Media Skills: Online Etiquette

This is the first post in a new series in which we will explore a variety of essential skills for using digital, social, and visual media. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

Digital media seem to be a breeding ground for poor etiquette that can harm companies and careers. Whenever you represent your company online, in any medium, you must adhere to a high standard of etiquette and respect for others. Follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid personal attacks. The disconnected feel of online communication can cause even level-headed people to lose their tempers.
  • Stay focused on the original topic. If you want to change the subject of an online conversation, start a new message or thread.
  • Follow basic expectations of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Sending careless, acronym-filled messages undermines your credibility.
  • Use virus protection and keep it up to date. Sending or posting a file that contains a computer virus puts others at risk.
  • Watch your language and keep your emotions under control. A single indiscretion could haunt you forever.
  • Avoid multitasking while using messaging or other tools. You might think you’re saving time by doing a dozen things at once, but you’re probably making the other person wait while you bounce back and forth between tasks.
  • Don’t waste others’ time with sloppy, confusing, or incomplete messages. Doing so is disrespectful.
  • Never assume you have privacy. To be safe, assume that anything you type will be stored forever and that it might be forwarded to other people, analyzed by automated content-analysis tools, and read by your boss or the company’s security staff.
  • Be careful of online commenting mechanisms that aren’t related to work. For example, many blogs and websites let you use your Facebook login to comment on articles. If your Facebook profile includes your job title and company name, those could show up along with your comment.
  • Respect boundaries of time and virtual space. For instance, don’t use colleagues’ or employees’ personal social media accounts as a venue for business discussions, and don’t assume people are available to discuss work matters around the clock, even if you do find them online in the middle of the night.
  • When working from home, approach videoconferencing with the same professionalism you would exhibit in meetings in the office. Reasonable people appreciate the challenges of conducting business from the same location where you live, but do your best to create a business-appropriate background for video calls and to minimize disruptions and distractions.

With so much of business moving online these days, the need for thoughtful, audience-sensitive behavior is greater than ever. Being mindful of positive etiquette will be a definite boost to your career.


Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 63. This topic is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 3, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 2.

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