First published April 2003.
I had great feedback from my last article, and was asked to write further on the subject; hence my title.
This month I’ll share on Email Etiquette in discussion groups. For those who are not yet aware, on the Internet there are hundreds of thousands of discussion groups available in any topic imaginable. The most popular group systems used are YahooGroups.com, Topica.com and SmartGroups.com but there are others. Some web owners set up their own private groups too, via their website.
The idea behind these groups is that someone starts up or moderates a topic and people become members (at no cost) if they are interested. Some of these groups have closed memberships, i.e. you have to be involved in whatever that group is about and outsiders cannot join, whilst other groups are open to all and sundry.
With the whole world being open to membership for these groups cultural differences need to be considered and it is possible to easily upset a member and suddenly you have a heated argument with many others getting involved and the original meaning and context completely shoved aside! I’ve seen this happen in groups and it’s a shame, as it often just takes a little thought and consideration to realise that perhaps the writer didn’t fully understand the language, or hadn’t actually meant what may have sounded rather rude. There have been times when someone has written something I thought was offensive or wrong and rather than emailing back to the list via the group email address, I have chosen to email the writer direct instead. A much better way to handle a misunderstanding.
A good rule when handling/writing email for group discussions – read through it first and then check which address it is going to, before clicking ‘Send’.
The suggestion last month about using signature blocks really applies in this situation – how will people know who you are, or where you come from if you only sign off as ‘Kathie’?
Another suggestion – trim the message before sending it back to the group. What I mean by this is do not leave all the original discussion and replies at the tail end as this is unnecessary and makes it inconvenient for those who have chosen to receive a daily digest of messages (they keep reading the same things over and over otherwise) and difficult for those who are on limited bandwidth for email. But don’t delete the whole previous message – if you are responding to something, or adding to the discussion. There are often multiple discussions going on and it could prove difficult for the reader to understand what you’re saying, and in what context, if the whole previous message is deleted from your response. I have at times read something posted to a group and thought ‘huh?’ There is a happy medium here.
Discussion groups give you an opportunity to learn from others and share ideas, but more than that, it allows you to make friends on a global scale, and then the world really does seem to become smaller. And, if you are really knowledgeable in your field, it also helps enforce this to others and before you know it, you become a respected member that others seek to learn from and perhaps be mentored by. What a privilege that can be!
One word of warning – belonging to multiple groups can become time consuming and addictive! You could find yourself spending more time reading and responding to messages than getting your work done. So, if you work virtually like I, and my team do, that can become a real danger to your business. As in all things, moderation is the key, and you stand to learn many things and make lots of friends.