Can you remember the first time you got an e-mail with an emoticon in it?
All of a sudden, instead of writing coherent sentences and signing off with a ‘Yours sincerely’, people writing e-mails seemed to forget everything that they had ever learned in school about grammar and politeness, and instead seized on a new language that got rid of punctuation completely, and abbreviated everything as if we were too busy to even type out a word in full.
Changing the face of modern communications
I might sound a bit old-fashioned, here, but technology has really changed our approach to communications.
These days, we can set our signature strip on our outgoing mail software to do the polite part for us, and we can ping off messages in seconds without checking the spelling or bothering with a quick read through to catch any errors before we send it out.
While I’m all in favour of progress and technological development, I do sometimes regret the fact that the way we communicate has changed to the point that we don’t bother with any of the traditional etiquette that we used to use in letter writing, for example.
Text speak is probably one of the biggest areas that language has evolved over the past decade.
Because of the need to keep things brief in mobile messages or on Twitter, we’re increasingly using abbreviations that would have seemed like a different language just a few years ago.
Colons, commas and parentheses are now saved to make smileys with, and it’s perfectly acceptable to pop a number in to a word to get the meaning across on a text.
The growing need for netiquette
So, given all of this evolution, is there any point left in online etiquette? (Or, Netiquette as it is now known)?
I think there is a place for it.
No matter how far we progress down the route of text speak and instant messaging, sometimes it’s still very important to take a bit of time to observe some fundamental rules when we deal with our customers.
For example, while I might message a friend of colleague in a rush and don’t bother with a hello or goodbye, I wouldn’t consider doing this in an e-mail to a customer.
If we’re losing our shops in favour of online stores, and we don’t write letters anymore, I think it’s important that we develop a set of standards for our online communications.
Beyond the obvious, such as not swearing in your blog articles and checking your site for spelling mistakes, it’s also important to consider some more subtle aspects of netiquette too.
Every time we send a mail, we ought to be reading it through to catch errors, making sure it’s not written all in upper case (shouting), that it isn’t being forwarded on with huge needless attachments, and that we’ve been courteous and respectful in the way we’ve phrased it.
What would your mother say?
These days, e-mails are becoming increasingly used as legal documents in courts, shared online to demonstrate communications to the wider world, and distributed around user groups and mailing lists.
With the ‘forward’ function being such a key part of online communications, it’s important that we remember just how wide an audience any mail we send could potentially reach, and make sure that we aren’t committing crimes against etiquette when we dash off a hasty mail to a customer.
It’s a good rule of thumb for online etiquette to imagine that every single thing you type off to people, whether on Skype, e-mail or instant messaging, is being read by your best customer, a business competitor and your mother.
With this in mind, we’ll all be much more likely to pay closer attention to grammar, (for our mothers), keep away from divulging personal information (for our competitors), and be polite and courteous for our customers! …LOL.