Online Etiquette: Do's and Don'ts

from guest blogger - Lisa Engles


"Remember your manners, my grandma used to say to me every year as we walked up the driveway to Aunt Katie and Uncle Ed’s house for our annual family get-together.  

Say thank you… 

Be polite... 

Offer to help clean the dishes…

Act like a young lady… 

Most of us were taught how to behave in social situations at a relatively young age.  The first bits of social etiquette most of us learn are to say “Yesplease” and “Thank you” . 

As we grow older we learn that there are certain standards of behavior for every situation we find ourselves in. Whether it’s a 30 second interaction with the grocery store clerk, or a casual conversation with the other parents on your daughter’s soccer team, we know what’s appropriate and what’s not. 

….And that’s why I find it shocking that so many people seem to have thrown their social manners out the door when they’re interacting in online communities, groups and events like live-stream webcasts or shows (hangouts/Blabs etc). 

Especially business owners.

You’d think that offline etiquette would carry over to online etiquette…. you’d think.  

The only sense I can make of it all is that because connecting and communicating in the digital world is in it’s infancy, we’ve never been taught how to behave.  The good news is that it’s fairly intuitive and therefore, very easy to learn.

The following online engagement etiquette principles apply to any situation in which you’re interacting with others via comments (communities, groups, fan pages or posts) or live-stream video (google hangouts, blabs etc..).


  1. Create A Space For Authentic Conversation.  Authenticity happens as a result of being genuine and transparent.  Conversation means that there’s a dialogue between two or more people.  Part of the disconnect in digital world is a lack of authentic conversations.  One way to do this is to create a post (or host a show) on a topic that you’re passionate about and ask a question. Here’s an example: If you’re a single parent who’s building her online business you might write a post with your perspective on the challenges you face and at the end of the post you could post a question such as:  “What are some of the practices you incorporate into your daily life to maintain balance and sanity?” to encourage dialogue around the topic.
  2. Empathize With Your Audience. Empathy requires good listening skills, especially if your primary form of engagement is via text (ie: comments in a community or group). Empathizing can be as simple as giving a comment of recognition. “Hey Mary Smith, I really appreciate your perspective on parenting.  As a single mom myself, I know how challenging it can be to build a business in the midst of the hectic day-to-day parenting responsibilities.” If you’re engaging in a live-stream video format as an attendee, you can use the live chat to make similar comments. Or, if you’re the host, you can mention people’s comments and empathize with them live, in real-time.
  3. Be Interested versus Interesting By Asking Questions.  Nobody likes to hang around people who only talk about themselves all the time.  The same goes with online engagement.  If you’re constantly talking about yourself and what you know and what you think… people will get bored and eventually ignore you.  On the other hand, when you ask questions that allow people to tell you a bit about themselves, they’ll feel seen and heard and ultimately, more connected to you.  
  4. Have Integrity In Your Communication.  Having integrity in your communication means that you adhere to moral and ethical principles in your conversations.  Slander, gossip, lying, and telling partial truths are all examples of being out of integrity in your communication.  Telling the truth, being honest and being vulnerable and admitting when you’re wrong or don’t know are all examples of having integrity in your communication.
  5. Mention And Promote Others.  Taking the time to post something nice about someone or to promote others and their business or project builds a sense of community within your industry and niche.  If you make this a regular practice with no agenda attached, you’ll find that others will notice and promote you as well.
  6. Express Gratitude Often. Two very powerful words to use in your online engagement are: “Thank you.”  Use every opportunity you can to let people know you’re grateful for their presence, their perspective, their expertise.  Thank people who comment on your post, thank people who come to your hangouts and enter into a conversation with you, say thank you to the expert who’s made a difference in your life. Without these people, you wouldn’t be where you are today… so be sure to thank them.


  1. Have An Agenda To Promote Yourself.   Unfortunately it’s become common practice for business owners to use social media strictly for promotional purposes, but to act like it's about connection. Even worse, many more business owners are being taught by gurus that that’s what they should be doing. While promotion is a necessary part of business, it shouldn’t be the focus of your engagement practices.  There's a time for selling, but don't do a bait-and-switch on people.
  2. Make Irrelevant Comments Or Ask Irrelevant Questions.  Taking a conversation off topic by making irrelevant comments or asking irrelevant questions only serves to irritate everyone else in the conversation.  Contribute to the conversation with thoughtful and meaningful comments and questions.
  3. Make Malicious, Hurtful or Overly Critical Comments.  If you don’t have something nice (or constructive) to say, don’t say it at all.  We all know that the truth is, people who make hurtful comments are really just projecting their own anger, disappointment and fear and end up looking like the jacka** in the end.
  4. Always Try To Make A Point Or Prove Yourself.  Nobody likes to engage with a know-it-all because there’s no room for perspective. The beauty of authentic engagement is that it’s vulnerable to put your perspective on the line and know that it’s only one perspective.  The truth can’t be found in a single perspective (that’s called fundamentalism), and in order to access the power of the collective wisdom we must be open to hearing and respecting what everyone in the conversation has to say.
  5. Dump Your Link (URL) Without Permission.  There’s nothing worse than attending an event or belonging to a community that’s filled with people dumping their promotional links.  It feels yucky.  It feels 'salesy'.  It feels…. disconnected.  Don’t do it.
  6. Be Inauthentic. You don’t need to be someone you’re not when you’re engaging online.  In fact, it’s the antithesis of authentic engagement and people can smell it a mile away. Brown-nosing the community moderator or event host, trying to woo a group member with your credentials or giving token kudos to someone in a comment stream are all considered suspicious activities in the eyes of the karma police.

from guest blogger, Lisa Engles