), you’ll get overwhelmed by 10 things as easily as 100,” she said.

When it comes to email, she recommends “high priority items require a response anywhere from a few minutes to ½ hour. Medium priority can be the ‘end of the day’ catch-up emails. Low priority can be a day, but I wouldn’t recommend going beyond two days – no matter who the email is from. That’s just not good etiquette.”

On social media channels, Kathy Sipple of My Social Media Coach, reminds users to follow a site’s rules of engagement.

“Facebook is like a backyard barbecue. You may be able to hand out business cards, but you are there to talk about social stuff,” Sipple said. “LinkedIn is the opposite. It is like a 24-hour trade show for a Chamber of Commerce. This is not the audience for family pictures.”

She suggests determining a Facebook strategy and sticking with it. If you want to keep it strictly personal and you get a friend request from a professional contact, let them know you would rather connect on LinkedIn.

For Facebook business pages, remember who your audience is and tailor content from there, she said.

“If you are a computer consultant, offer tips on new upgrades or backing up data.”

On LinkedIn, Sipple feels the default language when seeking a connection is not the best strategy.

“It’s good etiquette to remind a person why you should be friends or connections,” she said.

The bad etiquette she sees on social media platforms is when there is no interaction and a business owner is just about promotion.

“Social means social and not your own personal TV station,” she said. “Most of us are opening up a two-way communication channel. If you don’t see the value, don’t do it.”

Experts’ Top Tips

Social Media Strategies

Make sure your brand is consistent across all platforms. Use a logo that shows well in a square space. Upload a professional photo of yourself for your LinkedIn profile. Have someone you know review your social media copy and presentation. How well are you giving people contact info? Don’t make people work to have to call you. Take the work out. Use your email signature and business cards as opportunities to showcase your social media involvement. Be responsive. Don’t create a profile and only check it once a week or month. People follow you because they want information right now. Be transparent. Whether than taking down comments, it’s much better to give candid, truthful answers publicly than it is to delete comments.

- Kathy Sipple of My Social Media Coach

Email Etiquette

Remember that whatever you email instantly produces a written record. Never, ever send an email when you’re angry. If you’re not comfortable saying something to someone face-to-face, then don’t send it in an email.

If you get an email and you’re confused as to the sender’s tone or response, pick up the phone. Have a business account and a personal account and don’t mix the two.
- Success Trek CEO Theresa Valade

Lesly Bailey is a freelance writer and marketing consultant for the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, an organization with the mission of having a positive and measurable impact on the formation, growth, and sustainability of small businesses in Indiana, and to develop a strong entrepreneurial community. Lesly can be reached at