By Debra Fine
In a digital world where you have a platform to share every detail of your
life — photographs, employment information, marital status, who your
friends are, political and religious views — you are completely exposed
to virtual vulnerability.
The younger generation may not care about the implications of their online
actions. However, it's the adult users making social networking mistakes that
can affect their real and computer-generated image long-term. With a single
click of a button on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, you can completely undermine
Here are some simple tips to execute proper digital etiquette and help make
your online persona appropriate and effective.
- Privatize Your Page — Before you even begin posting
personal information on a Webpage, know how to operate your restriction settings.
Social networks offer you options such as who can see your profile page and who
is privy to certain information within your profile. So use the necessary controls
to protect yourself...and your cyber-self.
- Know Your Audience — Is your profile page for personal
or professional use? This can be a tough line to draw. Ideally you would want to
keep two pages — one for personal use and one for business purposes, especially
if you have your own business. There can be overlap though, so think before you
Should you accept or reject a boss, co-worker or client who asks
you to be "friends?" If you feel compelled to add someone who exists in
your professional world to your personal page, limit his or her access to only see
parts of your profile (i.e., let them see your basic background information, but
not pictures of you drinking with your buddies in Las Vegas).
- Post with Prudence and Display with Discretion — As scary
as it might be, people are "googling" you. And, when they do, your social
network profile page is popping up. There are settings to change this, but if you
are okay with making your personal page public, ensure you know exactly what you're
Do you want a potential future employer to know your age? Or a business partner to
know your political stance? Or an ex-boyfriend to know you're pregnant? You'd be
surprised how much people can find out about you based on what you or others have
posted. Avoid over-sharing and controversial content to preserve your online social
- Delete, Delete, Delete — Don't be afraid to delete comments
or pictures your "friends" post on your page. As an online citizen, you need
to know how to do this and not be afraid to do it. Revealing photos, tales of wild
exploits on your "wall" and less than tasteful comments can lead to a digital
disaster, so delete them!
- Don't Drink and Friend — Well, let's hope you're not sitting
at home, or even worse, your office, downing a bottle of wine and scoping out potential
cyber friends, but as a reminder, don't go around recklessly "friending"
folks. Before you run off sending friend requests to your junior-high crush or Brad
Pitt, consider if you really care about being "friends" with this person.
And furthermore, could you handle the rejection factor that may follow if they don't
accept your request? Social networks can be a great tool to re-connect with old friends,
network with industry counterparts and get involved in your community, but that doesn't
mean you should go around building your "friend" database with every person
you've ever met.
The same goes for accepting friend requests that come to your mailbox. If you haven't
talked to someone in years (because you haven't wanted to talk with that person in years)
or if someone appears to be a stranger, you can ignore his or her request without rudely
hitting the reject button.
- Use Virtual Vernacular — The words you use on your Webpages
should be different from what you would say in an email to a close friend. Avoid curse
words, insults, inappropriate jokes and any other jargon that could be deemed tasteless.
In addition to sterilizing your page, be respectful of what you post on another's profile,
as it is all linked to you.
Social networking can be a great way to increase your online visibility, and connect with
new and old associates. When you use your social networking smarts, you can enhance your
credibility and build your business or career with a few clicks of the mouse. But, if you
fail to use proper digital etiquette, you can find yourself losing credibility, clients,
and business opportunities just as easily. The choice is permanent, because the Internet
never forgets or forgives your missteps...so proceed with enthusiasm as well as caution.
About the Author
Debra Fine is a former engineer now, a bestselling author, keynote speaker and conversation
guru. Debra's bestselling book
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression
(Hyperion) joins her 2008 release of
The Fine Art of the Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations and Solve Conflicts at Work
Her recent media appearances include The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN,
NPR Morning Edition and 100's of magazines and newspapers across the United States.