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March 29th, 2009

Mind Your Electronic Manners, or as Spike said: Do the right thing

Are your email messages news or nuisance? Now that so many people are struggling to manage a daily stream of everything, you need to be sensitive to anything that could inconvenience them or cause them extra work. Here are some tips from PR people about etiquette. Please clip them to your fridge and study over your morning latte. Don’t forget to use them.

1 Keep your message short. You don’t know whether someone is picking this up on her Blackberry or that other I – handheld, or her desktop.

2 Do not cry wolf. “Highest” priority should really mean what it says.

3 Make email messages easy for the recipient to file. Write a short message on each topic rather than one long message on several. And your subject line should be explicit. (For your own email filing, take advantage of your email features, such as sorting by date, name, filing, and so on.)

4 Read over your email before you send it, even when you’re in a hurry! Try to imagine you’re the person reading it. And treat emails just as you would any other business letter— with great care. For good perspective, get a friend or business colleague to read over important emails before you hit Send.

5 Make it clear to business associates and journalists or bloggers if you prefer voice mail or email, and find out what other people’s media preferences are. Not everyone loves to hear from you via e.

6 In the body of the message mention any attachments and tell the recipients exactly what they contain. Or don’t bother and add to the end.

7 Read Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style before you write another email. Do what it says. Then share it with your email-ees.

8 Use online discussion groups for virtual team working sessions, instead of over-relying on email. And call a face-to-face meeting when the “Copy All” feature is being overused in your group. And don’t get me going on BCC, or blind-copy habits. That’s rude and duplicitous.

9 Your name should appear in the sender section of the emails you send. No cute names, please. Because spam email is becoming such a problem, many email users are increasingly deleting the message before reading it if they can’t identify the sender immediately.

10 Never send email when you’re angry. And we do mean never. Consider first sending it to yourself before hitting the ultimate “No Exit” button (send).

11 Assume that whatever you write in an email could be printed on the front page of Gawker. Email isn’t private.

12 Avoid huge attachments. Graphic files can be too large for many people to open. It’s a breach of new Internet etiquette to assume that the whole world has the same access to bandwidth that you do. Instead, send a link to a site where you’ve got the graphics loaded. If you have to send a large attachment, warn the person to whom you’re sending it. Spank people who send you large attachments without warning.

13 Stop checking your email when your spouse wants to make love, your kid wants to talk to you, or your best friend calls and wants to chat. And take a whole day off from email now and then. Gmail has a feature that turns it off for 15 minutes and says “go outside.”

14 Do not check your email when you’re in a face-to-face (even though I know I do that). I get it’s an accepted practice in your company. We guarantee that your/my seeming preoccupation will annoy someone, and you could miss hearing some important information. That still happens. Consider what you’d want people to do if you’re presenting – or talking.

15 Don’t give out another person’s email address without permission. And be careful when sending broadcast emails—if you don’t suppress the list it’s like broadcasting your contact list.

16 Set a goal to keep the number of messages in your inbox below 50. This will bring you great stress relief. And your administrator (“tech person”) will worship you. Mine hates me.

17 If you’re going to harass someone, email is not the place to do it. This seems self-evident, but some people are dumb enough to do this. The judge and jury will waste no time convicting you after reading through your clueless emails. And if you employ people, make sure they’re not doing it, either. You could be liable for their behavior. Oh don’t I know that.

18 Write a handwritten note from time to time instead of sending email. In a world of effortless electronic correspondence, taking the time and care to send a handwritten letter says a great deal about you. I love the USPS. (May 11th it goes up so do this beforehand.)

19 Be careful when you’re addressing emails from an address book. It’s easy to send to the wrong Bob. Damn Microsoft and its auto-everything.

20 Don’t assume people have definitely received your email. Servers go down, machines crash, and emails are misdirected. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Like, don’t say to yourself: “I can’t believe…”

21 Cut down as much as possible on the time you spend with email. If you receive 50 emails a day and you spend five minutes on each one, that’s a little over four hours per day. Here’s a quote from Comcast’s Brian Roberts: “I credit my success to those days when I could spend all day responding to emails, I force myself to get on the phone and make calls.”

22 When you receive email from someone, pay attention to the style he uses. Is it terse? Friendly? Imaginative? Matching a person’s style when you respond can be a very effective communication approach. If the person is no-nonsense, keep your correspondence all business. If, on the other hand, the person to whom you are writing is more laid-back and mentions his vacation, don’t offend him or make him feel foolish with a curt response. Tone is everything.

A COUPLE OF SERIOUS WORDS about “carbon copy” emails: CC-ing is no fun. They’re like bills—too numerous and a giant pain. They are spam—meaning totally unwanted, excess garbage that does nothing but make people roll their eyes. Not only are all of us subjected to lame jokes forwarded by well-meaning but not-so-funny pals (why do you do this to us?), but we’re also at the mercy of marketers who are getting cleverer by the nanosecond.

You know! They send emails that seem to be personalized, with innocuous subject lines that catch you off guard and prevent you from hitting the delete key immediately. From the perspective of creating buzz, this means that you should avoid using these tacks yourself, both with reporters and consumers. You won’t win friends, customers, or press coverage that way. Just say no.

Back to our regular programming. The next post on BPB will be a horrendous pitch that both Kevin and I did not laugh at. Not in the least.

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