Have you ever been turned off by a business because of the way they conduct themselves on social media or what they say in email? Don’t they know about social media and email etiquette?
Have you ever questioned someone’s tone in online communication? If you have, it’s likely that if they had said it to you in person you wouldn’t be second-guessing the feelings or motives behind it.
It can happen to any of us. Even well-meaning chamber professionals can type things on these online platforms that can get misconstrued.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, there are a few things you should be aware of in your online communications.
And some of them you’re not going to like.
Especially not the exclamation point!!!
Nevertheless, these are some of the most common, but unacknowledged, communication blunders I run into as a professional business writer. If you’re currently doing any of these, you may want to consider different ways of saying those things.
Using Multiple Exclamation Points Outside of Excitement
Before people get angry at me for bashing on their beloved exclamation point, I am not referring to times where you are happy and excited.
If you’re inviting someone to a chamber event and you want to pepper your invite email with all sorts of exclamation points, have a great time doing it. However, if you are asking someone to do something for you or you are reminding them of something they said they would do, you should never use multiple exclamation points.
I recently received a reminder from an editor of an upcoming due date. I was happy to see the reminder. It ensures my calendar and their calendar are in sync. However, what I don’t want to see is multiple exclamation points.
What could have been a helpful communication turned off-putting for me. Here’s what she sent me:
This article is due tomorrow!!!!
Here’s what I “heard:”
YOU BETTER HAVE THIS ARTICLE DONE TOMORROW OR ELSE!!!!!!!!!
Mind you, I have never missed a deadline.
Now it’s likely she meant nothing by it. She simply is of a generation where email etiquette means using exclamation points for everything. Again, I would have gladly taken a couple exclamation points after a phrase like “good work” or “come to my party.” But when you use them on a deadline-related or other serious communication, the recipient can mistake that for yelling.
Using the Word “Just”
The word just, assuming you’re not talking about fairness, is a negator. It shoots down everything around it and can carry an irritating tone.
“Just do what I say.”
“Just move those boxes.”
While people may feel like they’re using it to describe what needs to be done (just those boxes, not the others), it can make people feel like what they’re doing is unimportant or not enough.
Writing “Glad I Can Help” or “I’m Happy to Help” When You’re Not (Yet) Helping
“Helping” has become a big buzzword in the quest to provide better customer service. However, one should never use the word “help” when you’re not helping someone.
For instance, imagine a member referred a friend to the chamber who’s interested in becoming a member. That person sent you an email asking about dues. You provided the info and they thanked you for your time.
What’s the best email etiquette response?
This is the perfect time to convey “you’re welcome” and tell them:
- how much they’ll benefit with their investment in the chamber
- you would be happy to arrange some time for them to speak to one of the chamber ambassadors
- how much you’ve enjoyed speaking with them and how you’d like to give them a call next week
All of these are solid ideas or maybe you have your own based on your membership sales practices.
What is not a good idea is you saying “Sure. I’m happy to help.”
Now, what’s wrong with being helpful?
While you answered their question about dues to say that you’re happy to help insinuates a role that you haven’t quite earned yet. Okay, so you did provide assistance by reading off a list of prices but there are a lot more effective ways to close the conversation.
“Happy to help” sounds like you did them a favor when that is hardly the case. They’re interested in giving you money, after all.
Using Sarcasm without Humor
Humor can be a very welcome part of business communication these days.
But some people have sarcastic senses of humor. I would highly advise leaving the sarcasm for your family Christmas card letter. But if you feel the necessity to use it, never do so without obvious humor.
If you use sarcasm without humor, some people may not pick up on the sarcasm. To ensure the sarcasm is understood, you should use short, quick conversational terms and questions as well as humor. Failing to do so may mean a serious misunderstanding.
Keep in mind, if your email topic is one of serious nature it’s best to leave humor and sarcasm out. You don’t want to confuse anyone on your intention when it comes to addressing a grave matter.
Posting Something You Wouldn’t Say in Person
Even if you are posting something to a closed group on social media, it’s important to know nothing is truly private. All anyone needs to do is take a screenshot and post it. There’s little denying you said what is on someone’s screen.
Before hitting send on any communication for the chamber or posting on your personal social media pages or text, ask yourself if that conversation would make your grandmother proud.
Inquire on whether that commentary is befitting a chamber professional.
Whether you feel like it or not, you are a local celebrity in your town. You are the chamber person. You don’t ever want to be heard disparaging a business, a business leader, or an elected official.
Even though you are allowed to have your own opinion and your rights are protected by freedom of speech, you will have a whole lot less headache and personal turmoil if you remove negativity about local businesses from anything in your written communications, personal or professional.
Being Too Friendly in Tone or Content
This is a real challenge for business professionals today. In business communications we’re telling people to write as they talk. We suggest a more casual approach to writing and sharing in order to build relationships with people.
That’s still good social media and email advice but some people go overboard with it. Telling your business story is very effective marketing as is explaining your “why.” But email etiquette should suggest that telling your email list what bar you went to last night and how you can barely move this morning is not the kind of personal story that will get people to join the chamber.
While that story example may seem comical and over-exaggerated, some chamber professionals have been caught on the bad side of oversharing.
But it’s not just written posts on social media that cause problems. You can also be burned by image posts. No one wants to see a screen print of a picture they took of themselves the night before. While you may have thought the picture of you was very flattering last night, today in the bright lights of the boardroom, you may be questioning that share. don’t put yourself in that predicament.
Also, while you’re reading this go out and check your permissions to find out who sees it when someone tags you. Sometimes the oversharing isn’t even done at your hands, or thumbs, as the case may be.
Using the Word “Kindly”
Using the word kindly accomplishes the very opposite of what you intended to do. If you’re using kindly to say “please,” dump this word for the more obvious choice, please. Kindly can be interpreted as sarcastic. It also tends to be the type of word we use when we’ve waited for a very long time for something. Email etiquette means being precise in your words to avoid misunderstanding. There is no reason to use it instead of “please.”
Using Incorrect Homonyms
No one purposely sets out to use the wrong homonym (words that sound the same but mean something very different). Unfortunately, spell check doesn’t always catch them. Grammarly has become quite intuitive in its handling of homonyms but it’s not always possible for that software to detect them. That means you need to double and triple check your posts.
The hypocritical thing about grammar is that most of us make mistakes in our writing at some point. But nothing subtracts from professionalism faster than confused homonyms. One is a mistake, several indicate the writer simply doesn’t know which ones are correct and how to use them.
And if you’re banking on the fact that most people don’t know the difference between affect and effect, it doesn’t matter. Most people can’t spell better than Dan Quayle but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t discredit him after that awkward spelling mistake in the early 90s. And there weren’t even memes back then!
The most common homonym errors in business writing are:
- Their and they’re
- It’s and its
- Affect and effect
- Too and to
- Weather and whether
- Awwww and awe
Whenever you are writing something for the chamber keep a close eye on these words. It is too easy to key in the wrong one. If you do, you will erode the confidence people have in you as a skilled business communicator.
Precision in language is more important online than it is in person. In person, you have other ways of communicating including body language that can help people understand your intention.
Body language cues are missing from online communication. So while you may say the same thing in person with a smile on your face to let the person know that it’s not an order, online you don’t have that.
While some of these words and punctuation usages I used in this article may seem nitpicky, in online communication they can become magnified. And, unlike in-person communication where you can see that you’ve clearly upset someone, with online situations they may walk away grumbling from your communication exchange and you may never know. They may even forward or share your posts or email in a much broader way than they would have an error made in person.
When they do share it, their audience can read exactly what you said. They’ll have their own view on it and may share it with even more people. That’s why it is incredibly important to understand social media best practices, to use good email etiquette and to be precise in all of your online communication. As a chamber professional and business leader, you cannot afford miscommunication.