Thursday, September 19, 2013

Social Communication, Email Level - 6 Pitfalls to Avoid

Via Twenty Four Frames
Social communication is bigger than Facebook and as small as a Post-It . Lately, I've seen some gnashing of teeth on the subject of emails and memos. Whether you're writing to a board member, a volunteer, a staff member, or another kind of stakeholder, avoid miscommunication by avoiding these six communication pitfalls.

Too Long

According to The Hobbit, the road may go on forever, but your communication shouldn't. With all of the voicemails, emails, hard copy, etc. everyone has to deal with on a daily basis now, you need to get to the point. If background on a problem or question is needed, ask yourself what the minimum is and go with that. Take the time to edit because you don't want your communications delayed by people thinking, "Oh no, another long-winded email from him."

Too Vague

Almost as irritating is a communication that makes you guess what it's about. Don't be cagey or cute and sidle up to your subject. If you want to use an introduction, that's fine - just make sure that it actually introduces the subject.

Subject Line Missing

Always put something in the subject line and make it as pithy as possible. Don't make the subject line the communication itself. Subject lines are used by most people to narrow down the search for a communication later. They can't do this if the subject isn't clear or isn't there.

And while we're on the subject (uh-huh), don't change the subject in follow-ups. If you've been discussing a new idea and the conversation has been resolved, don't use 'reply' to start a new subject. This makes it nearly impossible for someone to find the correct thread later if they need to. Start a new email or memo.

Being Too Creative

This applies to both stationery and signatures in emails. Most people, even in a tiny nonprofit, will have branding that lends professionalism to your communications. But in email there are uncounted opportunities to indulge your inner artist. When Microsoft first brought out email stationery, I experimented with it, but I quickly realized that it was distracting. Further, the graphics added unneeded weight to the size of the emails I was sending. It just wasn't worth it.

You should definitely have a signature, including your email address and the website of your nonprofit. Just don't get carried away and include anything unnecessary like a summation of your philosophy through the quote of the day, jokes, emoticons, poetry or pictures. If your recipient has to scroll down some to see all of your signature, it's too long.


The rule on these is, spell it out the first time you use it and include the abbreviation in parenthesis. For example, Society for Technical Communication (STC). Thereafter, you can use the abbreviation. But don't use a lot of these or your communication will look like alphabet soup.

Attaching Files

It should go without saying that if you're sending an email, you should only attach files if they are necessary to the conversation. Even then, keep the files as small as possible. There are still download limitations in force in many email clients (like Outlook and Gmail) and attaching big files (over 1 Mg) can cause some peoples' email clients to lock up or lock up and then give them a message that the file was oversized and could not be received. Note: do I need to do a post on reducing files for sending? Let me know.

Communication Etiquette:

Last Responder:

Failing to respond. If you get a memo, voicemail, text, email, and you don't have time to get into the subject, at least respond that you received the communication, so the sender isn't out there, wondering.

Greetings and Closings:

This one is iffy for me. I tend to like to get right to the subject rather than spending time with, "Dear George" and "Yours truly", but some people are offended by a lack of salutation and closing. In this case, all I can say is, know who you're communicating with.

Forwarding Emails:

If you're forwarding something that has gone through several back and forths, take the time to manage the subject line so it doesn't look like: re: re: re: re: re: re: The Event. Also, remove all of the forwards within the body of the email so that there are no strange lines and people don't have to scroll way, way, way down the page to see the pertinent information. If you don't know how to do this, it's not difficult, just tiresome, so learn it. The good news is if you do it from the start, you're unlikely to ever get to the re: re: re: re: stage.

Blind Carbon Copies (BCC):

A lot of people may not know what this is these days, since carbon copies are relegated (like me) to the Pleistocene era. When sending an email to a long list of people, it's polite (and a good safety measure) to send it to yourself and include the list in the BCC field. When one of those on the list receives the email, it will show only your email address and none of the others. This will prevent you inadvertently sharing someone's address without their permission with others on the list, and with spammers possibly trolling for email addresses. As a bonus, it gives the email a cleaner look, without all of the email addresses bunched at the top.

Regardless of the form of the communication, Facebook post, Tweet, Pinterest picture, memo, email, or text, the best way to engage and be engageable is to be clear, concise, and organized.

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