As a small business in the 21st century, you likely use the Internet for a number of communication-related functions. After all, keeping in touch with your clients, suppliers, and employees is much easier when you can do it by computer.
While this type of advancement is great in that you can send messages, questions, and comments when it is most convenient for you, you want to ensure that your contact is sending the right message. Therefore, knowing netiquette, or net etiquette, is often key to your small business success.
What should you do before you hit the “Send” or “Post” buttons? This is pretty easy to determine by asking yourself a few simple questions.
Is the Topic, Issue, or Question Fairly Easy to Explain?
The main purpose behind using the Web to communicate in business is to relay small bits of information to the receiver. So, if you have to write a two-page explanation prior to asking your question or stating your concern, then proper netiquette suggests that a phone call is a better option. Certainly, you can follow up your conversation with a detailed email summarizing your call, but send a lengthy email without making contact first and you risk making your receiver groan every time they see you in their inbox.
Is Your Web-Based Contact About One Single Issue?
According to netiquette rules, if you are contacting another person online, you want to limit that contact to only one question or issue. If you put two, three, or more issues or questions in the same email or online note, then you might find that the receiver doesn’t address all of them, forcing you to still have to make further contact, not saving you any time at all.
Instead of trying to cover everything in one piece of communication, break it down to address just one so that you increase the likelihood that your issue will be addressed. If you have more than one topic to discuss, each should have its own email and be sent with its own subject line that tells the receiver what it is about. This allows them to file or store it appropriately so it is easy to find if they need to refer to it later.
Does Your Issue Need Immediate Attention?
Sending something online to an employee or supplier that needs to be addressed immediately is just asking for problems. First, you can’t ensure that the person is going to receive your message quickly enough to act on it. Second, if the receiver has any questions about what is required of them, you’ve now started an online tag session that wastes valuable time.
When dealing with an issue that needs immediate attention, pick up the phone and call the other person. Sending an urgent message to them says that you don’t consider the situation important enough to make direct contact, yet you think they should drop everything they are doing and make it a priority—not a good message to send.
Are You Angry?
Sending an email or other online message that is heated in nature is called a “flame.” This name is quite appropriate considering content created in anger has the tendency to fuel negative emotions, potentially creating an issue that becomes almost impossible to reconcile. At a minimum, you run the risk of sounding unprofessional, which could hurt your business in the end.
To save yourself from writing something you might later regret, give yourself time to cool down before sending your communication. Let your mind digest what is happening and try to be objective by seeing the issue from the other person’s eyes. When you are ready, craft your communication from a calm, clear mind and you will have a better chance of creating a message that gets your point across without pointing fingers and making the situation worse.
How Formal Do You Need the Contact to Be?
In business, there always seems the need to be formal, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you are better served by making quick, concise contact, allowing the receiver to get the information necessary without spending a lot of time on it.
The basic netiquette rule is that if you need a simple question answered, online messaging is okay. This means that sending short sentences back and forth is acceptable in these circumstances. However, if your message requires an explanation that consists of two sentences or more, then an email is more appropriate.
Use these basic guidelines to help you abide by netiquette and keep a good relationship with your employees, clients, and suppliers.
One final thought: in the wise words of Eliot Spitzer, former New York Attorney General, “never put anything in an email [that you don’t want on the front page of the newspaper].” Good advice, indeed.