New Digital Communications Etiquette Manual a Must-Read for the Upwardly Mobile

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Did you offend a member of your professional "twibe" when you meant to tweet your sweet?


A "twibe" on Twitter, for the uninitiated, is a group of Twitter users interested in a common topic.


Next week is National Business Etiquette Week, and one staffing firm is marking the occasion by issuing a handy little pamphlet—Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age—revealing the dos and don'ts of social networking. All who already know the rules please stop reading now.


The larger share of you, of course, are thinking to yourselves, "But I don't care, and I never will care, about social networking etiquette. I still don't know how to tweet, much less do it with class." Quick—check your age. Are you 65? I'm sorry, but the world is changing—with or without your permission.


I think most of us would agree that good manners are important, and etiquette is nothing more than the articulation of good manners through a code of behavior reflecting today's conventions. That many of us are unfamiliar with that code is not a reflection so much of its value or lack of it but of our being unfamiliar with circumstances where such a code could help us cope.


As a nation, we couldn't have helped but feel embarrassment last week at the President's gaffe while toasting Queen Elizabeth prior to a state dinner in England as the resident orchestra launched "God Save the Queen" too early and, it turns out, in the middle of President Obama's toast. What a smirk the Queen gave our poor President, who seemed to be the only one who didn't know that silence was called for. For those who haven't seen the episode, click on ABC News. We would expect such behavior from George Bush. After all, he was from Texas, and them boys just don't give a dang. But when you're really trying, it's tough when you flub it.


The comment by one viewer of the incident after reading Jeff Schreiber's column in America's Right describing it was priceless. nana3, apparently a connoisseur of American comedies, writes, "It reminded me of a skit with Leslie Nielsen and The Queen from some movie…it was hilarious…so at least Obama didn't spill the wine down The Queen's dress and then reach to blot it off her bust causing her to jump up hitting Obama in the face with her crown and pulling the table cloth off throwing food and wine in all the guests' laps causing Prince Philip to actually open his mouth to protest 'What the bloody hell is going on?' all the while the orchestra plays 'God Save The Queen'…see, it could have been worse!"


Indeed, it could have been much worse. But the point is that knowing the proper etiquette in certain situations may have far-reaching ramifications, as may not knowing what to do and say. In business, such knowledge can be the difference between securing a high-paying position and being passed over for it. Unemployment is still at historic levels, and employers today are extremely picky. It's obvious that what appears on your Facebook or LinkedIn page can affect your employment either negatively, or, as the etiquette pamphlet explains, positively.


Robert Half International is one of the world's largest specialized staffing firms. It was so concerned about its clients' images online that the company decided to write a manual addressing online etiquette. The booklet draws upon the work of no fewer than six social networking experts, including Janet Aronica, community manager of oneforty inc.; Laura Fitton, CEO and founder of oneforty inc. and co-author of Twitter for Dummies; Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions; Tonia Ries, CEO and founder of Modern Media and founder of TWTRCON; Tim Sanders, CEO of Deeper Media and author of The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L Factor and Achieve Your Life's Dreams; and Clara Shih, CEO and founder of Hearsay and author of The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff. The information and tips in the pamphlet are based on surveys of executives, independent research, input from social media and etiquette experts such as those above, and Robert Half's experience working with job candidates and clients throughout North America.


The manual justifies its presence in your Kindle by noting that most of us have mastered traditional business etiquette by reaching for the right fork during a professional dinner while at the same time engaging in animated conversation with our dinner companions. "But at a time in which more business discussions take place via LinkedIn, Twitter or email than over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, it's just as important—if not more so—to know how to present yourself professionally using digital tools. Given the newness of social media and other communications vehicles, it's easy to say or do the wrong thing."


Among ideas in the manual for managing your social networking strategies to support your career are five questions it says you should consider:


  1. What is your primary goal?
  2. Which sites do the people you want to connect with use?
  3. What is your strategy?
  4. What can you offer that is different from others?
  5. How will you monitor your progress?


The manual discusses each one, so for the last one, for instance, it says not to get fixated on numbers of followers. "There are many ways to get more followers, but those large follower or friend numbers don't necessarily mean you're getting more from your network," it says. "Instead, focus on the value of the new relationships you're developing. You'll see a much higher return if you focus on quality instead of quantity."


That advice was music to my ears as the list of followers I have on Facebook and LinkedIn is a bit anemic. Nevertheless, I still can't help but be impressed by those "friends" who really work at it and have hundreds, if not thousands, of followers.


The one social networking question I've wondered about routinely—since I often get requests to link to or be friends with a menagerie of individuals I've never met—is, "What is the right way to decline a request to connect with someone?" The etiquette manual answers that with, "No response might be your best bet. Don't feel pressured to connect with someone you would rather not form a relationship with, and don't feel the need to explain your decision. Simply click 'Ignore.' "


That bit of advice was worth downloading and reading the entire manual, which you can do here for free.