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Questions to Consider Ways to Communicate Online Online Etiquette Guidelines Positive Online Identity Miscommunication Online Cyberbullying & Trollings Parents & Online Communication Examples in the Library

Online Communication Overview

Nearly 281 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2018, worldwide. As of 2018, 35% of teens say they prefer texting to talking in person. Only 32% preferred talking in person. We now have the term “social media life” that is changing the way we interact with people.

On the plus side, we now have opportunities for communication that would not have been possible without the internet. We can now video chat with friends, relatives, and coworkers from all around the country. Text messages can be sent instantaneously to get a quick message across.

This section is about learning the different ways we can all communicate online, and choosing the best option that works for the situation at hand. As online communication becomes more prevalent, we will need to find balance between digital and in-person interaction. Many aspects of this section will overlap with digital health and wellness.

Note: One of the biggest barriers to being able to communicate effectively online is access and the ability to use the digital device. For resources to to teach computer, tablet, and smartphone basics, go to the Basic Skills & Assessment section.

Questions to Consider

While reading this guide, consider these questions. Start brainstorming the most pressing Online Communication & Etiquette needs in your community. Think about how you can connect library customers with the information they need to communicate safely and effectively in a digital world.

  1. How do you currently communicate online? What about your patrons?
  2. Do you know how to use the tools and devices to communicate effectively?
  3. Which communication method is best to convey different types of information?
  4. How should libraries communicate with library customers in a digital world? Are we competitive?
  5. How does your community use online communication skills? Is there room for improvement?
  6. Can local businesses, students, parents and other groups use help in this area?
  7. What is your version of online etiquette? What works for you?
  8. How can we convey our communication preferences to others and set boundaries?
  9. Has anyone in your community run into issues with online communication?
  10. How do different people approach online communication?

Ways to Communicate Online

There is a wide variety of communication methods available today. Each method has pros and cons. For example, text messaging can be great for short, quick messages like setting up a time and place to meet. However, email is better for longer communications that may not require an immediate response. If real-time communication is necessary, we have this thing called a phone.

The Goodwill Community Foundation’s resource details the different online communication styles with recommendations of which format to choose in different situations. Here are the communication formats covered in the resource:

  • Email
  • Chat & Instant Messages
  • Online Phone or Video Calls
  • Text Messages
  • Direct Messages
  • Social Media
  • Forums
  • Blogging

Navigating through the online communication maze can be tiring. Especially when our friends, family and the businesses with which we interact continually change their preferred method of communication. Having a conversation about communication preferences with the people you frequently contact can go a long ways towards preventing communication frustration.


All About Online Communication: The Goodwill Communication Foundation’s resource details how and when to use different communication methods is great for older children and adults of all ages.

10 Ways to Communicate Using the Internet: This Techwalla article dives deeper into the history of online communication, if you’re interested in how the technology came about.

Keeping Kids Safe in Cyberspace: This resource from The Center for Parenting Education exists to help parents learn and navigate safe use of digital communication for children and teens.

The Evolution of Communication Across Generations: Different generations tend to approach online communication differently. Notre Dame of Maryland University outlines how different generations tend to communicate.

Online Etiquette Guidelines

The word "etiquette" tends to get a bad rap. You don't have to set the table properly to be able to behave well online. However, you do have to be able to write an effective email to get a job. This section is about using technology to improve, rather than hinder communication and relationships in a digital world. The guidelines for treating people well and behaving well online are sometimes called “netiquette”.

However, it helps to remember that many of the general etiquette rules we follow in the physical world also apply to the digital world. Consider these popular netiquette rules:

  • Respect other people's time and privacy
  • Verify facts before sharing information
  • Check messages and respond promptly, when possible
  • Don't share private information in a public setting
  • Pay attention to real people, not only digital
  • Know your audience
  • Think before you speak or post

As librarians, we can connect patrons with resources to help navigate the nuances of a digital world. When seeking resources, consider the patron’s specific need and the settings in which they operate on a daily basis. There are plenty of netiquette guides for teenagers, but that won’t help a recent college graduate who wants to transition into professional business etiquette.

Successful online communication and etiquette are vital in today’s world. Everyone, including librarians, can use some practice in this area. Especially when it feels like the rules of engagement keep shifting and sliding beneath our feet. Try to establish and maintain general etiquette guidelines to remain steady.


Digital Citizenship Curriculum: Common Sense Education has lessons designed for K-12 classroom education that can be adapted for libraries. Check the section on Relationships & Communication.

Ten Basic Rules of Netiquette or Internet Etiquette: Very Well Mind outlines the top ten guidelines to “know your manners when using technology”. This can be a helpful resource for patrons, or the basis of an event. Ask patrons to get together and build their own Guidelines to Netiquette based on their own needs and preferences.

Mozilla Forum Etiquette: The ground rules for participation in Mozilla’s forums can and should be applied to every forum and social interaction online. Mozilla is also a great resource for online privacy.

Writing Professional Email and Memos: Coursera, FutureLearn, and other online learning platforms are beginning to tackle aspects of online etiquette. Consult these sites as possible resources in the future.

Top 20 Social Networking Etiquette Tips for Teens: Psychology Today outlines some great tips for social media use that extend out to all digital communication. It’s good for adults as well.

Creating a Positive Online Identity

How do other people perceive us online? Consider how people behave when interacting with different social circles. The online etiquette section outlined how to extend common courtesy to everyone you interact with online. Creating an online identity means posting and interacting with the intent for others to view us in a positive light.

This means tailoring your digital life so certain social circles only see certain aspects of your life. On professional sites like LinkedIn, a user might share an article about a recent conference, while on Snapchat the user might share a recent trip for a family reunion. These examples are relatively clear-cut. In the age of social media, the line of what should be shared can grow murky.

In an ideal world, we would have the freedom to express ourselves in any way we see fit, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. However, that is not always true. Even the best intentions can have negative consequences. We live in a world where potential employers or schools may look at our online presence as a factor in hiring. Online presence can make or break relationships. In a digital world, many will need a digital presence to thrive, but how can we curate an online presence to highlight our best qualities?


Why Children Should Be Taught to Build a Positive Online Presence: The Conversation highlights how parents and educators should guide kids to curate their online presence.

Be Internet Awesome: Google Education provides interactive games and other resources to teach grades 2nd-6th how to start thinking about online presence and internet safety.

6 Keys to a Positive Online Presence and Reputation: This article in Entrepreneur magazine provides some great tips for putting your best foot forward in the business world.

Digital Footprint (Coursera): The University of Edinburgh offers an online course about how to build a positive professional presence online. The course is free to audit and can be upgraded for a certificate.

LinkedIn & Professional Online Identity: Yale University offers a great set of recommendations for curating your professional online profile.

Managing Personal vs. Professional Identify on Social Media: Queens University of Charlotte talks about how to navigate personal and professional life on social media.

Miscommunication Online

Sometimes things just go wrong. It happens. With brief, vague texts and a lack of visual cues in most online communication, it’s easy for communication to go haywire.

How often do you think about body language? Over half of all communication comes across through body language, facial expressions, and other visual cues. It’s not always easy to interpret these signals. Take out that visual cue and online communication can be a disaster.

Empathy is helpful in all situations. Most people do not intend to be rude or discourteous in their communication. Texting a phrase you say in person every day can be interpreted incorrectly by an acquaintance online. Add in cultural differences in a global communication and things can get dicey.

To prevent miscommunication from happening, start discussing communication preferences with people you communicate with frequently. Try to find out how often they prefer to communicate, their preferred app or method of communication, and preferred frequency of communication. It also helps to communicate events that will interrupt communication. For example, if you’re texting back and forth, let the other person know if you have to stop texting. Otherwise, the other person may assume you took offense, no longer like them, or other negative things.

The resources below provide recommendations to make our online communication as smooth as possible. Mainly, online communication is about empathy and understanding.


Email in Real Life: This is both entertainingly and hits home in a lot of ways. See how email can be interpreted in real life.

10 Digital Miscommunications- And How to Avoid Them: Harvard Business Review outlines some potential missteps in online communication, and how to avoid some of the major pitfalls.

Why Is There So Much Miscommunication Via Email and Text? Psychology Today clears up a few questions about why we get so emotion about seemingly simple texts. Find out how to sit back and take a breather.

(Video) The Importance of Nonverbal Cues as Told by "Friends": This YouTube video uses scenes from the TV show Friends to show how communication can go wrong, and what we can do about it online.

Cyberbullying & Trolling

Despite our best efforts, there will always be online trolls who are deliberately looking for trouble. Trolling can happen in online forums, through text, on social media, and anywhere people interact online. When possible, it’s best to disengage from the situation, and block the user where appropriate.

Cyberbullying tends to be more situational, or can arise from peer pressure. People have been bullied online for their sexual orientation, out of jealousy, for fashion choices, being unpopular, and any number of other reasons. Cyberbullying can take the form of publically shared rumors, hurtful messages, creating a fake social media profile in another person’s name, and many other methods.

For more information about cyberbullying, how to recognize the effects, and preventative measure, go to This site focuses on kids, but cyberbullying can happen at any age.


What is Cyberbullying: is a thorough resource for learning about cyberbullying tactics, prevention, and impact on the lives of students.

Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online: This printable top ten list can help adults in need of assistance in the cyber world. The Cyberbullying Research Center also has resources for all ages.

Coke's Super Bowl Ad Puts Spotlight on Cyberbullying: This NPR article shows how big companies care about people. Help people turn a negative experience into a positive experience.

Parents & Online Communication:

Schools are helping kids learn how to communicates effectively online, but many parents did not grow up in a digital world. Libraries can connect parents with the right information to raise a child in the digital age. Check the resources below to help get parents up to speed in your community.


Kids & Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age: The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines how to build a family media use plan to set and enforce healthy digital boundaries.

Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (2018): Common Sense Education allows us to hear teen’s take on social media. Check out the infographic to find out where teens can use some help.

How and When to Limit Kids' Tech Use: This guide knows there is no one-size-fits all tech plan to build a healthy lifestyle. This guide shows parents how to find balance and how to help kids use tech effectively.

Keeping Kids Safe in Cyberspace: This resource from The Center for Parenting Education exists to help parents learn and navigate safe use of digital communication for children and teens.

39 Communication Games and Activities for Kids, Teens, and Students: Positive Psychology expresses the importance of teaching positive communication skills to kids of all ages and provides plenty of options for educators to get started.

Examples in the Library

To get the ball rolling, here is a quick sampling of ways these resources and skills can be added or incorporated into existing programs in the library:

  • Parents Group: Parents like to know what works for other local parents and discuss how to keep their kids safe. Allow for virtual or in-person meetings.
    • Encourage parents to look at digital life from a teen's perspective. Try Common Sense Media or The Conversation to encourage parents to challenge their assumptions.
    • Talk about screen time, what works, and what doesn't. Host a workshop to personalize a screen time plan for families. Encourage kids to consider and agree on what works and what doesn't.
    • Help parents identify and discuss what to watch out for online.
    • Talk about social media use, and how it is impacting kids. Discuss netiquette!
  • Older Adults
    • Host workshops to demonstrate different ways to communicate online, and identify which tools their families and friends are using. Try TechBoomers or Digital Learn for resources.
    • Host a beginner's tech petting zoo for common devices, featuing communication tools.
    • Provide handouts, bookmarks, postcards, etc. with online communication & etiquette tipcs.
    • Help older adults translate the usual communication methods to the new communication methods.
  • Children
    • Choose online communication & etiquette books for story hour. Try one of these books recommended by the International Literacy Association.
    • Ask kids to write plays featuring online communication gone wrong. How can they go back in time and fix it?
    • Let kids practice professional emails with a library staff member who provides constructive feedback.
    • Ask kids to write a story entirely in emojis. Then another group of kids interprets the story, and a group of adults interprets the story. How was the story interpreted by different generations? Did they guess right? Encourage reflection on communication clarity.
  • Teens
    • Host a play or movie script writing session. Use a writing prompt about two characters stuck in an online miscommunication cycle. How can they write themselves out of it?
    • Ask teens to look at hypothetical text conversations between two people like you're trying to figure out what it means. Do we know? Why or why not?
    • Host a teen book group to discuss books where online communication has gone wrong (ex. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) How can we make it right?
    • Challenge teens to unplug from their digital devices. Take a breath of fresh air. Try the Unplug Challenge for Kids
  • Adults
    • Host social media training sessions for job skills and improved personal communication. Discuss the good and the bad.
    • Host book groups featuring books where online communication has gone horribly wrong. Discuss how to communicate well.
    • Help people practice growing job skills by writing email or text communications to a librarian. Provide feedback of what works, and what doesn't.
    • Start a crafting group and ask about digital craft groups and learning resources. How does the digital compare with in person?
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