Recent events in politics testify to the blurring of lines between the off-line and online world. Despite the rapid adoption of new modes of communication, the old rules of etiquette still apply. I would argue it’s as important as ever, with even more social pitfalls coupled with actual less human interaction as a ballast. Like me, most of you reading bounce between personal and business social media , email accounts, blog comments and website feedback. In addition, we have off-line communications to have to negotiate on top of that. That’s a lot of communication with their own nuances to get right and one size does not fit all.

What tone should I strike depending on the channel?

It’s important to to really ‘get‘ all the different communication tools, to use them effectively, since you would hardly pick up a hammer when you needed a saw right? Writing an email to your boss in the style of a tweet will not go down well, nor will conversing on Twitter in a rigid, routine way. Social media by it’s definition is about being social, so in order to attract attention you can afford to engage more, use humor, be less formal. What should be obvious though is that whether personal or business, if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face then you shouldn’t write it online.

Choose the right Tone

Blog commenting can also be a loaded field. I balk at what is allowed in the comments section on YouTube, but most of the time, blog commenting is rewarding if you consistently follow a blog and engage regularly in conversation. The netiquette of blog commenting has been covered extensively but as a reminder, if you receive a comment, respond in kind quickly. Blog comments can have a life of their own and develop the conversation into new topics as a 2-way conversation. If you leave comments on blogs, then keep it informal, never hard sell, don’t be anonymous and keep it clean, otherwise things can degenerate unfortunately. SEO Tip: Most blogs these days do not allow search engines to pass link authority, chiefly to reduce spam, so don’t comment on blogs in order to boost your own rankings. It is however a great way to drive traffic to your own blog or website through your handle name in most cases.

Email Netiquette

Many think that email is a dying art. There is direct messaging on all social media platforms, but remember that there are still millions of online users that don’t have accounts and even then, a direct message is still an email, so the same rules should still apply. The Emily Post Institute, an authority far higher than I on the matter, makes these key points:

  • Keep things brief, to the point and consistent in tone.
  • Don’t email if the subject is serious, you’re better off scheduling a face-to-face meeting.
  • Don’t gossip or forward anything you will regret.
  • Always use a subject line or risk being ignored or deleted as spam.
  • Don’t use CAPS. IT’S THE SAME AS SHOUTING!
  • MAKE SURE (oops sorry!), that the email is spell-checked and grammatically correct.
  • Don’t send an attachment if the recipient is unlikely to be able to open.

How Quickly Should I Respond?

Image by Tim Morgan

If you’re a business and you correspond with existing clients or respond to new leads, then it’s generally considered good form to respond within 24 hours, otherwise you provide your competition a bigger window to poach your business and for the customer to vote with their feet. New customers and existing ones should be treated equally and the method with which they contacted you, should not be discriminated. It could be a blog comment, a message through a form on your website or an email straight into your inbox; all potentially as good leads as each other. What the customer wants in each case is a prompt response, which addresses their inquiry and provides a next course of action. If it’s a personal blog, email or even social media, then ‘people generally expect a response in 1-2 days‘ according to the Emily Post Institute, which is important because a personal social network could bleed into your business network. Word travels quickly online and a poor reputation can grow exponentially, so don’t assume the 2 worlds are mutually exclusive. In such a socially connected online world, there have been many lessons learned from high-profile individuals or companies ‘not getting’ online etiquette and they have paid for it. A slow response by a multinational to customer complaints can cost millions of dollars. Twitter is now one of the main methods to deliver information back to their customers. A slow response by a Realtor to an email inquiry could cost you an important lead.

What Would Emily Post Make of it all?

We are all products of our time and human interaction will always inherently require etiquette off-line and now online. There maybe more things to pay attention to with less attention, but if you still want to makes friends and influence people, brushing up on a little netiquette will take you far.

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