The ease of today’s digital communications doesn’t mean you’re excused for rude, or outright harassing, behavior. Maybe it’s unintentional, maybe you’re in a rush, or maybe you’re not aware of the important presentation your friend is giving when you send them a message about a happy hour event down the road. Maybe. But maybe doesn’t excuse you from due diligence and proper digital etiquette.
Need some help? Well, here are four tips for communicating in the digital age.
1) Know your Medium
As Marshall McLuhan famously quipped, “the medium is the message.” Now the popular interpretation of that axiom may be a subject for scholarly debate, but to say that there’s a tonal difference between Twitter and Facebook, or between text messages and e-mail, isn’t a controversial statement. Communicating effectively over various digital mediums means you need to recognize the tone of that medium, and adjust your message accordingly.
Take the time to figure out the common practices of your chosen medium — digital or physical — in order to effectively communicate. On Twitter, use hashtags; on Facebook, keep it personal and private; on email, be sure to write the topic of your email in the subject line; in mail, always sign. These tips can help you to not just focus what you communicate, but also help your recipients to track, prioritize, and rate the importance or relevance of your message. Keep in mind that an important email, where clarity is tantamount, shouldn’t be typed out on a typo-prone smartphone. Avoid flooding inboxes with corrections by taking the extra time to be accurate and clear in what you write.
Finally, we’ll have consider the growing trend of communications sent from mobile devices. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon, but it is one absent of established norms. If you’re going to send an email from your phone, be sure to note that in your signature (it helps to explain missed typos and inaccurate autocorrected words). Also, be wary of email chains; a previously expressed opinion could very easily wind up before the wrong eyes.
2) Know Your Audience
Okay, so we established that the medium of communication accounts for a lot in digital communication, but what about your audience? As with any type of communication, having a clear image of who you’re communicating with is crucial to getting your message across.
A business email ought to have a different tone from one addressed to your friends, while an email to your friends ought to consider their sensitivities and the time they can commit to reading a lengthy message (which ought to be a rarity in any medium). Age, too, is an important factor when communicating online; if you’re talking with individuals from older generations, then follow up emails and thank-you notes are encouraged, but flooding both email and voicemail boxes of those in a younger generation is strongly frowned on. Remember: there’s no hard-and fast rule in person-to-person communications, so if you want to know the best means of addressing an individual, ask.
Finally, as The New York Times notes, don’t waste the time of your recipients. If you can find the answer to your question through a search engine, or through a different service, then don’t waste their time by asking unless you absolutely have to.
3) Be Patient
One of the biggest assets of digital communication is also one of its biggest liabilities: immediacy. Increasingly, it seems the price of immediacy is patience. Yes, most individuals today have access to a mobile device, but being able to send immediate messages doesn’t mean you’ll get immediate results; other people could be, as Freshtightdesigns.com explains, busy with work, on the phone, or giving a presentation. Don’t assume your messages are being ignored; your recipients could be busy with something else.
If a message requires a timely response, highlight that fact near the top of your message. A 24-hour notice is typically appropriate, though this time frame can be shortened if a particular topic requires an immediate response. If you need to talk to someone through instant messaging, be sure to ask if they’re available before going into the details of a given topic.
4) Video Etiquette
An increasing amount of business and communication is being done over video conferencing services like Skype and Apple’s FaceTime. While a convenient stand-in for face-to-face meetings, you should be aware of a few unwritten rules surrounding video conferencing. As Entrepreneur.com notes, you should be aware that six to seven people will be watching you, even if you’re not speaking, when you’re video conferencing.
That awareness should also fold into other actions during a conference: multitasking, for example, can be painfully obvious; the same goes for checking your phone, searching for information online, and the fact that your children want you to make them lunch. You can prevent any of these unnecessary distractions by preparing for the conference meeting well ahead of time and finding a quiet room to talk shop.
The basic rule of thumb for video conferencing: don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at an actual in-person meeting — including not wearing pants.
Thanks to Angie Picardo for this guest post. Angie is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the best checking account.