Maria Ogne­va is the head of com­mu­ni­ty at Yam­mer, where she is in charge of social media, com­mu­ni­ty pro­grams, inter­nal edu­ca­tion and engage­ment. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter, her blog, and via Yam­mer’s Twit­ter account and com­pa­ny blog.
If you’re any­thing like me, you’ve prob­a­bly wit­nessed (or maybe even been a part of) office com­mu­ni­ca­tion mishaps that have ranged from mild­ly embar­rass­ing to career-ending. Early in my career, I wit­nessed a rogue email chain which spoke of a client in offen­sive terms. The email acci­den­tal­ly got for­ward­ed to said client. Oops!

No mat­ter how sophis­ti­cat­ed our use of social media, we must always be aware of its breadth. It’s easy to feel anx­i­ety over say­ing the wrong thing, but if you know how to use it well, social media in the office can and should ben­e­fit your career.

There­fore, adapt the gold­en rule to the dig­i­tal era: Think before you post, and do unto oth­ers as you would have them do unto you. To make sure you are putting your best dig­i­tal foot for­ward, fol­low these easy steps.

1. Under­stand Com­pa­ny Pol­i­cy, Best Prac­tices and Cul­ture
If your office hosts an inter­nal social net­work or dig­i­tal col­lab­o­ra­tion space, under­stand what types of inter­ac­tions are con­sid­ered valu­able (help­ing a cowork­er, for exam­ple), vs. actions that would be frowned upon (post­ing pic­tures of LOL­cats all day). And always stay away from vio­la­tions of your com­pa­ny pol­i­cy (like harass­ment). Make sure you under­stand not only the writ­ten pol­i­cy, but also the com­pa­ny cul­ture – each com­pa­ny has its own stat­ed and unspo­ken rules of con­duct.

Glob­al con­sul­tan­cy firm Capgem­i­ni talks about its use of Yam­mer, my com­pa­ny’s social net­work. “Yam­mer is shared with col­leagues in the com­pa­ny — not just your close col­leagues — but poten­tial­ly EVERY­ONE, from your man­ag­er all the way up to the CEO…Our com­pa­ny val­ues are: Hon­esty, Free­dom, Trust, Bold­ness, Team Spir­it, Mod­esty, and FUN.”

2. Com­pa­ny Com­mu­ni­ties Evolve Best Prac­tices and Poli­cies
Pol­i­cy and cul­ture aren’t sta­t­ic — they grow and devel­op organ­i­cal­ly, through a community-wide effort. Kate Dob­bertin, com­mu­ni­ty man­ag­er of one glob­al com­pa­ny’s Yam­mer net­work, notes, “I look to the com­mu­ni­ty to fos­ter an open, car­ing com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er. It’s not some­thing I can con­trol alone — the entire com­mu­ni­ty must set the stan­dards for what is or isn’t acceptable.”

In glob­al com­pa­nies, the def­i­n­i­tions of eti­quette are tougher to pin down. Ed Krebs, IT archi­tect for Ford Motor Com­pa­ny, shared, “By allow­ing the com­mu­ni­ty to define, and con­tin­u­al­ly rede­fine how to com­mu­ni­cate, those glob­al dif­fer­ences that were bar­ri­ers now become points to reshape togeth­er. The com­mu­ni­ty gen­tly informs each other about the nuances of lan­guage and the alter­nate inter­pre­ta­tion of slang. We need­ed no new pol­i­cy, respect is a key ingre­di­ent in our cor­po­rate code of conduct.”

3. Mix­ing Per­son­al and Pro­fes­sion­al
When com­mu­ni­cat­ing over your com­pa­ny’s dig­i­tal chan­nels, your focus should be on get­ting your work done and help­ing your col­leagues get their work done. On the other hand, mix­ing a bit of your own “fla­vor” is always a good thing – humans want to con­nect with other humans. But remem­ber that you can eas­i­ly cross the line from approach­able to over­ly per­son­al to the point of dis­com­fort. Ask your­self, “Could this make some­one feel uncom­fort­able?”

4. Pub­lic vs. Pri­vate Spaces
Take a few min­utes to under­stand the bound­ary between pub­lic and pri­vate spaces. Hav­ing a clear goal will help you select the right medi­um and audi­ence. Are you shar­ing some­thing bril­liant that can help oth­ers in gen­er­al, or start­ing a dis­cus­sion that will specif­i­cal­ly ben­e­fit your com­pa­ny? Is it a mes­sage that should be pub­lic, but ben­e­fits a niche audi­ence? Post it to a group. If it’s an action you want just a few peo­ple to take, send a pri­vate mes­sage or an email. Remem­ber the key dif­fer­ence: Emails and IMs are dis­rup­tive, while streams pro­vide “ambi­ent awareness.” Don’t be that guy who CCs 20 col­leagues with some­thing irrel­e­vant.

5. Be Mind­ful in Pri­vate
A quick word of cau­tion: Just because you post to a pri­vate space or send a note to some­one’s inbox, doesn’t mean it won’t find its way into the hands of some­one else later. If you trash some­one in an email, there’s always a chance that this per­son may see it – whether acci­den­tal­ly or on pur­pose. It’s always best to pro­tect your rep­u­ta­tion by abstain­ing when­ev­er pos­si­ble.

6. The New York Times Test
Before writ­ing any­thing to any­one — pub­licly or pri­vate­ly — ask your­self if you’d mind see­ing it on the front page of the New York Times. That’s exact­ly what Erin Grotts, direc­tor of inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Super­valu tells her col­leagues. “We tell peo­ple not to post any­thing that would embar­rass you or the com­pa­ny…Would you be com­fort­able if it ran on the front page of the New York Times?”

Beld­ner encour­ages her col­leagues to ask, “Would I say this to my com­pa­ny’s pres­i­dent and deputy gen­er­al coun­sel in front of 1,000+ other employ­ees?”

7. Become an Expert
If you want to be per­ceived as an expert, you need to con­tribute to the con­ver­sa­tion. When some­one asks a ques­tion that you can answer — go for it! Proac­tive­ly share things that are inter­est­ing and ask thought-provoking ques­tions. Remem­ber, though, that quan­ti­ty doesn’t mean qual­i­ty.

Max­i­mize your expo­sure by allow­ing oth­ers to find you. When post­ing to a pub­lic space, any­one can see your mes­sage, but there’s always a chance that the right peo­ple won’t. To max­i­mize your vis­i­bil­i­ty, post to the right groups and use the right tax­on­o­my, such as hash­tags, top­ics, and pub­lic @mentions.

8. Respect Pri­va­cy
Just because some­one told you some­thing in anoth­er chan­nel, doesn’t give you the license to repost it auto­mat­i­cal­ly, unless it was post­ed in a pub­lic space like Twit­ter, which is index­able by Google. If you’d like to repost some­thing, make sure that the orig­i­nal author has approved. Exer­cise the same cau­tion when adding new par­tic­i­pants to an exist­ing email thread or a pri­vate group – make sure that exist­ing par­tic­i­pants feel com­fort­able that this new per­son will be able to see what’s already been writ­ten.

9. Remem­ber the Gold­en Rule
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Treat your col­leagues the way you’d want to be treat­ed at work. Ask your­self, “Would I want to do a project with myself? What about grab lunch?” Don’t be the employ­ee who pub­licly shames a co-worker to coerce him into action. Don’t go direct­ly to some­one’s boss instead of address­ing that employ­ee first. Never write some­thing out of anger, spite or per­son­al vendet­ta. Basi­cal­ly, don’t over­step your bound­aries.

A great reminder from the folks at Capgem­i­ni: “In the same way that we mod­er­ate our con­ver­sa­tions in the office, so we should apply sim­i­lar mod­er­a­tion to our posts in Yam­mer…Be polite; try to be con­struc­tive; don’t be offensive.”

Back to you, read­er! How do you observe eti­quette at work, while still retain­ing your unique­ness? What kinds of guide­lines does your com­pa­ny have for work-related social net­works?

Paul Champion

Mobile: 07540 704920
Twitter: ChangeTWYT

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