The digital age has created a host of new etiquette dilemmas. What should you do when your boss sends a Facebook friend request? Is it OK to take and share smartphone pictures at a friend’s wedding?
Etiquette mavens say the book on manners must be rewritten, literally, to take into account new technologies and social media. “Technology is such an area of anxiety for people,” says Steven Petrow, an author of etiquette books who last month began a digital manners column for USA Today.
In recent columns, Petrow addressed the question of mass emails that reveal the names of all recipients (not OK, he says), and how to deal with wedding guests who want to share smartphone pictures before the official photos are available (he urges the couple to make their wishes clear in the invitation). “Fundamentally, I come back to my core values, which are about respect, kindness and civility,” Petrow told AFP.
Social media such as Facebook pose particular etiquette problems: if users post news about a death, birth or engagement before relatives are notified, that creates tensions among family members. “On Facebook, even if you have privacy protection, someone else can grab your message and send it along,” said Emily Yoffe, who pens the “Dear Prudence” column on Slate.
“Once you post it, you don’t control that information anymore,” said Yoffe, advising people to treat all social media posts as public. Petrow sees other quandaries — for example, whether it is appropriate to “like” a Facebook post about sad news. “I believe that liking means you acknowledge it,” he said. “So you can like something sad but you should add a note to say what
Social media is also used to break off, or to announce a new relationship, which can be a surprise to the other person. “It’s always best to take your time, to discuss this with the other person,” Petrow said.
As for the boss’s friend request, Petrow advised managers to steer clear of this to avoid potential conflicts. Employees should not ignore the request, but offer instead to connect on the professional network LinkedIn, he said.
On Twitter, the ability to post messages quickly has led to some embarrassing moments or worse, experts say.
“Some people lose their jobs because of an ill-advised tweet,” Yoffe said. “In the heat of the moment, people think they are having a one-on-one conversation, but this is totally public.”
Twitter gaffes can turn into public relations nightmares for companies using social media to boost their image.
Dutch airline KLM, of the Air France-KLM Group, found this out when it tweeted “Adios Amigos” after the Netherlands’ dramatic win over Mexico in football’s World Cup. The airline apologised and deleted the tweet, but not before thousands of enraged Mexicans tweeted their displeasure.
“We encourage companies to be conversational and engaging. But they have to understand they are speaking on behalf of a brand,” said Jeanette Gibson of Hootsuite, which provides a social media dashboard, and offers training on using different platforms.
Gibson said social media marketing can be useful in building brand identity, “but you don’t want to come across as spamming your audience.”