Are You Rude Online?

So, you’re active online. You’ve got a blog, multiple social media profiles, an online portfolio–and you keep everything updated regularly. You’re doing exactly what a freelancer should do (or so you think), but you’re not getting any new clients. What could be the problem?

There might indeed be something you’re doing wrong, even when you seem to be doing everything right. Although having an online image is very important, it’s not enough to simply be online. You have to have a good reputation as well.

If you’re active online, but aren’t attracting new business could it be because others are perceiving you as being rude?

Just as talking loudly on your cell phone in a small restaurant might be annoying and even rude to those around you, some common online behaviors can also be considered rude.

Before you dismiss this thought entirely, realize that it’s easy to accidentally offend others (without even knowing it) when you’re doing business online. In this post, I’ll identify some online actions (no no’s) that might offend others. Then, I’ll ask you what you consider to be rude

Social Media No No’s

Most social media platforms offer a fun, casual way to interact with others. They can be a great tool for reaching out to new prospective clients and other freelancers.

The downside to social media tools is that it can be easy to get carried away by the casual atmosphere and make foolish mistake that seem rude to others. (This can be especially true if you are new to using social media for business purposes.)

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, so it’s important to be as personable online as you are offline.

Here are some social media no no’s that will make you seem rude:

  • Not answering someone who addresses you directly. Whether it’s a mention on Twitter or a post to your Facebook wall, when someone reaches out to you directly you need to acknowledge them and respond. If you’re not online when a person makes contact, answer them as soon as you get back online.
  • Begging for work online. Naturally it’s okay to mention that you work and discuss work projects from time to time. Most people understand that you need to earn a living. However, there has been a growing problem with people who share nothing of value and use social media only to ask for work (or sell a product). Don’t be that person!
  • Bad language and obscenities. While you might feel perfectly at home on your favorite social media platform, you still need watch your language (and the language at the site you share). Too many cuss words and online swearing can create a bad impression and cause potential clients to pass you by.
  • Ranting about clients (or other freelancers) by name. No matter how tempted you are, it’s best not to rant about someone else publicly. Unless you are absolutely certain the other person is a scammer, it’s best to keep your disagreements private. A potential client who sees you griping about a current client may well wonder if this is how you’ll treat them.
  • Overuse or misuse of autoresponders. Some folks use an autoresponder to “greet” a new social media contact. However, this tactic can easily backfire and have the effect of making you seem less approachable instead of more approachable. If this is you, be careful not to make your autoresponse too impersonal.

These are just some of the social media mistakes that a freelancer can make online, but social media is not the only place where a freelancer can seem rude. Email should also be handled carefully.

Email No No’s

Email has been around a long time, but not everyone uses it to its full advantage. It’s just as easy to make a misstep by email as it is on social media tools. Here are some email no no’s to avoid.

  • Not answering a business email within a few business days. Not answering promptly is probably the biggest complaint that prospects and clients have about freelancers. You don’t have to check your email every minute, but it’s still important to keep up with it. If an email requires an action item that you haven’t completed, at least acknowledge receiving it.
  • Being too casual with a contact too soon. As a freelancer, you probably work from home in a fairly informal environment. However, your prospect may still be working in a formal corporate atmosphere. Unless you know the prospect well your first few contacts should be formal. When in doubt, follow the client’s lead.
  • Not addressing the client’s real concerns. To be effective, communication has to be a two way street. Read over what the prospect has sent you carefully and make sure that your return emails address all of their concerns. If possible, encourage them to ask additional questions to make sure that the two of you are on the same page.
  • Bad language and obscenities. Just as bad language and obscenities had no place in social media, they should not be a part of your email correspondence either. While not everyone is offended by salty language, many people are. There’s really no way for you to know for sure who will be bothered and who won’t.
  • Dissing other clients (or freelancers). This is another mistake that freelancers also make in social media. It’s just never really appropriate to put someone else down. Rather than making you look better, putting other freelancers and former clients down actually makes you look worse.

Your Turn

Ultimately, every freelancer has to decide for themselves what online behaviors are acceptable and how they will act towards others. However, keep in mind that how you behave online may affect how much work you get. First impressions really do count.

I’ve listed some of the mistakes that a freelancer can make online that might make them seem rude to others. I’m sure, however, that my list is not comprehensive.

Without naming names, what rude behaviors have you observed online? Leave your answers in the comments.


  1. says

    This is a great list — I am always mindful *every single time* I write anything anywhere on the Internet…so one thing I would add to your list is “comments to blogs,” either leaving too much information or not enough or being rude in the process. I also think about how to respond to comments: some bloggers respond to a few but not all comments and others respond to all, some to none. I try hard to make sure I respond to all (or none if there are just too many) so all commenters feel welcomed to my blog. I should say that even leaving this comment makes me pretty uncomfortable, wondering who will read it and what they will think of me! Great post.

  2. says

    I also try to respond to all comments on my blog, Julia. I was pretty nervous doing so at first – I felt like the commenters had more valuable things to say than I did. I got used to it though and slowly built my confidence up. Now interacting with other bloggers is one of my favourite ways to use social media.

    I find it very frustrating when I start following someone on Twitter and they post 20 items in a row and overload my feed. To me, this seems rude. Great post, Laura.

  3. says

    Yes! Yes! Yes to all of these. I see the worst offenders on Twitter. They ask a question, and then they never respond to anyone. I guess they didn’t get the memo that social media involves a two-way conversation.

  4. says

    Julia and Rachel–Comments to blogs is a great addition to the list. Some blog comments really have no substance and some indicate that the commenter didn’t even read the post. But blog comments can be part of your online identity (most people link back to their own sites) and should be composed carefully (as you both point out).

    Rachel and Shevonne, Twitter is still so new that I think a lot of people don’t quite “get it” at first. They don’t realize it’s a conversation. I dislike when people tweet random quotes out of context.

  5. says

    I’ve noticed this too; mainly with Twitter. I’ll follow someone because they have a good bio and website listed, then all they do is complain and post 25 links a day, never responding to anyone. Those people, I just unfollow. Social media should definitely be used as a tool to get your name out there and even get work, but it should be through interaction!

  6. says

    Hi Jen!

    There’s a definite balance with Twitter. Some people see it only as a broadcast tool, but ideally it is much more than that. Such people don’t believe that you can actually build relationships in Twitter, but you really can. It’s all about sharing and yes, being courteous. :)

  7. says

    Thank you for this great post. There is very little understanding of how important civil behavior is online. My research for has focused on extreme dialogue in blogs and comments, particularly around politics, but frankly it has to start with basic online communication like the scenarios you describe here. In other words, the same etiquette we’d expect to follow offline.

  8. says

    Great post Laura! Looking through the list, I’m quite relieved that I couldn’t identify with any. I always make sure to respond to emails, mentions on Twitter, and even messages on Facebook if they’re addressed directly to me.

    And I agree, responding to the comments you receive is another way not to be rude. We all know that blogs can build communities, so how could you build one for your own blog if you’re just ignoring or staring at people’s comments?

  9. says

    Hi Patrick–Thanks for sharing the site. What an interesting project. :) There definitely needs to be something like an etiquette guide for being online… I especially like the part where you say “direct the troubled to iCivility.” I’ve never seen it done, but it might be an effective way to shut down rude or inappropriate behavior.

    Stephanie, I can vouch for you. From what of seen of you online, you’re a generally courteous person. :) I think many people may slip occasionally, but if there’s a pattern of rudeness there’s a problem. Especially if you’re trying to build a business…

  10. says

    Hi Laura,

    Good reminders. I hope I’m not rude, but I guess it’s for others to say for sure–and boy that got me thinking. Sometimes it is hard to say things in writing and lots of room for misinterpretation.

  11. says

    Thanks Mary!

    That’s the hard thing–there is room for misinterpretation. But, if you’re thoughtful and responsive there’s a good chance you’re not being rude. :)

  12. Daquan Wright says

    People are rude online just say they are offline, although it’s a bit more pronounced.

    But if you’re trying to rep yourself, you obviously want a golden image. That means you need to watch your step. :)

  13. says

    great article. I had a colleague/boss give me a very sound piece of advice one day, after I’d sent him an email with some innocent — but not terribly professional — language in it regarding a project we were working on for a client. He called me over to his desk, showed me the email, and said, “never write anything you wouldn’t want someone to forward,” and then clicked the “Forward” button to shoot the email to the client.

    lesson learned. A little self-filtering goes a long way.

  14. says

    Wow Stephan!

    I bet you never forgot that lesson. How embarrassing, but effective. Did you wind up keeping the client? Your boss was right, though. You never know when someone will forward an email.

  15. says

    Definitely, I’m a better businessperson for it. And like I said, all-in-all this was a pretty innocent situation, versus something that could have been detrimental to a customer relationship; my boss wouldn’t have done what he did otherwise. Self-editing is so important, especially in today’s society where the barriers to communicating are nearly zero, so your thoughts can flow right out of you…any guesses how many times I rewrote this comment before posting it?

  16. says

    I think that many are forgetting these netiquette 101 you wrote here simply because everything is automated online. One of the things I hate is not being on time when doing a live interview or online conference via Skype. A few minutes can be forgivable, but one time, I have to wait for an entire hour for the person to show up online – which could have been spent on doing something productive instead. Perhaps, that person got a bad connection… and yet, I haven’t heard from that person since ( not even a written email explaining the why of things ).

  17. says

    Hi Stephan–I’d guess three times. :) But you’re right about self-editing. It’s key if you want to survive in business.

    Issa, Yes, things are automated. Sometimes that makes it too easy to be rude. About lateness–I think that’s rude whether you’re online or offline. Although, I can forgive it if the problem is because the other person is having difficulties with the online tool, which seems to happen fairly often.

  18. says

    Great article, happy to say I’m not guilty (wipes sweat from brow), +1 on the “there has been a growing problem with people who share nothing of value and use social media only to ask for work (or sell a product). “, that is the one thing I really hate.


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