Effective Online Communications

I admit it, I’m a closet trekkie, in fact I like anything science fiction related .. as long it’s not too gory. Remember “Star Trek: The Next Generation” from the late 80s? Like the decade itself, “Next Generation” was an Utopian view of a possible future, where Mankind had solved hunger and other current global issues. I think I have seen most of the episodes, and one thing I noted was the communications between the characters.

For example, the Enterprise is facing certain destruction and Capt. Piccard contacts Geordi, the chief engineer of the ship and tells him he has 30 seconds to put in place some technical wizardry to save the ship. And Geordi says “acknowledged”. Not “I think it is possible, Captain” or “Yes” or even “Why”? Just that he understood the communication. There is a certain syntax in how the Enterprise team communicates with each other that facilitates smooth operations.

These days, much of our business communications are done over a variety of medium, and not face to face. Additionally, these days, short and sweet is preferred (140 characters or less), so getting your point across quickly is essential. In this global economy, you are often dealing with people who do not speak English as a first language so an ability to clearly communicate will help you have Enterprise’s smooth operations in your own business.

Here are just a few tips, I mostly focus on emails but some these can be applied to blogs, blog comments, social media and yes, even phone conversations.

Don’t write a book Long paragraphs in emails that ramble from point to point will not get you clear responses. And I have found that other cultures will just ignore them rather than asking questions to try and understand, possibly because they don’t want to come across as not intelligent.

Use white space People scan, rather than read every word, when they read online, so break up your paragraphs – especially if there are multiple points or concepts. 4 to 5 sentences per paragraph is a good rule of thumb. Use sub headings, bolding, stars and other attention getting formats (used judiciously they can be quite effective, but don’t go overboard!) I’m not afraid to have a sentence stand off by itself to make it stronger … although I have been dinged by reviewers for that.

Set some context Even though it may seem repetitive, set some context up front to remind the person about the goal on what you want to accomplish. Ie. “This email outreach is for the September 24th event I’m planning. ” Many people work on multiple things at once, a reminder of the project helps.

Avoid open ended questions Offering a choice of options can be much more effective than “What do you think we should do?” especially if you are the service provider and it is your area of knowledge. If you respond with a question to a request .. it might help to explain why are you are asking the question.

Agreed For IM conversations and email threads, I’ve found this single word quite handy as a quick way to signify that you agree with the point. This lets the people know they don’t have to keep convincing you of their opinion. I’ve also used “Acknowledged” as well, as in “Acknowledged .. will review this afternoon”.

Choose the right media As the kids know, email can be slow, if you are finding that you are getting into a lot of back and forth over email or the communication just doesn’t seem to be gelling, pick up the phone or get on an IM chat. There have been people I have worked with where I avoided email with them, it was most effective to talk to them on the phone.

Remember what your English teacher taught you Avoid long, run on sentences, use a spell checker, use proper grammar.

Know your audience Email can be used for formal communications, so keep the Internet lingo (ie. LOL) to minimum in these situations. My son tells me that I’m “old school” for spelling out most things in chats, tweets & texts (for example: I use “you” rather than “u”), but to be honest, I do this so I don’t have to think about whether it is appropriate or not.

These are just some tips to communicating effectively online, comments welcome!

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

Leave a Comment:

Hope Desroches says September 6, 2010

Wonderful post! Thank you! I totally agree! I have to be in contact with a few hundred people a month as an event planner. I find it’s best to get to know someone and find their prefered method of commuication: phone, e-mail, test.

Irene Turner says September 6, 2010

I learned early on in social media from the fabulous Ann Evanston to keep communication short. I actually think that blogging in 250 to 500 words has helped me to clarify my communication skills. Tweeting under 140 characters can be tough as like you I tend to spell things out. But I’m learning and in this fast pace world, short is definitely sweet. And yes, choosing the right medium for communication is key.

Michael Cavitt says September 6, 2010

Kathy Alice, good points. Keep hammering away on them and I’ll try to remember the ones that are new to me.

Judy Stone-Goldman says September 6, 2010

Hey, fellow Trekkie here! Your description made me feel right at home. Thanks for the tips, especially the reminder about white space, and how reading on-line is different than other kinds of reading.

Candace C. Davenport says September 6, 2010


Your post brings up an interesting thought which I think about a fair amount. Since I deal with books, and words and the such with Our Little Books, I often wonder what the current generations will do with their communication if they grew up on 140 characters. That’s what they know and that’s what they are proficient in. How will that translate into writing books? We we see a decline in the number of books? Will we see a decline in the quality of books that are put out there?

It will be interesting to see what happens down the road. I love twitter and IMing and chat and FB and all that, but just like Star Trek, I grew up on the original way of communicating! Beam me up Scotty…

Kathy Alice says September 6, 2010

I don’t think that books will go away, but will evolve into non linear presentations with more multimedia. Check out Flipboard on the iPad/iPhone. Printed books, the really good ones, will still be around. Even Piccard had a few he cherished.

Louise Edington says September 6, 2010

Excellent points and all things I try, at times unsuccessfully, to remember. Thanks for the reminder.
Louise Edington – International AuPair Finder

Darcie Newton says September 6, 2010

I love your post. I am also a closet trekkie…my husband and I used to watch Next Generation weekly and discuss the commentary we thought the show was making. Communication style is so important. You make a great point about finding ways to communicate that are succinct and without interpretation. We have so many different ways to communicate, the trick now and as new communication methods emerge will be to use each effectively and not rely solely on one or two.

Make it so, number one!

Donna McCord says September 7, 2010

I appreciate your advice here as I tend to be wordy and feel a need to go into lengthy explanations about everything! I will keep these points in mind as I retrain myself about communications in today’s world. Thank you!

Caitlin Knight says September 7, 2010

Acknowledged! (What a great word, one that I will be using from now on.)

Knowing your audience is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. My 15 year old stepdaughter’s mother refused to allow her to text and IM with the argument that it would “ruin her grammar”. We don’t have that rule in our house and she lol’s with her friends and then turns around and writes an A paper for English class. We trust her to know her audience and she’s doing just fine! How can you learn if you’re never given the chance to, right?

Jean Bentley says September 8, 2010

Had to bookmark this one! Filled with great tips and reminders!

Bill Browning says September 8, 2010

Excellent post on communications. One thing I use is numbered lists.

Clients and potential clients find this easy to scan.

When working with technical types they find it easy to respond to.

Jennifer Duchene says September 8, 2010

I agree! Salient points.
Most people get confused with excess verbosity.
I love the written word and can go on forever.

Ergo I spend a lot of time editing down.
Yes to:
Numbered lists
single word acknowledgement

White space rocks!
Conversely I love the 140 characters of twitter for the challenge it implies.

Fabulous facets of communication. Thank U! LOL

Jen Duchene
The Home Makeover Mixtress blending cool & cozy style.

Ann Evanston says September 9, 2010

I think it’s important to realize that there is a difference between literary, eBook and online communication. And I find that way too many bloggers are long winded. Maybe they are just attracting a different audience than myself!

Ann Evanston
Discover your REAL Edge

Kathy Alice says September 9, 2010

That’s a really good point Ann. And I think within online communications there are different facets. As you have pointed out in the past, communicating on twitter is different than facebook. I did struggle a bit with this post to try and make relevant to all the different online aspects.

Add Your Reply