Kenan Doyle Branam
Media Consultant / Coach / Presenter / Producer
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Web Weaving

Professional Netiquette for E-mail & Listserv Networking

Basic Etiquette, Ethics, & Communication Skills for Professional E-mail & Listserv Networking

MCA-I supports your professional growth through networking, collaboration, and sharing of resources.

Communicating by e-mail is no different from writing on your company letterhead. A business communication is business, period. As a Media Communications Professionals, we have additional incentive to be literate and technically savvy. A certain degree of formality and friendliness is appropriate. Just because e-mail tends to be more immediate and personable, it doesn't need to get personal. There is a difference between personal and personable - check your dictionary!

(Blatant abuse of the following guide lines is grounds for Banning a member from our eCommunity Listservs. Determination will be made by the group Moderator.)

Originating Messages

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How

When originating e-mail message or in any media, follow the Check List used by professional journalists. Be sure to say where you obtained the e-mail address of the person to whom you are writing. If you e-mailed from a web page, mention the web page name or URL. Many business people have more than one Web site on the internet and knowing from where or why they are being contacted is helpful. It might even get you a more meaningful reply.

For example, if you're announcing an event, provide the date, time, location, subject or objective of the meeting, who is presenting, who should attend, fees, and RSVP contact information. It a good marketing idea to include hyperlinks to your chapter Web site, speakers, sponsors, any other acknowledgements.

If you are addressing a problem or providing helpful information concerning our industry, the HOW becomes very important.

Visibility vs Anonymity

Domain Name & Email Address

Anonymity does not create trusting relationships with peers or potential customers. A Professional needs a professional address. You already know that potential clients prefer their vendors have a physical snail mail address rather than a post office box. So why would they think you are a professional with an anonymous email address like "", "", "", or even ""? Buy a Web Domain Name. You can prepay for it up to 10 years at a very discounted price! Contract a Web site hosting service and create a professional Web presence. It doesn't have to be a huge site, just Who, What, Where, and Why. Your hosting service will also provide email service so that you can have 10 plus email boxes that you can also OWN. AOL, Yahoo!, or Earthlink can't take your identity away from you at their whim!

Branding Tip:
Domain Name =
Email Address =,,

Email Signatures

In your email messages, let people know your real name and what you do. Create an automatic Signature in your email software for consistency. Keep it short (about five lines) but informative.

Signature Tip:
A dividing mark such as " ---" or "***"
Your full name, title (Producer, Writer, Camera Person, etc.)
Your Company Name
Your email address as a click-able link (and if you choose) Your phone numbers and snail-mail address.
Your City, State
Your association and chapter

Message Headers

Please type in something descriptive in the Header Subject. Don't try to be too "cute" or otherwise "creative" with lines that could be taken as Spam. You message may be filtered by spam blockers or bulk deleted by the Receiver:

  • Hard Sell Lead-ins and other Lies: This is very important!, I thought you would be interested, Notice of your account canceled, Account Approval, SAVE, ALL CAPS anything, Bigger Is Better, or names of body parts.
  • Too Generic or Vague: Hello, Contact, Wow, Whatever, To You...
  • Symbols and Random Characters: XXX, $$$, !!!!, powtetl;knzl;sdfhweoitr, 98675462.


My grandmother once said, "Never say to anyone what you wouldn't want the whole world to know." On the Internet, the whole world does know!

Therefore, have and show respect to everyone. If you will just stop and think how the other person is likely to receive your communication, you will go a long way towards preventing misunderstandings and not giving offense. Just ask yourself, How would I feel (in the context of this situation), if I received this message?" Then, spell-check and read it again!

Spamming, Commercial Messages, and Warnings of Content

Spam is defined as Unsolicited messages broadcast to multiple email address. A listserv is a broadcast but the Subject of the listserv is specific. For example, if a member subscribes to the list titled Media_Web_Design, they are not soliciting information on life insurance or video equipment, for that matter!

Another example, a message in the HTML format advertising your own company or services with links and worse, cookies, is blatant advertising and is not in the spirit of sharing professional development resources. If someone on our lists asks for resources, you could send them a personal (off-list) message focused on their needs rather than mass marketing objectives.

For critiquing purposes (or any instance of requesting members to visit specific sites), a warning of commercial content would be kinder. Some people construe being asked to such sites without reason or warning as advertising. A notice will allow them to decide whether to visit.

Replying and Channeling

One-to-One vs. List Mail

When replying to a message, please decide if it's of general interest to the mailing list first. Posts that do not contribute to the thread content, are aimed at a single individual, or do not contribute to the increased knowledge base of list readers, should be sent by one-to-one e-mail to the subscriber(s) concerned.

If you just click REPLY on a message from a list like Yahoo! Groups, your response will go to everyone on the list (you don't have to hit REPLY TO ALL). To SEND to an individual only, CUT their e-mail address from the HEADER, then paste it in a NEW MESSAGE, TO:.

Please, Please, Edit Replies!

When replying to a message sent to the list, please remove as much of the original message from your reply as practical. Please include only that content necessary to provide a logical flow from the question to the answer. The absolute minimum down-edit would be to remove the header block and signature(s) of the originator and any subsequent poster's. Retention of a portion of a signature to serve as an identifier of the questioner is okay. Additional editing would increase clarity.

If you do not edit your Reply, our mail boxes will swell in size because some messages multiply with every person who responds. Your e-mail client probably has a preferences switch to turn off the copying of the previous message.

Staying On Topic

We have several lists set up for your use, each with a different charter of acceptable subjects. Please review them before posting. Please help us provide high signal, low noise lists by familiarizing yourself with the group charters.

Maintaining or Changing Threads

If you just Reply to a message, the Subject Header will be automatically entered in the Subject of your message. If you switch subject or progress to a more refined area, manually change the Subject Header after you click Reply.

Always put something in the Subject Header. Messages that arrive with no indication of source and no Subject are very likely to be treated as "junk mail."


Do not post the same message to multiple lists (cross-posting). Review the charter for each list and post your message to the most appropriate one. A majority of our list members are subscribed to multiple lists. They expect clear channeling of subject matter.

Language and Flaming

Posting extremely foul or abusive language aimed at a fellow list member is forbidden. This includes blaming, "shame-ing", obscenities, verbal harassment, or comments that would prove offensive based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or other professions!. Watch how you express your emotions and humor within the mail. Due to the lack of vocal and nonverbal clues to our speech here, we often need something extra to read into a message what was intended.


Gossip in any media is dangerous for a participant or the subject of the message. Negative statements such as slamming, blaming, or even passing on of unsubstantiated information about someone, some organization, or some product reflects badly on the Sender as well as the Subject. Basically, "complaining" is psychologically dis empowering. Honest and clear communication is not an easy skill to learn. Gossiping is "deep water" for a professional as well as a novice.

Tip: Edit your message grammatically to First Person, Present Tense to see if you are willing to take responsibility, factually and ethically, for your statement in the present context.

Politics and Religion

Our MCA-I list communities are for professional development and not appropriate places to evangelize political or religious views. One can be sure to upset more than half of the members: those who oppose your views and all the others who have joined our lists for professional reasons.

Issues directly related to our industry are fair game. Nevertheless, proper attitudes and language for discussing differences of opinion apply.

International Considerations

In some parts of the world, the written language is very formal and quite different from the spoken language. Therefore, there is an expectation that your written communication will be formal. For international business e-mail, err on the side of caution and write in a formal tone. It's easy and natural to progress from formal to friendly, but it weakens your position to have to step backwards from friendly to formal.

Keep messages short, but do not let meaning suffer. Niceties are okay, to a point, but don't overdo it. They waste space and reading time for your correspondent. Short, plain sentences are easier for someone reading in a language other than their mother tongue.

Regarding age and rank, outside America, people in authority and older people expect a certain deference from people who approach them.

In North America, freedom is your highest ideal. In most other parts of the world, PRIVACY is held in higher regard!

For basic philosophy of Web Presence, see my articles, Making Sense of the Information Age. For a presentation topic for your organization, see Web Wisdom Topic.

Resource Links