Minding Online Manners Boosts Leadership and Workforce Development

Following proper netiquette is essential to developing professional relationships online, and the solution to ensuring employee etiquette is trust.

There might not be that much room for decorum in the 140 characters allowed by Twitter, but if an employee feels trusted by an organization, those characters will be used with courtesy in mind.

According to Barry Libert, author of Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business, an employee’s online image is connected to his or her personal image, and following proper netiquette is crucial to help build professional relationships and a loyal following on the Web. “I’m sad to say that etiquette is getting much worse over time, and statistics show it,” Libert said. “The United States is now a member of the ‘United States of Anger,’ according to Forbes. We’ve had some really terrible times in history, and our negative behavior shows that we’re right there with those terrible times.”

Libert believes that this pessimistic behavior is a result of the lack of trust between leaders in an organization and their employees. “Organizations need a new model of management,” Libert said. “They need a ‘followship’ model instead of a leadership model. Instead of an influence model, they need a compassionate model.” When organizations begin to become trusting and leaders themselves trustworthy, rules will not be necessary in social media, he said.

Social media doesn’t grant employees permission to leave etiquette behind. Leaders’ framework for netiquette should illustrate that but award individuals with an opportunity to exercise their own voice. “We all have the same needs: the need to be connected, the need to be recognized and the need to be rewarded,” Libert said. “We all seek to fulfill our full potential. We need to treat each other as if it matters, and we will if we trust each other and understand our common needs.”

Social media tools are designed to allow companies to build brands and provide immediate, far-reaching value to customers. If trust and proper etiquette rules are established early in a leader-employee relationship, social media will only be used to attract and foster relationships in a business context by employees. “We need a proactive solution when it comes to social media,” said Peter Post, a director of The Emily Post Institute and author of several business etiquette books. “The solution that says we’ve instituted a rule with Big Brother watching over you is a reactive solution. If social media is going to be used properly, then you need a cultural environment established within a company to inform employees early of what is appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to using these tools.”

Post believes that manners — the social norms and mores that tell us what to do and what to expect others to do — change all the time, but the underlying reasons and principles that are used to generate those manners are timeless. “Our customs change, and along with them as they change, our manners change,” he said. “We need to keep our etiquette in line with that.”

Libert suggests eight etiquette rules for employees and leaders to successfully develop a forum of cohorts that will help business prosper and extend the company brand. Most important among these ideologies, according to both Libert and Post, is to monitor the tone of an online message. “It’s easy to misinterpret the tone that’s not visible or audible in a post,” Libert said. “It’s extremely important that people choose their words wisely and with consideration and kindness when all they have are limited characters to use.”

A more positive work environment can be created with the use of social media. If trusted and thus empowered, employees using social media for the good of the company will collaborate with other members of the organization to be productive. This, according to Libert, will allow the organization to adopt new methods to share information, communicate and collaborate.