Email can be messy. I see a fair amount of poor email etiquette on a daily basis from professionals that rely on email as their primary communication channel. I'm not referring to typos and grammatical glitches. Typos and abbreviations have become an expected fallacy in today's fast-paced, mobile workplace, so you can drop the "please excuse typos" from your email signature. Try using spellcheck or auto-correct instead of broadcasting to your readers that you're just as much a sloppy typer as a lazy reader. I'd rather read a message comprised of ebonics, short-hand and emoticons rather than be expected to automatically forgive a poorly crafted email just because it includes a handicap disclaimer. Typos are forgivable, but slapping a warning label on every email is a cop-out and unprofessional at best. Include a literacy disclaimer if you must, but don't blatantly disregard the recipient's need for clarity.
Typo-disclaimers are nearly as annoying as those overly legal email footers riddled with confidentiality clauses proclaiming "this message is meant for your eyes only". Disclaiming that this email is "top secret" provides little accountability to actually keep the content private, and offers zero protection from someone accidentally clicking "forward to everyone". If a message is truly confidential then you should consider a more secure delivery method.
The only etiquette more annoying than lofty content disclaimers, are bloated email signatures.
An email signature is not an effective platform to promote your brand's visual identity or legion of social networks. Your company's logo is better suited for your website, business card, letterhead or other collateral. Cute font treatments and funky color schemes rarely compensate for a desire to express your true personality, so don't bother. Keep it simple. Your signature should communicate that you are concise, credible and approachable. Extra frills just add unnecessary noise and confusion. Many inboxes are already cluttered archives, so be responsible by providing more signal and less noise. Above all, remember that the main function of an email signature is for readers to see who you are and how to get in touch.
In general, it's a bad practice to use graphics in your email signature. It's especially bad to rely solely on images to display contact info. A lot of companies do it, but it's much more effective to craft a simple text-based signature. Here are some reasons that illustrate my point:
- Text is easier to revise when you need to update minor details on the fly.
- Text is more accessible on all devices. Names, numbers, and addresses are almost useless displayed as an image.
- Email images transfer as "attachments". It makes it difficult find "real attachments" if every message has at least one.
- Email clients can ignore nested graphics within a conversation thread, and will only show a file-name in place of your company's precious logo. (ie. image003.jpg)
- Unnecessary graphics add extra file size, bloat inboxes and slow down the delivery of each message.
- Graphics get compressed by email clients and often look pixelated on different screens. Alternately, text-based content appears crisp and legible at any size.
Most of my observations on email etiquette are widely accepted and should be required reading for anyone that uses email to conduct business.
Outside of business communication, email behavior has very few boundaries. I fully expect my personal email accounts will continue attracting awkward social e-blasts, pseudo-tweets from people that haven't embraced twitter yet, random youtube links to cat videos, reminders to read blog entries from authors I already follow, offensive chain letters with religious undertones, and crass political jokes that are likely to get me flagged on a terrorist watch-list.
Holistically speaking, email etiquette is completely subjective and requires a greater threshold for noise and chaos than I'm always capable of enduring. It's a good idea to frequently exercise patience and compassion for the bad habits of others, and politely encourage better practices when the opportunity presents itself. I'm often guilty of breaking the rules and defying protocol, but my heart is usually in the right place. Just remember that everything is recorded, nothing is private, and everyone is judging you.