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Take the Time to Read the TOS

Email Etiquette, Reading and Courtesy

TOS Stands for Terms of Service

I know, I know, they are a mile long with teeny-weenie type filled with legal mumbo-jumbo.

That’s why most of us don’t read the TOS before signing up for services or websites. Social media sites come to mind. You probably would be shocked if you actually read their TOS and what they make clear as you proceed to use their free services and platform.

We know we probably should make the effort so we are informed. And to ensure there is nothing in there that will hit us in the back of the head sometime in the future. But we also know there is all kinds of legal “wordsmithing” in these documents, so what’s the point?

Websites Assume You Won’t Read the TOS

… and take advantage of that. Just like the tiny teeny type on T.V. commercials that you can’t read. They can say they displayed it — that’s all that matters. But there is no way you could actually read it unless you freeze the screen in time, put on some magnifying glasses and put your nose up to he screen. Same goes with TOS pages.

The fact is that if you did take the time to read most TOS pages you probably wouldn’t like what you find. From privacy concerns to what they can do with your data, posts and images. You’ll find they pretty much state that if you use their service they own everything you do and can do what they please with your data.

Playing by the Rules

So with that out there, you really should try to read the TOS of any site you want to use so you can play by the rules. Not only to be informed, but to ensure that you can be a courteous participant. The TOSes that you should read are those where you hang out most. Search engines, forums/groups and websites that offer functionality and services that you use.

This will also help you to be part of any online community or group in a positive way.

Experience Proves My Point

I’ve run several forums over the years. Because my experience proves out folks don’t read, I made sure that I included a very (very) basic TOS. Still no one read it. Currently I am community founder at a very well-known online forum (I call it my “give back time”) where on a daily basis new members do not follow the TOS.

Almost daily questions are asked that have already been answered. Many times. Either on the forum or in the support pages. Questions are posted in the wrong forum, that don’t abide by the posted rules. Nor do they provide the recommended information necessary to help. They didn’t read that section either.

The TOS for the forum requests that users search first to see if their question has already been answered. I guess it is easier to post and have folks serve answers to you than to take the time search? Yup. This reflects a lack of respect for other’s time. Not a positive impression to make on a business related venue.

Read, Then Ask

Do your best to read everything first. TOS, FAQs, form and support pages. If you do not find what you are looking for, no worries, state as much.

Howdy! I searched all the provided information and could not find an answer for my specific question. If I missed something, if you can provide a link that would be great and I appreciate your time. My question is…

You can bet that other helpful members will not hesitate to jump in and assist with that approach. Of course do not use the above approach if a simple search will prove you made no effort at all!

This doesn’t just apply to the big name websites alone. Even on smaller business websites, you want to show that you respect the site owners time by reading and following their lead. Doing so will speak volumes as to what it will be like to do business with you — and to encourage a fast and courteous response.

Gratitude Helps — A Lot

Just in the past 48 hours I was assisting someone who emailed me. First they didn’t fill out the correct form (didn’t read the link above the form they did complete), red flag #1. Then when I asked for more info and sent them to the correct form, they feigned that they were unable to do so. Red flag #2. I ran a test, no problems there. They provided more info, I provided an answer and how we could do business together.

Throughout the 8 emails we exchanged not a single, “thank you”, “appreciate your time”. No greeting or closing, just one sentence emails asking questions. The email communication ended with them sending an email “never mind, I’ll get help elsewhere”. What are the chances that they would be a pleasure to do business with?

From the start, my gut told me I didn’t want to do business with this person, (red flags) but I was still courteous and provided the information they needed to know what the issue was. I just couldn’t help them by email without looking at their site and hosting platform.

I am a consultant by trade, that’s what I do and I’m clear about that on my consulting site. Am I to help any person who sends one sentence emails for no charge? Just for the record, I am not apposed to doing so — when approached properly. It’s called game play! But act like I am just supposed to do so when you show no respect for my time or courtesy in your communications and that’s not going to happen.

Approach and Gratitude Matters

Technology is truly a wonder. One we are already taking for granted and forgetting there are real people on the other side of the screens. Every single day I am amazed how I can go to my favorite search engine, DuckDuckGo (who doesn’t track you — read the TOS!) and find the answers to any question I may have.

I also am appreciative of helpful forum communities and groups where if you hit a wall you can post and folks are willing to help you out. They are much more helpful if you do your due diligence first and follow the rules. When time permits I enjoy being on the other side and offering help where I can.

If you run across a site whose services or features you would like to use, take a few moments and show the site owner and other members the appropriate respect. Read their Terms of Service and take their guidance to be sure their service is even one you can or are willing to utilize.

Then complete the form or signup/submission checking for accuracy and typos before clicking the Submit button. That’s what courteous Netizens do!

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