Social media managers aren’t the only professionals expected to be on social media for work. The demand for staff to participate in online marketing is prevalent in many industries and company settings. While this can be effective, it can also be fraught with problems because some people have difficulty communicating clearly and appropriately with the written word, especially in an environment as impersonal as the digital landscape.

There are some simple rules when communicating online, whether by email, on social media or in a forum with colleagues, service personnel or patients.

Use proper grammar and punctuation. Few people are 100% confident in their comma usage, but do your best to use punctuation. Punctuation and good grammar together convey professionalism and show that you care how you are perceived.

Never use caps. It’s like walking up to someone and yelling at them. Even if it’s just to emphasize a word, using capital letters tends to be seen as obnoxious.

Re-read what you wrote before you post or send it. Always! This is the simplest step and yet the one that people most often skip. Read what you have typed to make sure it’s clear, polite and helpful.

Don’t comment when you’re angry. If you’re mad about something online or just not feeling very helpful, take a breather before adding to the conversation. It’s too easy to answer inappropriately in the heat of the moment. You don’t want to tarnish your reputation by saying something rude or mean.

Think about the intent of the person making the post. Always ask yourself if it’s possible that the other party meant something different. If someone writes, “Well then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” that could mean that they are annoyed with you and don’t want to keep talking or it could literally mean that they will see you tomorrow. Digital communication can be ambiguous, so give the other person the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not being sarcastic or snarky.

Remember that the words you’re seeing were written by people. Real people are on the other end of the Internet, and they’re writing those comments just like you are. If you wouldn’t say to someone’s face what you’re about to write digitally, don’t. It’s that simple.

The Internet has changed the way we interact, and there are many positive factors about instant communication. The problems stem from the fact that people can feel detached from their words and it’s too easy to fire off a message without thinking about it. It’s in your best interest to be helpful and friendly wherever you go online so that you’re always building a professional and insightful brand.

Samantha Toth is the resident marketing rockstar for Innereactive Media, a full-service marketing company specializing in the optical industry, in Grand Rapids, MI.

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