Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Tips for Today's Email Etiquette

Email use is a daily fact of life and is an important medium for today's business communications. The way businesses handle email communications can enhance or detract from their business image and even hamper their business relationships with clients and new prospects. In fact, email is so important, that some businesses rely solely on this medium for routine communications with customers and prospects. To make sure that you are putting your best foot forward when it comes to your own email correspondence, consider following our email etiquette tips to improve your email note's effectiveness.

Use a Proper Salutation

Written letters will always start with the "Dear so and so" lead-in, but with email, the typical salutation is "Hi John", "Hello Nancy", just the recipient's name and a comma, a time greeting such as "Good Morning Alex", and sometimes even "Dear so and so". Some people don't even add a salutation to their email and just jump right into the message. (This lack of salutation should be reserved to situations where you know the person well and are involved in a rapid-fire email exchange over a short period of time.)

If you are unsure what to use as your opening salutation, or if your recipient is overseas, it is best to stick with the old standby of "Dear so and so" or "Hello Mr. Smith". But, in nearly every other case, it is perfectly okay to start your email note with Hi or Hello and the recipient's name. In fact, some people break even this Hi/Hello issue down even further, and use Hi if they personally know the recipient and Hello as the salutation if they do not know the recipient well. Whether you are a Hi/Hello or a Good Morning/Good Afternoon kind of person, know that there is simply not a hard and fast rule for a proper salutation in email as there is in regular letter correspondence.

Monitor the Length of Your Correspondence

Have you ever gotten a huge email note full of details that just seemed to go on and on? Although there is certainly a place for detailed emails and specifically if you need to confirm a plan so that you will have a written or electronic record, but too much content may lose the attention of your reader. They may scan the message or not even read it, if it is too long. It may simply be better to break one super long email note into several smaller notes. In some cases, it may be better to pick up the phone and nail down some of those details and then just confirm in a bullet list the items agreed upon in the phone conversation.

When you do send a long email keep your recipient in mind. Some colleagues and clients are more verbal in nature and others want written details. Cater to your audience when you can with your emails. I have one client if the email is longer than two paragraphs, he will never read it and so I know from experience that for discussion of important information that would normally go into a long email note, it is best done by phone and not by email with him. The best rule to follow with email is to keep your notes short and sweet and use bullets and lists when possible. Keep paragraphs small and make sure to have white space above and below a new thought or request in your note.

Monitor Your Email Attachments

Be kind, don't send huge files via email or send a zip file without the recipient knowing in advance. Zip files can sometimes be used to send viruses, so let your recipient know if you are sending one so they will not be afraid to open it. If you are sending photos, shrink them to a small file size and don't send them right off your digital camera in a size like 2000 pixels wide by 1200 pixels tall. If the files that you send are too big, and every Internet Service Provider has a different size that triggers their filter, it will be dumped. You may never even be informed that your recipient has not received your files and they may never know that you tried to send them. Try to keep your attachments under 5 MBs as this is the limit that many Internet service providers use as their benchmark to trigger their filters.

I recommend that you turn all Word and Excel files into PDFs when possible before sending them via email. Not only do you keep a macro virus from spreading, if you happen to be infected, but your document is in a more versatile format for online web reading and use. If you are going to send a Word document, let your recipient know in advance. Some people will not open an attachment unless they know it is coming in advance or unless they know the sender. With the number of viruses that are easily spread through movies, PDFs, Word documents, and even links, it is best to limit sending any attachments to only people that you know or to those that are expecting one from you.

Be Courteous with Return Receipts and High Priority Tagging

Use return receipts and high priority tagging judiciously. Only ask for a return receipt if you really need it. Do not aggravate your recipient by having nag boxes open to ask to send a receipt for every correspondence that you send to them. If you did not receive a return receipt for an email, keep in mind that your recipient may have turned on the setting to never send a return receipt in their email client. If you are unsure if your recipient has received your note, pick up the phone to ask or confirm with another separate note. Just as equally, reserve high priority tagging for just that; things that need urgent attention, not every email note.

Check Your Spelling, Formatting, and Forwarding to Others

It seems simple, but some people do not spell check their emails before sending them. Make sure that you have enabled the automatic spell checker in your email client. In Outlook, you can turn on automatic spell checking by going to Tools, then Options, and then select the Spelling tab. Put a check in front of "check spelling before sending" to make sure that your emails are spelled correctly before going out.

Make sure that you do not use ALL CAPITALS IN YOUR EMAILS. All capitals are considered shouting in the world of email, and are not appropriate in your correspondence. If you want to draw attention to a phrase or information, try bolding it, not capitalizing it.

Be courteous and don't forward someone's email to you to another party without approval. Some people will even put a note about forwarding their emails or install a confidentiality notice in the footer of their email. It's just a good practice to not forward email to other parties if they are not on the distribution list.

With email being a medium that we all use every day for business, it's time to take a careful look at your daily email practices to see where you may have room for improvement.