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Sticky Situation: Keeping Your Virtual Life Clean

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Sticky Situation:
I am a recently divorced 52-year-old woman. After 18 years of contributing to my ex's business ventures, I am now an executive assistant for a financial analyst.

My new colleagues and some of our clients befriend each other virtually and are encouraging me to join them. I have always been very active socially but had never felt the need to maintain my relationships online.

Although at first the idea did not interest me, I now find myself seeing its merits, especially to keep in touch with my overseas friends.

I have read and heard about the good, the bad, and the ugly news stories of online activities and want to make sure that I enter the virtual world without making a faux-pas or worse yet having cyber remorse and getting into a Sticky Situation.

What are your recommendations for an oldie about to be an online newbie?

Solution:
My biggest insight into internet communication technologies is a quote from Erica Albright to "Mark Zuckerberg" in the movie The Social Network: "The internet is not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink."

Before you join us, the more than 50 per cent of Canadians that have a social networking profile, here are my five favorite social media guidelines:

1) Define your online friending policy

Define why you want to connect on the internet by establishing a personal policy for seeking, finding, being sought and found. What are your objectives: friending, reconnecting, networking, keeping updated, or even dating?

Your rule will be a valuable tool when deciding whom to invite, accept, ignore, or block in your network. You may even have different networks or accounts for different purposes. For example, you could only socialize professionally on LinkedIn and save Facebook for family and friends.

When setting up your account take the time to adjust your privacy settings. This is where you decide who may find you as well as who may view and contribute to your account. Here too you may differentiate access between your friends, family, and work.

2) Don't be a connection flake

To increase your chances of successful and meaningful connections, send your invitations along with personal messages. Ignoring a connection or saving it for later is acceptable. If you are not sure about a connection request, sending a message to request information about how you may be connected outside of the net is also a good idea.

On the flip side, although social networks are all about searching and connecting, don't take it personally if someone chooses not to connect with you. They may have their own personal connection policy.

3) Respect

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You spelled it and learned it as the basis of socializing in kindergarten, while Aretha Franklin made it an anthem. We all deserve it even on the internet. Respect yourself foremost. Respect your brand, your image, and your values. Your virtual identity should be coherent with your contributions to the real world.

Respect others by asking permission before you post photos of them, the locations of their whereabouts, and comments they may have made in your company. Respect also applies when commenting on others' walls, tagging them in photos, and including them in any online activity requests including games.

Before doing any actions that involve others, use the K.I.N.D. acronym as your benchmark. Don't Knock anybody down, don't Insult, don't say anything Negative, and don't show or talk about anything Disgusting.

4) Don't drink and Internet

Remember the old phone rule about not dialing when a little tipsy? Well, ditto for contributing to your online network. Don't connect virtually when you are not in a poised frame of mind.

Don't virtually connect when drinking, jet-lagged, taking medication, mad, or even sad. When in any of the previous states and your fingers are itching to type away, keep them busy with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Write it out, wait 24 hours, and re-read before deciding to post.

5) Do the fridge test

Before typing or uploading a tweet, text, or pic, imagine it first on your fridge at home. Are you OK with visitors, loved ones, and family members including an eight-year-old niece and/or an 88-year-old grandfather seeing your future virtual memento? If the answer is no, don't post. If in doubt, don't do it either.

If you are OK with it, continue on to the next phase of the test. Whatever you are OK with posting on your home fridge, take it, and now mentally post it on your office fridge.

Imagine this scene: Your boss and number one client want to talk privately. The local coffee shop is packed so they've decided to hold the meeting in the staff lounge. Are you still OK with what they are about to see as they get milk for their coffees? If you are comfortable with that future contribution to cyber eternity, then log in and post. If the answer is no, count your blessings that you did not make a virtual gaffe that could have cost you your job.

In closing, I must warn you: Internet social activity can be highly addictive. Balance it out and always choose face time over screen time.

Have a Sticky Situation yourself write to julie@etiquettejulie.com and Julie will reply promptly. If you agree she will even share your Sticky Situation with our readers.

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