Like any other community, etiquette needs to be observed in the digital realm. It is easy to forget that actual human beings write the words we read on the computer screen. When your virtual team interacts with others online, they should treat them like we would if they were standing in front of them. Keeping the topic and tone respectful will help the community run smoothly.
There is more to etiquette than being polite in conversation. It requires continuing education for your virtual team and the ability to evaluate what is posted online. It is equally important to understand why people behave the way that they do and that everything posted online does not automatically become public domain. Finalizing your team’s education in etiquette will give them the tools to be effective digital citizens.
Respect and Tone
Your virtual team needs to be respectful when communicating online. They should remember that they are talking to a person, not the embodiment of an idea. They may disagree with someone, but rudeness and personal attacks cross the line of respectful dialogue. It may be easier for them to read the words aloud before drafting a response to someone. This will help them understand the writer’s tone.
It is important to note that tone does not easily translate in written text. You cannot hear tone when you cannot hear the speaker. Many digital misunderstandings occur because a joke was taken seriously. You can misinterpret the tone of a text, and someone else can misinterpret the tone of something that you write. Encourage your team to reread everything that they write before posting online. It is also a good idea for them to have someone else look over their correspondence to identify potential misunderstandings before they occur.
Speak Up, Not Out
Your team members are entitled to speak up when the occasion arises; this is much more effective than speaking out. Speaking up is done when there is an issue or problem, and it requires a level head. It is tempting to speak out rather than speak up. When speaking out, logic and clarity go out the window. This occurs when we trash people anonymously. This type of communication is ineffective and only succeeds in escalating the argument.
How to Speak Up:
- Be honest
- Be calm
- Be direct
Topics to Avoid
Your virtual team must always consider the topics that they discuss online very carefully. If they want to create controversy, bring up the topics: politics, religion, and sex. These topics are all guaranteed to polarize their audience and bring on a tidal wave of biased comments. It is best to avoid these topics in the workplace and on their professional networks.
Remember that digital media should be used to build the team’s brand. They should focus on personal and professional growth in their social media posts. Share ideas and discuss changes in the marketplace. Ask for feedback on new products and strategies. When they choose helpful topics, they invite dialogue that is not distracted by hot button topics.
Keep Private Messages Private
Sometimes private messages make their way into very public settings. It is easy to have complete conversations in the comments of a post. Accidentally hitting reply all when addressing a single person is a mistake that many people have made. Public forums, however, are not places to rant or publicize personal issues.
What your team should avoid in public forums:
- Personal problems
If your team members would not discuss something with strangers, they should never put it on a social media network. There is no such thing as privacy when they are online. Your virtual team should keep rants and personal conversations in the ears of their friends.
Technology is ever-changing and evolving. Your virtual team members are likely to see something new every day that they will not recognize. There is no reason for them to be embarrassed by their lack of knowledge. They should simply ask about the new technology or look it up online. There are numerous ways to lookup technology. They can read technology journals, go-to company websites, read books, and look at product reviews online. This type of education needs to occur regularly. To be part of the digital community, your virtual team members must be familiar with the tools necessary to access it.
Your virtual team must exercise critical thinking when they go online. They will read false, misleading, or partially true information. A large percentage of information is not true. Unfortunately, people are quick to believe what they read online. Even journalists and news broadcasters have shared false information because they did not think critically and question what they saw. The key to information processing is to consider the source.
Your team should ask the following questions to determine if the source is reliable:
- Is the information biased?
- Can you verify the information?
- Is the source reputable? (For example, the Mayo clinic)
- Is there a copyright?
- What is the purpose of the information?
Even if your team uses reliable sources, they are only effective if the complete posts are read. Many people only read the title before they comment. This is obvious in the comments, and it highlights the fact that they are not willing to read a few hundred words to be informed before making judgment calls.
The Internet makes people bold because it offers some anonymity. It is possible to interact with strangers and they would not recognize us if we met in the real world. Many experts believe that this type of anonymity is what empowers Internet trolls. People often behave differently online than they do in person. They say things that they normally would not say and become bolder than normal. This boldness can cause problems when it remains unchecked. For some people, however, Internet boldness can be helpful. For example, shy people can often communicate better online than in person. Your virtual team members need to keep a close watch over their boldness. There is a line between confidence and behaving like a troll.