As digital marketing professionals, we tend to have most of our conversations…well, digitally (surprise). This means working with clients and colleagues over email, text or instant messaging, and project management boards more than we see them in person. It’s extremely convenient, especially given that most of our clients and some of our colleagues are spread out over the U.S., and sometimes around the world.
But the joys of our new digital age can also bring their specific pitfalls. It’s common to misinterpret messages more negatively when you’re only reading text rather than interacting in person, because tone is hard to convey through even the best digital tools. Emojis and punctuation can only communicate so much emotion, and when taking direction or criticism over email or text, it’s easy to get paranoid that you’ve done something irrecoverably wrong.
We’ve come up with a few ways to keep our conversations human while still making the most of our digital assets.
- Use the “BCC” field liberally. It’s always surprising to see someone put a ton of email addresses into the “To” field or the “CC” field, because it opens the entire list to a slew of “unsubscribe” replies. That’s a rookie mistake, and since email has been around for more than two decades, there shouldn’t even be any rookies left. Use the “To” field for the one person the email is meant for, the “CC” field for anyone who might need to be informed alongside that person, and “BCC” for anyone who shouldn’t need to reply to everyone who was in those two first fields. This means use BCC for listservs or group emails, too.
- Reply all. In that golden instance where everyone who is on the “To” and “CC” fields actually needs to be there, make sure your response includes everyone. And if you aren’t the person in the “To” field, wait for them to respond to jump in unless your input is instantly important to the question at hand.
- Give tough news or criticism face to face. It’s nearly impossible to convey sympathy via text, and facial and vocal cues are vital to making bad news less devastating. While quick corrections on small projects can be done in-line or off-the-cuff, major discussions on the overarching quality of someone’s work or the future of the business should be done in person as much as possible.
- Pick up the phone. If you can’t have a hard conversation face to face, make a call. If the email is getting too long and complicated, make a call. For especially difficult phone calls, FaceTime and Skype are great ways to see peoples’ faces, even if they’re not as clear as meeting in the boardroom.
- Schedule regular meetings. If everyone on the team knows there’s a meeting on Monday morning each week, they can bring up tough questions, criticisms, or complicated issues then rather than sending endless emails back and forth. Clients need meetings to check in, too, and gives them peace of mind knowing that they have a set time to talk to you. Keeping client time in mind is important, but checking in at least once a month is a good idea.
- Respond as quickly as you can. It’s a good idea to institute a rule that you must respond to social media messages or emails from clients within four hours, as possible, or relegate the task to someone else on the team. Also, keep your out-of-office notifications current so people trying to contact you don’t feel slighted if you don’t respond right away. Never ignore an email, although keep an implicit understanding that if the phone is ringing, it’s more urgent than an email.
- Don’t take anything personally. This is a good reminder for business in general, but especially over digital communications. If you assume everyone you work with has the best intentions, it makes it easier to respond with grace.
- Keep the lines open. Stay flexible with your teammates and clients and communicate through different channels as necessary. The main point is that you keep each other up to speed on any updates or changes so that everyone on the team can make concessions or fill in where help is needed. It’s also important to adapt your communication styles to your clients’ needs, meaning make phone calls even if you feel they’re unnecessary, if the client responds better that way.
These are just a few examples of how to communicate in a more humane manner with digital tools. What are some other ideas? Let us know in the comments.