Netiquette 101 A Quick E-Mail Primer

Gone are the days when friends and associates corresponded with each other via long, handwritten letters on lovely watermarked paper. Today, most of what gets said and done is done so via e-mail; it's faster, easier, and more convenient than sending messages by hand and waiting for a reply. Sometimes, e-mail is even quicker than the telephone.

E-mail does have its drawbacks, however. With speed and ease comes a certain amount of informality and, all to often, misunderstanding. When discussing potentially sensitive board-related information - or even just everyday business in a co-op or condo community - it's important for e-mailers to follow some basic guidelines to make sure they're communicating clearly and appropriately. To that end, here are a few "netiquette" pointers.

Know the difference between "To," "Cc," and "Bcc." "To" is pretty self-explanatory, but many people misuse the "Cc" option when sending e-mail. "Cc" is short for "Carbon Copy" and is used when addressing one message to multiple recipients who already know each other and know each other's e-mail addresses. "Cc'ed" e-mail addresses are visible to ALL recipients. By contrast, "Bcc" means "Blind Carbon Copy" and is used to address the same message to multiple people who don't know each other, or might not want everyone receiving the message to know their personal e-mail address. "Ccing" when you should "Bcc" is comparable to someone giving out your phone number to strangers without your permission, and is considered very poor form. Be careful with the "Reply to All" button. The "Reply to All" button does exactly what it says: it sends your response to a given e-mail to every single person the message was sent to. If your board president sends a group e-mail reminding you and your fellow board members of an upcoming meeting, it's really not necessary to "Reply to All" 15 members of the board with your RSVP. Reply only to the sender of the original e-mail; don't waste everyone else's time and inbox space with unnecessary messages. Keep it Brief. When replying to a message, keep your response brief and to the point, and compose a fresh reply: don't reproduce the sender's message in its entirety - nobody needs to re-read the original message with your "Me too!" or "I agree!" tacked on to the bottom. Be selective with what you reproduce and only do it as needed.Keep Your Cool. As they say, never hit "send" on anything you wouldn't want to see in tomorrow's newspaper. It's very easy to forward e-mail messages - either by mistake or on purpose - and once a message is out there, there's no telling where it might end up or who might read it. With that in mind, avoid sending ANY confidential or sensitive information via e-mail, and never send a message in anger. If you're upset, save the draft of your unsent message and review it after you have had time to calm down. There's no place for abusive, harassing, or threatening e-mail messages in day-to-day business of a residential building; defamatory or discriminatory material can have serious legal consequences. Pay Attention to Tone. Sarcasm and humor don't translate as well online as they do in person, or even over the phone. Without facial expressions and tone of voice, it's hard to tell if an e-mail sender is being funny or just being rude. If you find yourself adding smileys (like this one: J) to your messages to make sure they're not misinterpreted, perhaps you should reexamine your wording. It's also been observed that e-mail communications tend to be much less formal than written correspondence. Remember that a certain amount of professionalism is still expected when communicating about business matters, regardless of the medium. Don't be overly familiar or cutesy (no double or triple exclamation points!!!) and avoid using slang. Use Common Sense. One of the most irritating corollaries to the Age of E-mail has been the wild proliferation of pointless forwarded messages and outright spam. While your mom or your Aunt Tillie may get a kick out of a third-hand list of 30 lawyer jokes, it's really not appropriate material for your managing agent or fellow board members. Avoid sending irrelevant information to everyone in your e-mail address book, and be aware that many a notorious computer virus has done its dirty work via forwarded messages and hastily opened attachments. Be Aware. Most times, e-mail messages between board members, managers, and residents are innocuous bits of workaday information: nothing too exciting or dramatic. But that's not always the case, and it's important for people privy to the confidential information of others to keep that information secure. Don't give your e-mail passwords out to other people, and don't leave your browser window open to your e-mail inbox while you're away from your computer.

All in all, e-mail has revolutionized the way business is done and thoughts are communicated in our world; in fact, it's sometimes hard to imagine how families stayed in touch - much less how managing agents handled multiple building portfolios - before the advent of e-mail. It's important to remember, however, that e-mail is a tool, not a toy. As long as boards, managers, and residents stick to a few basic rules of netiquette, they can take advantage of one of the greatest technological conveniences of our day.

Hannah Fons is the Associate Editor of The Cooperator.

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