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Dress Your E-Mail for Success
By Eileen O. Brownell   Printer Friendly Version

"Netiquette, or net etiquette, comprises the courteous guidelines for communicating on-line via the Internet..."
-Dana May Casperson: Power Etiquette

The Internet has become a way of life in the business world. E-mail is fast and efficient and it allows people to stay in touch easily. For example, people on the road can stay in contact with their office and clients even when they are gone for extended periods of time. As we move into the new century, e-mail and the use of the World Wide Web for business purposes will increase beyond our wildest imagination. The Forrester Research Group has indicated that Aby the year 2005 users will be sending more than 5 billion personal messages a day.

There are many reasons for use of the Internet. It is low cost. You can reach many people simultaneously. It is quick and easy. It allows us to stay in touch with people more frequently. We can use it 24 hours a day anyplace in the world. It is efficient. However, as professionals, we need guidelines for electronic communication. What offends one person may be all right with someone else. I recently surveyed 30 professionals to establish their preferences and dislikes regarding e-mail. Their answers were diverse and covered a wide variety of concerns. But they agreed on the following points about receiving or sending e-mail.

  • Avoid spamming. Most people want to receive a message that is specific to them. If people do not recognize the e-mail address, or if the subject does not give a clue as to the topic, they are very likely to delete that message. Most people hate junk mail, so if you are trying to obtain business through the use of e-mail, be sure it benefits the receiver.
  • Ask permission to put people on your special lists. Whether it's a joke, inspirational story or business newsletter, ask permission to put the receiver on your list. Remember that good service is putting the customer in charge. By asking permission, you are honoring individual choices.
  • Avoid the use of attached files. People are fearful of viruses, which can come via attachments but not in the message itself. Because of this, the receiver will delete the item without even opening it. If you want your information to be read, it is best to include it in the text of your e-mail.
  • When forwarding a message, clean it up. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving a three-page message with only one paragraph of information. A message that has been forwarded several times may have as many as 100 addresses and each lines prefaced with several greater-than (>) symbols. This kind of message is tacky, difficult to read, and a real time waster.
  • Respond within 24 hours. If the e-mail is a request for more information, a response to something you've asked for, or a business update, respond within 24 hours. People expect immediate responses to email. Letting a message go unanswered for more than 24 hours may mean that you lose the client or the sale.
  • Try not to use ALL CAPS or colored pages. Sure, it's difficult to individualize e-mails. It is plain, simple and usually in a standard font. Yes, it can look boring! In an attempt to Aliven them up, some people use all capital letters for the message text or colored backgrounds. Either of these can make the e-mail difficult to read.
  • Proof read your document before sending. Even though e-mail is casual, unlike a formal business letter, your business image is still on the line. Double check for spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, and appropriate grammar.
  • Use auto response when you are unable to respond immediately. Several e-mail systems have an auto-response system. When the system receives an e-mail it automatically responds and indicates that you are on vacation, out of town or ill and that you can't respond until a certain date. This lets your clients know that you are not avoiding them-you're not a flake!
  • Use descriptive subject lines. Received Your Order And It's On The Way is far more interesting and descriptive then just the word Order. Make the subject title one that leads the recipient to open and read your message.
  • Be direct and succinct, this is a fast-paced world. People want information in nibbles and bites that are easy and quick to digest. Bullet statements or points are easy to read and they make your point promptly.
  • Use an index. If you're forwarding a business newsletter longer than one page, consider using an index at the beginning of the document. This allows readers to scan and quickly find the information that interests them.
  • Make it easy to reach you. Much like the address and phone number on business stationery, it is helpful to include a signature on your e-mail. This should include your name, company name, address, phone number, and maybe a 12-to-15-word tag line that indicates what you do. For example:
  • Harry Plumber
    1556 Faucet Lane
    Waterville, CA 99999
    (555) H20-LEAK
    Resolving your plumbing challenges 24 hours a day.

  • Include a web-site link. If you have a web site or want to encourage visits to a specific site, include a link that makes it only a mouse click away.
  • Be careful when your audience may be international. If you are conducting business via the Internet with an international audience, be sure that you are fully aware of their customs and beliefs. American attempts at humor or sarcasm may be viewed as inappropriate and even offensive in other cultures.
  • Use graphics only when you must. Graphics can lend support in trying to explain a concept. But, they take time to download. If the graphics don't support your message, then don't use them.
  • Include portions of the original e-mail. An e-mail response of a yes or a no with no explanation or reference can send the customer scrambling to remember just what she asked you in the first place! Include portions of the original question or correspondence in your reply.

E-mail is here to stay. It is an effective tool that saves time and money, and it allows us to be in almost constant contact with our customers and offices. Used properly, it can provide a positive image of you and your organization. Used inappropriately, it can offend potential clients and earn you a reputation you may not want. Dress your e-mail for success to thrive in the new century.

For permission to print Dress Your E-Mail for Success in your company newsletter or professional journal contact Eileen.

Copyright © 1999 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.

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