'Netiquette' - new technologies, same old magic words

We live in fast changing times, with new forms of communication and new social media platforms being developed at an alarming rate. How are we meant to know what is and isn’t acceptable?

Years ago a friend gave me a copy of Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners as a joke. At least I hope it was a joke. It was one of the old editions with advice on how to behave in situations such as informing a previous spouse about the intention to remarry, and which size and weight of paper one should use for replying to formal invitations.

While some of its contents appears dreadfully outmoded in 2016, the concept of a generally accepted code of social conduct is still helpful and relevant. A recent survey of 1,000 adults had 87% responding that good manners are extremely important to them, and quite right too!

Yet we live in fast changing times, with new forms of communication and new social media platforms being developed at an alarming rate. How are we meant to know what is and isn’t acceptable?


The Debrett’s website does touch on ‘Netiquette’, albeit it in perfunctory fashion. Their advice is solid though:

The trend for social networking via websites has made new demands on traditional etiquette. Play it safe, and always employ your usual good manners when online, treating others with kindness and respect.

It’s really just a question of applying the good manners you already have to new situations.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. Emily Post

Magic Words

There is a reason please and thank you are known as ‘magic words’ - they contain untold power. Used well and often they endear, neglected they can very quickly alienate, and that is something hard to remedy when it comes to your social audience.

One of the bands I work with is commendably diligent on this point. If they happen to get a kindly mention, or a radio play of one of their tracks, and receive a notification to that effect, there usually ensues quasi panic until one of them can connect to the internet and post the appropriate message of thanks and appreciation. It speaks well of them as people and bodes well for a long a fruitful career.

  • Always acknowledge someone else’s efforts by @ing them or tagging them (or whichever other system might apply).
  • If appropriate, introduce yourself if you haven’t had contact before. Obviously this is less relevant on sites like Twitter and Instagram.
  • If someone does you a kind turn on social media, acknowledge it, and perhaps ask if there is a way you can repay the favour
  • Thank people for following. It’s polite...and, if you do it properly, it will reach their audience and alert them to the fact that you are worthy of following.
  • Thank people for their support if they spread your message in some capacity - surely you’d do this in a real life situation. Why should social media be any different.
  • Even if you are generously sharing someone else’s message and asking your own social audience to engage, be polite about it - eg. ‘Please take a moment to check out X’ is probably more compelling than ‘Like this dude’s page people! Just do it!’

There are countless other situations where manners will be essential in social media interaction, but use your real life experience as a guide and let common sense prevail.

There are lots of sound business reasons for having manners but, mostly, be polite because it's the right thing to do (and will make your mother proud). 

Remember though, just because you're getting your 'netiquette' right, that doesn't entitle you to pass judgement on other people's:

The test of good manners is to be patient with the bad onesSolomon Ibn Gabirol

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