Successful relationships, whether in our personal or professional lives, depend on effective communication.
Communication can make the difference between life and death in emergency situations, between divorce and reconciliation in a marriage, or between profit and loss in a business, yet many people still disregard the importance of communication in the online world. Now that such a considerable amount of our daily lives is facilitated by the internet, digital communication skills are essential to ensure messages are delivered and received correctly, and virtual wires are not crossed in the process.
Some forms of online communication do not allow immediate feedback, so it’s essential to present compelling messages in a one-way setting in order to be successful. Communication failures, on the other hand, come at no small price – when customers receive poorly crafted messages, they form unfavourable conclusions about your brand.
As we all know, there aren’t many chances to improve the first impression. These five useful skills for online communication will help you avoid unnecessary complications and improve the profitability of your business. Let’s see what you should consider.
1. Follow ‘netiquette’
When people meet in person for the first time, there are certain unwritten rules of it’s customary to behave with propriety and decorum. Ignoring these rules risk coming across as rude, arrogant, or just plain odd, creating barriers to constructive dialog as a result and damaging any potential relationships before they’ve even begun. Well, online communication works in a similar way, with a similar set of standards.
‘Netiquette’ is the framework of accepted behaviours when communicating online. In many ways, the importance of netiquette exceeds that of in-person etiquette, because unlike fleeting acquaintances, the internet creates a permanent record of communications which can haunt people and businesses that have been ineffective or offensive in previous online interactions. Avoid such communication at all costs; you don’t need the Ghost of Bad Online Past hovering above you and ruining your reputation, that’s for sure.
When communicating via faceless channels, such as email or social platforms, it’s important to remember that there is a real person on the receiving end, although you cannot see them. This will also ensure you are using human language, rather than writing with a robot receiver in mind.
What can you do? First off, be as polite as you would be in offline encounters. Acknowledge other people’s privacy and respect their time. You can also include simple greetings and salutations to make correspondents feel safe and respected. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll become the boss of respectful communication.
2. Use clear and concise language
When writing content, it’s important to write in a style that your audience will enjoy reading. Consider the following:
Tone of voice: Are you writing a formal piece of copy that calls for sophisticated vocabulary, or would your audience respond better to a more casual, conversational writing style?
Technical jargon: Too much industry ‘jargon’ could end up alienating audiences unfamiliar with such specific terminology. Instead, use technical terms where necessary, but aim to keep your content as accessible as possible. When using acronyms always write the full phrase out in full the first time you use it followed by the acronym in brackets – eg search engine optimisation (SEO). That way, readers will know exactly what you are referring to later in the text.
Break up your text: A long page of unbroken copy is likely to put many readers off. Use subheadings, bullet points, and lists to break up your content into digestible chunks that look less daunting on the screen. From an SEO perspective, a well-structured web page is also far easier for spiders to crawl and index.
However, since most online communication uses the written word (email, chat, forums, discussions, social media comments etc) a good working knowledge of vocabulary and grammar is essential; if in doubt, always check.
Business owners should therefore consider offering on-going training opportunities to workers who want to improve their writing skills, because when team members write better, they present an improved, professional image of their company.
Luckily, online communication can easily be improved through proofreading. Check for:
- Grammar and punctuation errors
- Poor sentence structure
- Incorrect use of tenses
- Spelling errors or typos
It’s often difficult to spot your own mistakes, especially if you’ve read through the piece several times already, so ask a colleague to check your work with a fresh pair of eyes.
Conducting a general ‘sense check’ is also a useful exercise. Making sure the wording flows correctly and reads well will help avoid ambiguity, and eliminating irrelevant and extra information can improve the clarity of a written message.
3. Convey the right tone
Online communications differ from in-person encounters because they often lack non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice.
When communicating online with customers and prospects, it is therefore important to establish the correct tone of a conversation from the outset. Humour can be an effective ice breaker when used in face-to-face situations and can help build a rapport with new acquaintances, however tread carefully when using humorous language online; avoid tones that can be easily misinterpreted in writing, such as sarcasm or irony, so as not to inadvertently offend people and burn bridges you’ve worked hard to build.
Although corporate culture often dictates the tone of language used for business, different communication styles may be chosen based on context. For example, you can use colloquial terms when chatting with a long-time customer, but when it comes to resolving customer complaints, using formal and grammatically correct speech is usually best to ensure the customer knows you are taking matters seriously.
4. Provide thorough responses
When writing responses to your customers, be sure to thoroughly address all the issues presented to you. In some situations, it is possible to anticipate the follow-up questions customers might ask to make communication faster and more efficient.
A bit of preparation goes a long way. Sometimes business workers fail to provide complete answers to enquiries because they do not take the necessary time to read, absorb, and understand what a customer has to say. As a general rule, you should always provide answers to basic questions such as “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, “Where?”, “Why?”, and “How?”.
If you’re uncertain about the meaning of a customer’s concern, or the issue they’ve raised, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. It is always better to ask first than to regret later.
Thorough coverage of enquiries helps companies retain existing customers just as much as it helps attract new clients. A company that thoroughly and competently interacts with customers online can create goodwill in the online community, setting the stage for increased sales.
5. Build a favourable online persona
Businesses need to communicate well in both personal and online settings in order to build and maintain positive sentiment within their target markets. However, online communication often presents added difficulties because of the absence of nonverbal cues. By focusing on clear and concise writing, as well as on conveying appreciation for your customers, you can maintain a high level of online professionalism that will build rapport with the community and inspire goodwill among your prospects.
So, to recap:
- Abide by the rules of ‘netiquette’ to maintain good relations and avoid offence
- Use clear and concise language that your audience will understand and enjoy reading
- Convey the right tone by tailoring your language and writing style to your intended audience
- Provide thorough responses to customer queries to ensure your brand appears professional and competent
- Build a favourable online persona through well-structured communication and demonstrating customer appreciation
Ultimately, this will lead to increased sales and improved profitability. It sure sounds tempting enough to make an effort!