Business Netiquette

E-Mail Etiquette

You must put as much thought into online communications as you do other forms of communication to make sure your messages are received in the manner you intended. It's much easier when you're communicating with someone in person, because you can use gestures and vocal inflections to reinforce your message. More important, you can gauge your listener's body language and facial expressions and almost instantaneously clarify misunderstandings by changing a few words.

Online communication is a bit more challenging. You'll need to be sure to get your message across properly the first time; the best way to be sure you're not annoying potential customers is to learn these important rules to follow when sending e-mail:

  • Use a mix of uppercase and lowercase characters. An all-uppercase message is the online equivalent of shouting.
  • Carefully check your spelling and grammar. If your e-mail program doesn't have a spelling checker, create your messages in a word processing program that does. All your communications represent your business. A message full of misspellings and unclear sentences will convey to others that your work is equally sloppy.
  • When you send a message to a customer or employee, assume that others will see it. You won't be notified if the receiver forwards your message to others. And if you forward a message to others, be sure to give credit to the original author.
  • Use a "signature file" so that those who receive your message can quickly and easily determine where it came from. You can create and save the information you want to include-- usually your company's name, address and telephone number. Then use a menu in your e-mail program to select the file you've just created. Then, every time you send an e-mail message, your signature file information will automatically appear at the end of each message you send. This way, too, customers who wish to be removed from your mailing list can contact you easily.
  • Make your messages as concise as possible and stick to a single subject. Long messages take time to transfer to your recipients' computers.
  • Use the "subject line" on all your e-mail messages. This allows the message recipients to read the messages they deem important first, and will help remind you to limit each message you send to a single subject.
  • Be sure that e-mail is the appropriate forum for your message. Using e-mail to announce an upcoming sale is fine; using it to fire an employee is not.
  • Answer your e-mail. Don't leave customers hanging. If they don't receive a response from you within a reasonable amount of time, they will likely take their business elsewhere. If a large volume of e-mail inquiries bogs down your ability to respond promptly, ask your e-mail provider if it supports a feature called "auto-responding." This function sends an automatic form reply to everyone who sends you a message that answers commonly asked questions, thanks them for their messages or posts whatever other information you want to include.
  • Don't "spam" or send "junk e-mail." Spamming is the indiscriminate sending of messages to Usenet newsgroups; junk e-mail is the term for sending unsolicited messages to multiple e-mail boxes.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Business Netiquette.

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