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Communicating online the do's and dont's.

I never know whether people know about online etiquette or simply ignore it, but it is amazing how quickly communications can break down when people hide behind various forms of electronic communications like bulletin and message boards, email and text messages. The golden rule is to always pick up the phone and have a face to face discussion the moment you think that the recipient has misunderstood your message, but how often have you let things get out of hand?

Emails

I have to admit there are a couple of things that are guaranteed to upset me; the first is the use of CAPITAL letters (the electronic equivalent of shouting) shortly followed by the use (or over use) of exclamation marks! There are sometimes (and I have been as guilty as anyone) when I ask myself, has this person read through and considered how an email will be interpreted by the recipient?

The other thing to avoid at all cost is to hit the reply button when you are angry, it is the best way to ensure you are going to make yourself look like a complete idiot. Vodafone are currently running an entertaining advertisement that shows how childish electronic communications can get. It's extremely funny, but believe it or not this actually happens within a business environment all too often. So what are the do's and don't of communicating online and more specifically via email?

  1. Make sure your message is relevant for the recipient (avoiding sending joke emails and round robins).
  2. Keep you message concise (don't waffle).
  3. Be polite and restrain the temptation to be humorous or ironic (unless you know the recipient well and are sure it will not be misinterpreted).
  4. The subject (or title) of you message can be extremely important, so (a) make sure you include a subject and (b) make sure it is relevant.
  5. When responding to an email make sure you quote the original message and answer questions (where applicable).
  6. Give people the benefit of doubt, some people will not realise they are SHOUTING at you!
  7. Include a signature, this is actually a legal requirement for businesses (The Companies (Registrar, Languages and Trading Disclosure) Regulations 2006 which came into force on January 1).

Some things to avoid (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) when using email are:

  1. Never reply to an email when upset or angry, it is better to walk away and count to ten (get a colleague to read through a difficult email before sending to make sure it cannot be misinterpreted).
  2. Use CAPITAL letters (it is the equivalent of shouting at someone).
  3. Avoid over use of punctuation, especially the exclamation mark (!) as it should only be use to emphasis something.
  4. Don't send large attachments without checking with the recipient first (some people have limitations on their email gateway and others may be using mobile devices and slow connections).
  5. Do not SPAM people with emails that they have no interest in (apart from the anti social nature of this sort of activity, you risk been blocked by your service provider).
  6. Don't criticise other peoples spelling, it's petty and most of us make mistakes at sometime or other.
  7. Avoid marking an email urgent, unless it really is (cry wolf too many times and when it is urgent people will ignore you).
  8. Remember that what you say in an email can come back and haunt you, so think twice before sending.

Remember electronic (and other forms of written) communications lack the body language and nuance face to face conversation have and can be interpreted very differently when these essential elements are missing.

Common social media pit falls

Social media provides new ways for us to embarrass ourselves professionally and very publicly. You hear horror stories of professional individuals using sites like twitter that contradict what they have told clients or work colleagues. Over the weekend I read a story about a teacher how said she was ill, but then announced she was in the States doing a concert.

The other sure fire way of embarrassing yourself is to use applications like twitter and FaceBook late at night when you have had too much to drink and post inappropriate comments.

There are a number of people that think social media is like living your life in a fish bowl and although the younger generation seem to disregard the dangers of social media, professionals should be aware of the pitfalls.

Conclusion

The internet and smart phones help us connect to people and are no doubt fantastic innovations, but they also allow us to make complete idiots of ourselves from time to time and should be used with caution. Written communications, especially electronic ones, lack secondary ways we converse that include body language and vocal tone, so always consider what you say and the way it might be interpreted.

Date: 15/10/2010

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