Upon returning from a meeting recently, I received an email from one of the attendees. It opened with “It was great to sea everyone. I hope we can all contine to be so productive.”
Now that is a lesson in how not to impress anybody.
But the author of that un-proofread email is not alone. In this age when everyone is self-published via the Internet, there are opportunities galore to blow it. And, while many business writing mistakes are minor, others can be fatal.
Here are the ones you simply must avoid:
1. TMI: Sharing too much information can be a killer. Especially in this age of tweeting and updating, business people increasingly make the mistake of posting too much information. And it is even worse because the very nature of Twitter is that you can dash off a tweet and not really think about its ramifications.
Doing so can not only hurt your reputation, it can even get you in legal hot water.
For instance, every year Microsoft holds a summit for its most valuable professional partners (“MVPs”). Much of what these MVPs know is under NDA. Yet even so, at last year’s summit the MVPs tweeted so much confidential info that this year there was a Twitter logo outside sessions with a red X over it. The sign next to it read in part:
“All Keynotes and Breakout and Side Sessions are . . . under your MVP Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) . . . Do not share session content from this event in any manner including: tweeting, blogging, posting, [etc.].”
Violating your NDA for a tweet is dumb.
And what about tweeting too much personal information? That may be even worse. Consider this tweet from actress Fran Drescher:
How do you know when it is TMI? If you would not say in public what you are about to type, then you probably should not share it.
Some things are better left un-tweeted.
2. Forgetting that it is still about business: Social media is the proverbial double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows you to have a more personal connection with colleagues and business associates. On the other, that very closeness can create an illusion of close friendship that may not be real, appropriate, or both.
And the danger there is that we say things to friends that we would never say to colleagues.
So the important thing to remember is this: If you are posting about business, remember it is about business. Sure you can be friendly and colloquial, that’s great, but there better be a line.
And because there is no room for nuance with emails, posts, and tweets (since nuance is often expressed with a look or voice inflection), you run the real risk that people who do not know you well may misinterpret an overly-friendly post. If they don’t get your humor, or know your way, your post is liable to fall flat.
3. Not double-checking: Once upon a time, no business communication ever went out without being double-checked for errors; secretaries and aides would make sure of that. These days, with everyone in such a rush, double-checking may seem as antiquated as dictation, but it shouldn’t be because sloppiness can have severe ramifications. As the old commercial goes, “people judge you by the words you use.”
This mistake typically comes in two forms.
First, like my colleague above, it is very easy today to shoot off an email with typos, misspellings, or other grammatical errors. While a friend will forgive your error, colleagues may not forget; your written communication is a main way they form an opinion of, and eventually a judgment about, you.
Proofreading emails is a must, bottom line.
The second way a lack of thoroughness can be detrimental is a mistake probably all of us have made – sending an email to the wrong people, and/or cc’ing everyone by mistake. It can be devastating. Yes, mistakes happen, but creating a habit of double-checking means they will happen less often.
4. Mistaking texting for writing: While using texting language for tweets is at least understandable given Twitter’s truncated format, it should be avoided in business emails. Using “i” instead of I, emoticons, or cute abbreviations are the sorts of things that should only be used for people you know well, if then.
I mean really, how seriously would you take this column if I ended it with, “i hope u c what i am saying! J”
Right – not very.