Digital etiquette and workplace networking

The world of work and personal networking is changing very fast. To get and stay ahead in your career you may want to look out how to best learn from these new tools of work. With Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter becoming essential business tools the lines of what is appropriate has changed and is changing daily.


There is a growing body of research that points to the value of networking. But what is this networking thing and how to make the most of it? Do you want to end up having your key business contacts on Facebook and find your next job on LinkedIn – you may say no, but the reality is that this is what is happening very fast.


As a current or future manager you basically need to look at how to use social networking to achieve some of your career objectives and how this relates to building stronger customer engagement.


Ibarra and Hunter (2007) state that you basically have to build three “social” networks as a manager

  1. Personal – kindred spirits outside of your business that can assist with your personal advancement.
  2. Operational – people that you need to achieve your routine tasks.
  3. Strategic – people outside your control that you need to achieve key organisational objectives.


To build a network also depends on three principles that are critical:

  1. Reciprocity

Any relationship depends on both give and get. If you communicate the other party will communicate back, and if you have tenacity in your relationships – that will be rewarded with people that stick with you in the long term.


  1. Exchange

There is invariably more than just simple reciprocity in a relationship. There is always a level of exchange. It may be as simple as affirmation or time and may be much more complex with “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”. Any relationship has an exchange and it is important to realise this and make sure that the principles of fairness are respected. Even the process followed to communicate must be procedurally fair in the long term for a relationship to last.


  1. Similarity

For a relationship to succeed there must be a number of touch-points. Constant re-enforcement of similarities in a truthful fashion has been shown to be a significant factor in building relationships.



So as you are building a relationship there are some very basic things that need to happen. One of these is basic etiquette.


The experts say that etiquette is really all about making people feel good and taking care of them. It’s not about rules or telling people what to do, or not to do, it’s about ensuring some basic social comforts.


So here are a few business etiquette rules that matter in this new world of work.


  1. Pitch up on time


A lot of time people see a deadline as a time to start something. This is not good etiquette. A deadline is the time when something must be finished. Being on time (or early) for meetings, and doing things to agreed schedules is a great way to get ahead. Nothing destroys reputations as fast as people that are late for meetings.


  1. The art of the thank you


Sending a thank you note should never die. If you have a job interview, or if you’re visiting clients or meeting new business partners—especially if you want the job, or the contract or deal—take the time to write a note. You’ll differentiate yourself by doing so and it will reflect well on your company too.


On social media this is still true – if someone contacts you – acknowledge it and thank them for their contribution. It goes back to reciprocity.


  1. Know who you are speaking to


It’s just as important to know your peers or employees as it is to develop relationships with clients, vendors or management. Just because they are on social networks does not mean you should not know their names and what they are about. Reach out to people in your company, regardless of their roles, and acknowledge what they do.


  1. Observe the ‘Elevator Rule’


When meeting with clients or potential business partners off-site, don’t discuss your impressions of the meeting with your colleagues until the elevator has reached the bottom floor and you have walked out of the building. That’s true even if you’re the only ones in the elevator. The same on social networks – do not talk bad in one place and good in another. You must communicate consistently.


You risk damaging your reputation by rehashing the conversation as soon as you walk away.


  1. Be present and aware


It’s hard not to be distracted these days. We have a plethora of devices to keep us occupied; emails and phone calls come through at all hours; and we all think we have to multitask to feel efficient and productive.


Multitasking does not work. When you’re in a meeting or listening to someone speak, turn off the phone. Don’t check your email. Pay attention and be present. Research shows that you can listen to more than one person at a time, but that you cannot work with your hands and concentrate on something else at the same time. By not focusing you are communicating that the other person is not important and this violates the principle of similarity.


  1. Don’t criticise


We all have weaknesses and we all have strengths. One of the most important parts of modern-day etiquette is not to criticize others but to work towards their strengths.


You may disagree with how another person handles a specific situation, but rise above and recognize that everyone is trying their best. It’s not your duty to judge others based on what you feel is right. You are only responsible for yourself.


With complex intercultural conversations it is often much harder to judge and to be fair as norms are simply different across the world. Go back to the principle of creating comfort.


  1. Protect the brand


We live in a world where both people and businesses are concerned about brand awareness. Individuals want to stand out and be liked and accepted by their peers, both socially and professionally. It is important to show your personal and company brand in a positive light at all times. Talking negatively about yourself, someone else or a company – is likely to result in a direct consequence that is undesirable and does not add to brand value and etiquette.


So before you create that hashtag, post on someone’s Facebook page or text someone mid-meeting, remember the fundamentals: Will this make someone feel good and will it make the world a better place?



Reference: Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. (2007, January). How leaders create and use networks, Harvard Business Review, 2–8