For as long as telephones
have been around, we still have things to learn about etiquette and maximizing
their use. As more people gain access to electronic mail (e-mail), its
importance as a communication tool grows exponentially. Because they are both
relatively inexpensive and easy, it is tempting to overuse them. However, if
used appropriately – with a definite purpose, sparingly, professionally – these
tools can increase people’s awareness and sense of involvement, improve
credibility, and strengthen relationships among a community.
Just the Facts
are two primary purposes behind telephone calls and e-mail notes: to give
information or to get information.
Giving information may include
invitations to events and meetings or reminders such as asking the recipient to
follow-up on a task or complete and return a survey. E-mail might be used for
the same purposes and also to announce updates on a website, to send an attached
document such as background information or a newsletter, or to inform about the
availability of new publications or reports and where to get copies.
Telephones and e-mail can also be used to gather information such as a
brief, simple opinion survey to learn the degrees of support for, or opposition
to, a particular project or action. If speaking to a person, the questions need
to be yes/no or rated on a scale; open-ended questions cannot be included. They
can be included if the survey is done on e-mail.
When considering using
either telephones or e-mail for communication, keep in mind the following:
- Ask people directly if it is okay to phone them. When conducting a phone
survey or solicitation, if people ask to be removed from your list, do it. Many
states require this by law; regardless, it damages organizational credibility if
requests are ignored. When collecting information from individuals, find out if
they prefer you to call their home phone, work phone, or cell phone. On a signup
sheet, next to where people will enter their phone numbers, include a box that
they can check indicating the best number to reach them.
- Be mindful that not everyone has access to e-mail. It is important that
people not feel they are missing out on information coming via e-mail. Be sure
to send the same information by regular mail that is sent electronically. If
possible, plan the distribution: send regular mail a day or two before sending
e-mail so that everyone receives it at the same time.
- For people who have e-mail at work, be sure to check if it permissible to
send information to that address. Many companies do not want employees using
e-mail for personal reasons, so they may monitor messages.
1. Determine the
What is the goal of the telephone call or e-mail? What will
be accomplished? How does this fit into the project’s overall public involvement
plan? If requesting information, know exactly how the data will be used. People
will want to see evidence that the time they took to complete an opinion survey,
no matter how brief, was taken into account.
2. Get your
Most likely this will be a targeted group of people with whom
you want to regularly communicate such as a task force or an advisory committee.
Collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses at public meetings and events, on
surveys, on websites, by referrals, and other outreach methods.
3. Write a draft
Before calling, write down a few
key points. Reading a script will result in an unnatural conversation, but it
can be helpful to know exactly what needs to be covered. Always begin a
conversation by identifying yourself and the organization and asking if it is a
convenient time to talk. If the response is no, ask for a time when you can call
back or give your number. Speak clearly and be enthusiastic – if you smile, it
comes through in your voice. For e-mail, most importantly, check spelling before
sending! Succinctly summarize the e-mail’s purpose in the subject line and
include all relevant contact information at the end of your message: your full
name, organization, e-mail address, and telephone number(s). Keep in mind that
e-mails can take on a life of their own: they can be forwarded, printed and
saved, and even used in a court of law.
4. Handle no responses
When leaving a message on an answering machine or voice-mail box,
give your name, a succinct summary of the purpose of your call, and your phone
number repeated twice. Unless someone has specifically requested a full
explanation of why you are calling, avoid the temptation to leave lengthy
messages. For e-mail, keep in mind that not everyone checks e-mail daily. Many
mail programs have a function called "return receipt" which will automatically
notify you when your message is opened. Also consider calling and letting the
recipient know he or she has an e-mail message from you.
soliciting information from and communicating with people
Use It If...
You want to keep people up-to-date.
You need to get a
sampling of public opinion to determine the degree of support or opposition for
a project or action.
You have just launched a new or enhanced website.
You are looking for ways to increase exposure, build support, and get folks
involved. A personal call or message from a high-profile individual can bring
You lack a purpose for the communication. If people know messages from you
include information they need or are interested in, you can better guarantee
that they will consistently give your communications the necessary attention.
You want to rely solely on e-mail but are not sure if everyone in the target
audience has access to it. Do not make assumptions, and be wary of creating a
two-tier communication system between the haves and have-nots. Timing is Everything
Using the telephone and e-mail will happen throughout a
project. Examples:E-Newsletter- D6
- Item No.