The netiquette of business

WHAT is the right way to behave in social networks and online forums? This is a question that, according to global recruitment consultancy Robert Half International, many business professionals are struggling with.

“Given the newness of social media and other communications vehicles, it’s easy to say or do the wrong thing,” the company wrote in a recent report. “Unfortunately, missteps in this area can have lasting consequences – an online mistake can show up next to your name in an Internet search for years to come.”

The report offers a number of tips on “business etiquette for the digital age”. On business-focused social network LinkedIn, for example, it advises readers not to be too personal or too chatty. “Think twice before posting on LinkedIn, and don’t post too often or on trivial subjects,” it says. “Your aim should be to become a trusted authority rather than a social gadfly.”

On Facebook, it counsels professionals to take no for an answer when business contacts turn down friend requests. “There’s no need to bombard the person with repeated requests,” it says. “Try not to take it personally.”

More entertainingly, though, it also provides some choice examples of how not to uphold business etiquette on the web.

One example is the case of the candidate who, having just been offered a job at networking equipment vendor Cisco, proclaimed on Twitter that he would have to weigh up the “utility of a fatty paycheck against… hating the work”.

“Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work,” Cisco replied via the micro messaging service. “We are versed in the web.”

Social media may present new opportunities to blunder, but many executives polled by Robert Half reported gaffes based on good old email.

“An employee sent his resume to me by mistake,” reported one respondent. “It was supposed to go to an outside company.”

“My receptionist sent a very gossipy and catty email about another employee to the wrong person,” revealed another. “It was so unprofessional that she was terminated.”

When asked whether technology etiquette breaches such as sending an email to the wrong recipient or checking one’s BlackBerry during a meeting could impact on a person’s career, 61% of respondents replied “somewhat”, and 15% said “greatly”.

All this proves once again that while technology has the power to enhance human achievement, it also has a knack of amplifying human error.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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