Digital manners guide: 12 tips from an etiquette expert

Email envelope message illustration drawing, digital manners, by Erica Rodrigues

Illustration by Erica Rodrigues

Living well online

With new ways of communicating popping up every other day, online etiquette has definitely become a gray area for many. So we went straight to the expert: Daniel Post Senning, author of Emily Post's Manners in a Digital World. We asked the great-great grandson of Emily Post to help us take the guesswork out of being polite digital-style. From mobile manners to social media rules and online decorum, we drilled the etiquette expert on how best to behave. Here are the important tips to keep top-of-mind in your daily activities.

Email envelope message illustration drawing, digital manners, by Erica Rodrigues

Illustration by Erica Rodrigues

Social media

Q: What's the etiquette around friending on Facebook, especially when it comes to colleagues or people we've just met?

A: Friending on Facebook is best reserved for people you have some previous connection with. It's not a dating or business networking site where people are likely to appreciate meeting someone new. You can always ask someone you meet if they use Facebook to suss out whether they'd like to receive a friend request.

Q: When should we not tag photos, and what sort of photos should we keep to ourselves?

A: Of course, never post a picture that will embarrass or offend someone - and this includes you. It is best practice to ask before tagging someone in a picture. If you find you are tagged in a photo that you don't like, it's also okay to then untag yourself.

Q: What would you consider TMI or an over-share?

A: An over-share is anything that leaves someone else feeling that they would rather not have seen it - information that is too personal, private, graphic, or depressing.

Q: It's so easy to vent online. Do you have any tips for not being an online whiner?

A: As a general rule, avoid griping on social media. It can feel good to vent after a long day at work, or maybe even hint at your frustration in dealing with a certain friend or colleague, but social media is just too public a forum for these types of complaints. The possibility that the person being talked about could see your comments makes them ill advised and they will reflect poorly on you.

Q: What is the appropriate age for children to have social media accounts? And, if they do have them, how can parents keep it under control?

A: Facebook doesn't allow user accounts until the age of 13. This is a good general guideline, but each child is different. Parents need to stay engaged and informed. Kids should share passwords and account access with parents to maintain the privilege of using them.

Q: How should one handle deleting a friend on Facebook, or on the flip side, re-adding someone after we've deleted him or her?

A: There's no need to explain why you are un-friending or re-friending them. People are allowed to make all kinds of choices when it comes to managing their social media profiles. If you have an established relationship that you feel could be jeopardized, letting the person know what you are doing and why ahead of time could save the relationship or at the very least prevent hurt feelings. Simply give your reasons in an honest, candid and caring way.

Email envelope message illustration drawing, digital manners, by Erica Rodrigues

Illustration by Erica Rodrigues

Online community

Q: When interacting online (forums, blogs, comment threads, etc.) what should we be careful of in order to keep a clean digital presence?

A: Everything you do online has the potential to impact your digital profile. Google is changing its search algorithms all the time and you never know what someone else is going to do with a piece of information that you have put out there. More specifically, LinkedIn should be treated like an online resume, as it is searchable. On Facebook, understand and use your privacy settings, and on Twitter, treat everything that isn't a direct message as searchable and public.

Q: When communicating online, how can we make sure the intended tone comes across?

A: The best way to check the tone of your writing is to read it back to yourself out loud. Also, try using a few magic words like "please" and "thank-you" to soften the tone.

Email envelope message illustration drawing, digital manners, by Erica Rodrigues

Illustration by Erica Rodrigues


Q: How should humour or sarcasm be approached in emails? And what about the use of smiley faces and exclamation points?

A: Very carefully. It's very hard to write humour, especially sarcasm. Without that twinkling eye and wry smile, a great deal of the humour can be lost. In business, where the stakes are high, leave behind the humour and emotional indicators (emoticons). State your business and ask for what you need - keep it simple and factual.

Q: How should one handle work colleagues who expect immediate email replies? For example: A co-worker who emails then comes over to chat in person if you haven't responded.

A: This is a classic. At a time when the incident has not just happened, talk to them about what a reasonable expectation for a turnaround is and then stick to that agreed upon timeframe. If you can't agree on what's reasonable for your situation, a supervisor or HR person can help set a standard.

Email envelope message illustration drawing, digital manners, by Erica Rodrigues

Illustration by Erica Rodrigues

Text messaging

Q: How quickly do we need to respond to text messages?

A: Texting is a quick exchange medium, the quicker you respond the better. For some messages this means immediately or the exchange becomes irrelevant. Other times you can get away with longer replies, it really depends on the nature of the message.

Q: What are your top three etiquette tips when it comes to texting?

1. Don't do it when you are at dinner, in a theatre, in a meeting, or conversing with others.
2. Don't text to avoid a difficult discussion.
3. Don't send bad auto-corrected messages just because you're too lazy to fix them.

Emily Post's Manners in a Digital World, by Daniel Post Senning. Available at

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