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4 tips for improving your professional etiquette online

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

As with our real-life interactions in the workplace, our online etiquette determines our professional reputation.

With nearly half of Australian businesses (47.1%) fostering an online presence, engaging in increasingly digitised communication has become commonplace. It’s thus important to carry out these interactions in a refined, courteous manner – benefiting both your career and company.

However, with a lack of physical expression and nuances in tone, some messages can get lost in translation. 

SkillsTalk dive into the four tips for effective communication in online business – helping you make confident, professional first impressions.

So, how do you improve your professional etiquette online?

  1. Master the art of emails.
  2. Provide timely, informative responses.
  3. Know your recipients.
  4. Keep work and life separate (if you can).

1. Master the art of emails.

checking emails on laptop and phone

Your first step is to tackle the prime source of corporate interaction – business emails. 

With the average office worker receiving about 120 e-mails per day, this form of communication is unavoidable. It’s important to make a good impression – before they even click through your message.

Firstly, be sure to use your company address.  Not only does it clarify who you are and the business you work for, but it also offers you a separate work inbox exclusively for company e-mails. If you’re self-employed, it’s vital to set one of these up for yourself. In addition, create a signature block to offer more information on your role.

When writing your emails, always ensure you have a clear subject line, one that directly addresses you or your recipient’s concerns. This helps them determine the priority of your emails, and avoids them getting dismissed as “junk” or unimportant.  

Of course, keep fonts classic and easy to read. According to MageMail, the best fonts for neutrality and professionalism include Arial, Times New Roman, and Verdana. 

Finally, when writing your content – assume nothing is truly confidential. Electronic messages can easily be shared beyond your direct recipient; so be sure you aren’t writing anything that could damage you or a colleague’s reputation

When in doubt, it can help to add the e-mail address last, after you’ve thoroughly proofread and edited your message. This not only ensures that you’ve said everything with clarity, grace, and the proper etiquette – but it also helps avoid the all-too-common mistake of accidentally sending an email before it’s complete (i.e. missing a paragraph or attachment). 

2. Provide timely, informative responses.

When tackling customer emails, thorough responses are vital. 

Customer support should be treated with priority; with time taken to read, understand, and absorb the issues presented. Address the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how”, and “why” of their message – and it may even help to anticipate any “follow-up” questions to make communication faster and more efficient

Clear, competent attention to enquiries can effectively retain existing customers, as well as attract new ones. This communication shows how you value your customer base and creates a positive online image for your business

As tempting as it may be, it’s best to avoid using bots to automate your responses. You’ll risk your company coming off as unrelatable, which may even prompt a few “unfollows” on social media

Of course, it’s not just the information that counts, but the time it takes you to reply, too. 

In a 2018 study of over 1,200 consumers, 80% of those surveyed expected a standard business response time of one hour, with 15 minutes denoting world-class service. 

While time capacities will differ among companies, it’s safe to assume that the faster your customer response time – the better.

Timely and accurate e-mail responses don’t just apply to customer enquiries, however; but emails from your colleagues, too. 

The general etiquette rules are as follows: an immediate response is warranted if your recipient says so, if they’re a priority client or part of upper management, or if it’s an urgent matter. Waiting a day is acceptable if they’ve messaged you off-business hours, or your response requires time to craft. 

If you find your inbox overloaded with emails, simply tell your contacts so. A simple, “I’ll reply to this later”, shows that you’ve acknowledged your sender’s message and will offer a proper response soon.

3. Know your recipients.

responding to email concept

As mentioned, communication in the online world lacks the social benefits of facial expressions, vocal inflections, and body language offered through face-to-face interaction.

It’s thus important to take note of the possible vibe or tone you’re conveying in your online messages, whether through email or social media. Straightforward may come off as “curt” or “blunt”; and as friendly of an approach as humour may seem, keep in mind that jokes are subjective – without the right vocal delivery, they may come off as improper or offensive in written form.

Experts thus suggest keeping things as neutral as possible, sticking to “clear, matter-of-fact content”, as Rachel French, owner of Protea Coaching, describes. 

It’s also best to stay cautious of industry jargon, unless you’re confident of your recipient’s ability to understand the terminology. Such technical terms may be better off avoided among customers – though it may pass with fellow colleagues. 

Not all online interactions have to be stiff and corporate, however. Responding to a long-time client may warrant a more laidback, colloquial communication style, for example. If you and your co-workers share the same sense of humour, some friendly banter is harmless – as long as it remains workplace-appropriate.

Keep in mind that recipients of different cultures can also have different ways of communicating. Those from high-context cultures (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Arabian) prefer getting to know their clients before doing business with them. In contrast, those from lower-context cultures (i.e. German, Scandinavian, American) prefer getting straight to the point.

4. Keep work and life separate (if you can).

The idea of adding colleagues on social media has been a well-pondered concept; after all, you see these people five days a week – why wouldn’t they be part of your online social circles? 

Knowledge City suggests that as a rule of thumb, if you aren’t comfortable with having employees over for dinner, they probably shouldn’t be seeing photos of your weekend family activities. 

Similarly, Mashable advises workers to consider whether they’d still want these online connections – even after leaving their current role.

If you do choose to add co-workers to your social media platforms, then it pays to be wary of what you post.
Outspoken religious or political views are generally to be avoided, along with drama involving those in your company. With all your content readily available, you’re left vulnerable to misinterpretation or disapproval of the personal affairs, beliefs, and stories you share online. 

Privacy settings can help with filtering out what certain audiences get to see, and who these viewers are. You must also get comfortable with the possibility of having your updates or information shared beyond your exclusive circles. 

To uncomplicate things, Hootsuite’s Todd Clark recommends having two separate accounts for business and personal use. This way, you’ll get to share your private happenings with those closest to you; while keeping an exclusive platform for fostering friendly, professional relationships with co-workers

Looking to improve your business skills?

Online netiquette can make or break a business; and with so many companies in the digital space, such graces are now just as crucial as they are in the real world. With a bit of practice, you’ll soon find yourself an expert in sharp, professional online exchanges, benefiting your career and company reputation.

For those interested in polishing their business skills, Upskilled offers a generous selection of business and management courses – on top of over 80 nationally-recognised qualifications across a broad range of industries. Each is delivered 100% online, which can help you tailor your studies to suit your personal schedules. Advance your skills in the world of business, and enquire today on a course.
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