The etiquette of the Internet can be difficult to figure out. The conventions of traditional correspondence developed over the course of centuries and, as a result, are girded by non-negotiable rules. With e-mail this is not the case and occasionally issues arise. One area that seems to elicit a disproportionate amount of outrage is the inappropriate use of e-mail signatures. This blog post attempts to lay out some ground rules regarding e-mail signatures, so that professionals can better understand their use.
Appropriate E-mail Signatures
The great thing about the dynamism of the Internet is that it allows individuals to add more personalization to their correspondence. However, the fact that you can do something doesn’t always mean that you should. In traditional fields like law, medicine, and accounting, it would be somewhat disconcerting to receive a letter written entirely in neon green. The same holds true of e-mail signatures. Anything that represents you and your brand to a third party should, first and foremost, be appropriate.
I spent five minutes searching through e-mail signatures online and ended up finding the following (the name and telephone number have been changed):
If you’re a lawyer and your e-mail signature even remotely resembles the one posted above, then you need to seriously evaluate your Internet etiquette and possibly your career. The use of colour is not completely inappropriate for professional e-mail signatures. However, if you are including colour, choose a colour that is consistent with your firm’s branding. Don’t choose purple simply because you happen to like purple.
With professional e-mail signatures it is important to remember that minimalism is key. Your signature should always include certain pieces of information, such as your name, title, phone number, and e-mail address, but the use of superfluous items such as photographs, sayings, and quotes should be carefully weighed before use. In a recent article posted on Slaw, Margaret McCaffery observed that some lawyers include taglines like “your success is our business,” on the bottom of all their e-mails. Margaret pointed out that although this particular message might establish greater branding with your clients, it could be offensive if automatically included in e-mails to individuals that you are aggressively suing.
In short, if you want to add personality to your e-mail signature, then you are perfectly free to do so, just make sure that that personality doesn’t come at the cost of offending the recipient.
Smart Phone E-mail Signatures
Another issue surrounding e-mail signatures is the appropriateness of the tags that are automatically added to the end of e-mails sent over high-end smart phones. For instance, when e-mails are sent via an iPhone they are automatically tagged with the phrase, “sent from my iPhone.”
A number of bloggers have noted that this phrase could sound condescending to people who cannot afford an iPhone, or irritate people who feel that they’ve been slighted with a terse reply. Personally I believe that the “sent from my iPhone” tag and similar messages are important in conveying that the message received is not meant to be rude or pithy, but is simply limited in content because of the platform being used. Although sitting down to write a proper e-mail is always a better option, if you have to send an e-mail from your smartphone, then it’s important that the person receiving it know that certain limitations might have hampered it’s construction.
An interesting suggestion from a blogger is to take the mundane and curt “sent from my iPhone” and replace it with something less abrupt like “Sent from my mobile. Please excuse the brevity, spelling, and punctuation.” The blogger further recommends inserting something a little more interesting like “iTyped with my iThumbs,” if you happen to work in a creative field.
Once again the issue boils down to finding a respectable way to convey all the information that you wish to convey. If you personalize your message make sure that it won’t offend anybody that you will be sending e-mails to.
E-mail Signature Dos
- Include Phone Number, Name, Title, Company, and E-mail Address
- Keep your signature simple and direct
- Make sure the signature complies with other firm branding
- Use colours that are either appropriate for professional service firms or use only black and white
E-mail Signature Don’ts
- Don’t include massive images in your signature
- Don’t use fonts (comic sans) or colors (neon green) that are inappropriate or inconsistent with your firm branding
- Don’t include quotes or phrases that can be interpreted as offensive
- Don’t make the font size so large that the signature dominates the message
- Don’t include animations