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Do's and Don't's of Online Etiquette

Digital etiquette also known as netiquette is about engaging online in the variety of forms that we do in a way that is kind, humane, and generous. The point being that today your online presence professional and personal follows you into your everyday life and is more easily accessible than what you may choose to share in real life (IRL).

In the course of researching the topic for this article, I consistently came across the Ten Core Rules of Netiquette consistently. This was not what I was looking for, most of you have been online for years, you get how to comment, how to text, not to use caps, to spell check, etc. Some of that is still worth mentioning, but I wanted to cover a few of the less obvious do's and don'ts, that are perhaps more cultural. Standards of use differ by culture, including how formal messaging is, when that changes, and the use of emojis (you probably already know that ;) ). Nearly all sites that talk about digital etiquette talk about basics and are at least 3-4 years old! That's too long in a digital age that changes every quarter!

So instead, I went hunting for the things that matter to you. I've split up the thoughts into social media engagement and Other, this includes some of the basics on e-mail, blogs, etc, but might be a good reminder for those returning from a space where access might be more limited.


1. Keep your professional and personal accounts separate! Nextpat has its own instagram account, where as I have my own personal instagram account, separate from Nextpat. Similarly, Nextpat has its own Facebook page, and I have mine (Nextpat's is way more active!). The reasons for this are pretty obvious, including how you use the two accounts, and to what end.

2. On the same stream of thought - you don't have to be on every single site. We are not on Twitter, Snapchat, or even on LinkedIn. Many people are moving away from Facebook because it doesn't have the same level of following and the obvious privacy issues. When Nextpat chose to join Facebook it was because we knew that many people who are traveling the world still use it as a means of communication and contact, so it made sense for us. We also chose to not overextend ourselves due to the number of platforms and limited staff bandwidth. Social media takes time to do properly - choose what fits for your needs and your time. A key consideration might be where are the rest of your friends/family/contacts that you want to maintain communication with. I have tried mightily to get my family off of Whatsapp, to no avail - so I remain on the platform despite my misgivings with it.

3. Be careful with Direct Messaging. DON'T DM someone you have never met in any non-professional way. My boyfriend's sister started following me on Insta, I DM'd her and was accused of being too aggressive since I had not yet met her - err on the side of caution. DO engage with people that interest you - but treat DM like an e-mail or letter initially.

4. Be Mindful in your Comments: DON'T flame - start controversial conversations just because you can't be seen. If you wouldn't say it in real life don't say it online. If you would only say it around people whom you could see to understand their reactions and calibrate, don't say it online. Remember also that communication online loses significant context, you could cause chaos even without intending to. DO be respectful, encouraging, and value add.

5. Likes mean Different Things to Different People. There is a generational shift here - for Millenials and Gen Zers a "Like" is an acknowledgement of the individual posting, it does not mean they like the content or even care about it. Take for example the pictures from NatGeo that document killing or poaching of animals. These are done for educational purposes and get thousands of likes - do all those people, followers of NatGeo, like the animals being killed? It seems unlikely. If you are engaging with someone who perceives it this way you may get called out irl if you do not like their posts.

6. Be Authentic. If you are not friends with someone, you do not have to approve their friendship with you. You do need to curate what you post, if for no other reason than its longevity, but you do not have to have a perfect life - if you did...well, it would be boring. (note the ellipsis, another common use is messaging, where it is used to continue the conversation.) And you've moved, which is intense, so we already know those boxes are less than perfect :) Memes are a great way to be both authentic without being vitriolic - laugh where you can!

7. Posting and Tagging: Many sites allow users to approve/reject when they are tagged in a photo or post, while this is helpful, it remains a best practice to ask the person in advance if they are okay with being tagged in the photo you are posting. People are at different points in their journey and may not want a specific image tagged due to whatever is going on in their life, it is polite to respect that. Similarly, if you are a blogger or re-posting, link back to the original creator to give credit to the original poster (OP). For a particularly interesting story on this as it impacts influencers, check out this story. Regrettably, spontaneous boycotts aren't terribly effective, it turns out - still attribution is basic, you learned this at school, it's just ethical to give people credit for their work, on the flip side it's illegal not to.


In addition to the things above, regarding social media best practices, a few reminders.

1. When using "acronyms" be sure the other party knows what you are talking about - how often is there a generational gap between what you are trying to convey and what is being heard by the other party. If they aren't understanding what you are writing, you aren't communicating. You do not have to write in full sentences with complete grammar, but it might be worth considering in the right circumstances - work, with a professor, professional contact, etc.

2. Respond in kind, on time, and don't text late at night - outside of calling hours unless it's an emergency. Also, if you are texted, text back, don't call. And as we mentioned last time, no driving and texting. For more Texting Rules check out the 18 Unwritten Texting Rules on Lifehack.

3. Punctuation - ironically enough punctuation comes down to code-switching, you have to know your audience, the format in which you are engaging electronically, and what your punctuation signifies. Also, know how you are being received, I have received texts from someone that included a period, apparently they always did that, but when I was in a foul mood I perceived those as angry or hostile. It can also come across as insincere, whereas non-traditional punctuation and grammar, more informal, can allow you to be part of an in-group. See these other thoughts on punctuation.

4. Emojis - I barely understand emojis and didn't even use them instead of emoticons till pretty recently. Emojis are fraught with meaning and can help soften what you are saying in some circumstances. Unfortunately, they can also confuse or be misinterpreted. General rules of thumb:

--Do not use an emoji too early in a relationship - unless it is a test for you to understand the other person (this seems most relevant to the Gen Z group)

--Be sure you understand the emoji's potential connotations

--Know your audience - when in doubt let the other person lead

--In a professional situation, avoid emojis until the person with greater seniority uses them

--Different colors mean different things, be sure to understand what you are texting - and go for the less intense earlier.

5. Don't write in all caps. Unless you intend to yell, this can be a bit intense to receive. On the other hand, it can also express surprise, with the right number of exclamation points (see point 3 above).

6. Laughing - Potentially the place that you most saw changes in a cross-cultural context, but also the one that is so diverse you can convey much meaning. Just a reminder the sender's age, gender, and history might dictate how they use laughter in chat. Here are some things to consider.

ha - not funny

haha - funny enough, acknowledgement of a joke

HAHA - likely funny

hahaha - genuinely funny

lol - used colloquially to again acknowledge a comment that has mild humor

bwahaha - evil laugh, conspiratorial

hehe - a giggle, amused but not laughing

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