Adopting email netiquette

It is startling to find that, in this day and age, some companies have still not realised the importance of their email communications.

Many send replies late or not at all, so if your company is able to deal professionally with email, this will provide it with a competitive edge.

A company needs to implement etiquette rules for three key reasons:

• Professionalism. Proper use of email language will convey a professional image.

• Efficiency. Emails that get to the point quickly are much more effective than poorly worded and lengthy ones.

• Protection from liability. Employee awareness of email risks will protect your company from costly litigation.

The first step in enforcing netiquette is to create a written email policy. This should include the entire do’s and don’ts concerning the use of the company’s email system and should be distributed amongst all employees.

Secondly, the workforce must be trained to understand the importance of email etiquette. Finally, implementation of the rules can be monitored by using email management software.

As for the nature of business emails themselves, keeping them concise is the first point to consider. Don’t make it longer than it needs to be. Remember that reading an email is harder than reading printed communications and a long email can be very discouraging to read. Keep your sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words. Email is meant to be a quick medium after all and requires a different kind of writing style than letters.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use proper spelling and grammar. Mistakes give a bad impression of your company and using correct language also conveys the message properly. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes change the meaning of the text.

Also, try to use the active voice of a verb wherever possible. For instance, ‘we will process your order today’ sounds better than ‘your order will be processed today’.

Since reading from a screen is more difficult than reading from paper, the structure and layout is very important. Use short paragraphs and blank lines between each one. Don’t write in capitals either – it seems as if you are shouting. Words like ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ can also give people the wrong impression – use only when absolutely necessary.

Try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of these meanings. The same goes for ‘emoticons’, such as the smiley face.

Aim to use a subject line that is meaningful to the recipient and yourself. For instance, when you send an email to a company requesting information about a product, mention the actual name of the product rather than ‘product information’ or the company’s name in the subject.

It’s worth bearing in mind that customers send an email because they wish to receive a quick response. If they didn’t they would send a letter or fax. Therefore, each email should be replied to within at least 24 hours, and preferably on the same working day.

If you do not answer all the questions in the original email, you will receive further ones which will not only waste time but also cause frustration. If you pre-empt relevant questions, your customer will be impressed. Imagine that a customer sends you an email asking which credit cards you accept. Instead of just listing the card types, guess that their next question will be about how they can order, so you also include order information and a URL to your order page.

It’s important to personally address mails and include customised content, but some templates can be used for frequently used responses. Some questions you get over and over again, such as directions to your office. Save these texts as response templates and paste them into your message when needed.

Sending large attachments can annoy customers and even bring down their system, so where possible try to compress attachments. Moreover, you need to have a good virus scanner since your customers will not be very happy if you send them

documents full of viruses!

If you overuse the ‘high priority’ option, it will lose its function when you really need it, and it will also come across as slightly aggressive. Another option to avoid overusing is ‘reply-to-all’. Only use this if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original.

When you reply to an email, include the original message. Some people say that you must remove the previous mail since this has already been sent, but I do not agree. If you receive many emails you may not remember each one. Therefore a ‘threadless email’ won’t provide enough information and you will have to spend time finding out its context to deal with it.

When sending an email mailing, some people place all the addresses in the ‘to’ field. There are two drawbacks to this: (a) the recipient knows you have sent the same message to a lot of people, and (b) you are publicising someone else’s email address without their permission. One way to get round this is to place all addresses in the ‘bcc’ field. Alternatively, if you have Microsoft Outlook and Word, you can do a mail merge and create one message for

each recipient.

Try not to use the ‘cc’ field unless that recipient knows why they are receiving the message. Using the ‘cc’ option can be confusing since the recipients might not know who is supposed to act on the message.

When using formatting, remember that the person you’re sending it to might not be able to view formatting, or might see different fonts than you had intended. Also be aware that when you send an email in rich text or HTML format, the sender might only be able to receive plain text emails. If this is the case, the recipient will receive your message as a .txt attachment.

It’s not a good idea to request delivery receipts. This will usually annoy your recipient before they have even read your message. It usually does not work anyway since they could have blocked that function or their software might not support it. Don’t bother either with recalling messages – the chances are it has already been read so it would look very silly.

Be wary of chain letters. We can safely assume that all of them are hoaxes. Just delete them and certainly don’t forward them on. Also, by replying to spam or by unsubscribing, you are confirming that your email address is ‘live’. This will only generate even more spam.

Be wary of your content. By sending or forwarding one libellous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remark, you and your company can face court cases resulting in multi-million pound penalties. Don’t expect your mails to remain confidential. Sending an email is like sending a postcard – if you don’t want it to be displayed on a bulletin board, don’t send it.

Adding disclaimers can help protect your company from liability. Consider this scenario: an employee

accidentally forwards a virus to a customer by email. The customer decides to sue your company for damages. If you add a disclaimer at the bottom of every external mail, saying that the recipient must check each email for viruses and that it cannot be held liable for any transmitted viruses, this will be of help to you in court.

Another disclaimer stating that employees are expressly required not to make defamatory statements will add further protection.

Finally, do not copy a message or attachment without permission. If you do not ask the originator first, you might be infringing copyright laws.

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