Should I have sent that? Your Guide to Online Communication Etiquette

Should I have sent that? Your Guide to Online Communication Etiquette 2017


by Dr. R. Kay Green

Every so often when I send an email or compose a Facebook message, I am left thinking something like, “Should I have started that off with dear?” or “Was it okay to put a smiley-face emoji in that text?” If you have ever experienced this, you are certainly not alone when it comes to online communication etiquette in the business world. Because online communication is relatively new, and ever-changing, it is sometimes difficult to know the proper way to go about conveying an online message. Let’s examine some common problems that many people encounter with online communication.



The first point I would like to make, and hopefully the most obvious is corporate email should always be used for business. Private messages, jokes, and anything that is not related to your work should never be sent out, or received on your company email.

The Subject line: Emails should always have a subject. If you see an email in your own inbox that does not have a subject, what do you think of it? Spam, right? Subjects are good because they help the receiver stay organized. Subject fields should only be a few words and should not have typos or should never be all uppercase, or all lowercase, you do not want people to think you are spamming.

Unless you have built a relationship to a casual point, you should always take a formal tone. Sometimes email is seen as a less formal way of communication, but it is often a conduit for serious business. This means standard black fonts at a 12 or 11-point size, usually whatever the default is, or a Times New Roman will suffice. No abbreviations should be in the body text of the email. Nothing like “sry” or “u”. You should always begin your email with a ‘Dear Mr. Smith,’ or a ‘Hello Ms. Newman,’. Notice how there is a title, and the comma goes after the person’s last name. I often see emails where the sender puts the comma after ‘dear’. – Oh dear. Until a person tells you, “Call me Leslie,” always use Mr. /Ms. /Dr./etc.

To and From. This may be redundant but make sure that you have the proper styling for people’s names. Always capitalize the first letter of their name and the first letter of their last name.

BCc, and Cc. Bcc stands for Blind Carbon Copy. When you are sending an email to multiple people who do not know each other always use BCc.  This hides people’s emails from one another. Email can be a huge privacy concern.  Cc means Carbon copy. This is used for a group of people who know one another and would not mind having their email addresses shared.

Be cautious of ‘Reply to All.’ Think about if everyone on the list needs to see your email before clicking the button.

Keep your formatting to a minimum if at all. This means staying away from bold-colored words. Unusual fonts, or any of that attention-getting jazz. Email companies are getting smarter, and usually will classify overly stylized emails as spam.

Attachments should only be sent when asked for. You do not want to send an Excel spreadsheet to find that the person does not have Excel or a huge 500 MB PowerPoint presentation that could clutter up their inbox. Always ask before you send an attachment. Attachments should also have a name that fits them. Image1234.pdf is confusing for the receiver.

Never reply to an old email with a new unrelated email. For example, you need to send an email to Judy that has a list of new clients, but instead of composing an email, you go back through your inbox and find the email Judy sent you about your presentation from a week ago, and reply to it with the contacts she wanted. This looks unprofessional.

Editing replies. This is a courteous step you can take, that makes you look more professional. When replying, do not just hit reply, take a moment and look through the correspondence. Look to see if there are any unneeded headers, signature files, or general clutter from previous emails. This cleans the correspondence and makes for clear communication.

Use a short signature that has your name, your position, your email, your phone number, etc. This makes it easier for people to get in touch with you.

Always begin with, Hello, Hi, Greetings, Dear, Good Day. Always end with, Thank You, Sincerely, Best regards. Common courtesy can go a long way.

Time. Make sure that you send emails during the business day. When people are home from a long day of work, or enjoying their weekend, the last thing they want is to be reminded of work. In the event that you must send an email during the ‘off-hours’ be sure to apologize for any inconvenience e.g., “I apologize for sending this at such a late hour.”


Social Media:

It is becoming more commonplace that people are discussing business through social media. Only use social media for business if it is encouraged by the company.

If you need to discuss business matters, never write your statement publically. Always message them directly.

If you have business clients as your friends or followers, use caution while posting. Do not go on political rants, or post pictures of your bachelorette party. If you are using Facebook as a professional platform, keep it professional.


Etiquette for Social Media Managers:

These rules are for people who are acting as the company on social media.

Never beg for likes on other companies’ pages, or promote your page in comment sections. This may come across as unprofessional.

Never piggyback off national tragedy. Cancel your posts out of respect.

Keep your content original. If you wish to share a relevant tweet/post/etc. credit the originator.

Do not spam posts. It is okay to post the same thing for visibility, but space the posts out, and try and limit it to 4 times a day at the most.

Do not have your Twitter posts programmed to post on Facebook, the other way around is fine, but the nature of Twitter is more rapid than Facebook so having too many Facebook posts, even if they are different appears spammy.

Be sympathetic to your follower’s notifications. Mass messages clutter up people’s notification centers.

Lighten up when dealing with negative commenters. Do not engage in back-and-forth banter. Use humor to diffuse the situation, this makes you look friendly in the public eye. If you are dealing with someone entirely disrespectful, delete the comments, and block the user.

The 80/20 rule. 80 percent of content on your page should be engaging customers. 20 percent should be promoting your business/product.


Business Texting:

Only text if it is accepted by your company.

Do not use abbreviations. This looks unprofessional, and let’s face it, there are so many abbreviations out there, and it can be difficult to know all of them.

Sorry. No emojis. Emoticons can help set the tone of a message, but they are too whimsical to be taken seriously. Take your time to word your message to convey the tone you want.

Watch your auto-correct, and make sure grammar, punctuation, and spelling are in order. Texting may seem casual, but there is really no excuse. You have time to go over your message before sending it. Also, always double-check the recipient. Slow down.

In business texting it can be beneficial to sign your text with your name or initials. This is helpful to keep the receiver organized, especially in group texts.

Make sure that if you are going to text someone who is outside of your business, they are ok with it. If you are not sure, send an email asking if it is alright to communicate via text message.

Analyze the context of what you want to say. Is acceptable to text? It is like a breakup, you do not do that over text. Really assess if text messaging is the best conduit for your message.

Be mindful of people’s time. Avoid sending texts on weekends or at night. Even if they are work-related, let people enjoy their time away from work.

Do not send multiple texts. The person likely has received it. They were probably away from their phone. If it is important, pick up the phone and give it a call.

Do not text during meetings, or anytime you are engaged in conversation with another person. It is disrespectful. If you are expecting an important message, make sure to let the person/group know your situation, rather than just ignoring them to look at your phone.





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