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Dos and Don’ts of Signature File Use

Email and Perception

Signature files have been around since, well, before most current Netizens were aware that email existed. Before the Web, folks generally had basic contact info. Some also included their favorite quote to show their feelings or perspective on certain issues.

Now, most will use their signature file as a quick identifier of who they are and what they do and offer a link to their website. For personal emails, some will still serve up witty, clever, and many times interesting quotes.

The most important reason to use a sig file is that signature files allow you to promote your website or opinions indirectly by simply going about your daily online business. Whether you are posting on message boards, emailing other site owners, or participating in mailing lists, your signature file gets your basic information and a link to your website in front of everyone you email. Or those who may just read your post on a message board.

Your sig file’s contents can help you solidify that you are an astute technology user. Then, if you have a business, soft-sell your enterprise to your contacts. Signature files are the ultimate in online passive promotion when used properly and effectively.

Let’s first cover the Don’ts:

DON’T have everything about you, including the kitchen sink, in your sig file. If you have a website, include a pointer to your URL to make sure folks can find out whatever they like about you. That is really what your sig file is for. To have your pager, cell, home, business, work, accreditation, and slogan about how great you are will lead to the perception that you are a tad bit narcissistic.

You also do not need to include your full “all about me” signature file on every email in ongoing conversations or with those already aware of all your information. Instead, for ongoing conversations, use a simpler, less info-packed version, maybe one that includes your most used sign-off and your name.

DON’T use controversial quotes in your signature file. Hey, everyone has the right to an opinion – that is one of the great things about the online environment. The free exchange of information and ideas. I’ve seen many witty or humorous quotes in emails.

However, intentionally having a quote you know is very controversial or offensive isn’t courteous. Save those types of “opinions” for those who know you well and will understand your need for attention.

DON’T throw in any sales-pitchy type hype. Credibility online is tough to acquire and support without undermining your efforts. So refrain from overzealous sales hype that ends in exclamation marks. A short and sweet comment about your product or service is enough. Let your website do the selling for you!

DON’T use ASCII formatting, font colors, and bolding. Plain text works best. If you use a formatted sig file, make sure they are coded properly and display as desired on various platforms.

DON’T close with your signature file reflecting anything but proper punctuation. Capitalize your name properly: John A. Smith, John Smith, John. Not typing your name in a proper case reflects a lack of education and possible business savvy.

DON’T start using your sig file until you have verified, reviewed, and double-checked that all the information is correct. I see signature files with errors every day! Do you lack attention to detail?

FACTOID: Sig-Separators

What is a sig-separator? At the beginning of all this, when folks used Newsgroups quite a bit (now known as groups), it was important to have a “–” and a line break before your signature file. (Hyphen, a hyphen, space, newline.) At that time, Newsgroups were pretty much it and had quite heavy traffic.

The sig-separator allowed news software to strip out signature files when replying to allow the smooth flow of conversations. Here’s an example:

– –
At your service,

Quite a few onliners have never heard of a sig-separator, and many feel this traditional sig-separator looks rather silly when interposed into a regular email. So the jury is out as to whether sig-separators will ever be able to gain a foothold in regular email and communities that prefer a letter-like style.

Now to the Do’s:

DO keep your sig file to no more than 4-6 lines. No, no law will send you to the pokey if you break this guideline. However, this is a rule most follow and recommended, so you do not appear too pushy.

DO align your sig’s text with spaces and not tab. This is because tabs and text are displayed differently on different machines, making your layout look yucky.

DO make sure that your signature file has the basic info folks need to contact you. No need to include your email address – that is automatically noted at the top of every email you send.

The only instance where you would want to include your primary email address in your signature file is using a different or secondary email address to send the email in question.

DO set up your email program to automatically append your signature file and make sure to include your sign-off so that you do not have to type your name with every email. Such as:

DO make sure that you add the “HTTPS://” before your site’s URL when you include your website address. This will ensure that your URL is recognized as a clickable link within your email.

DO have several signatures that you can switch to dependent on the tone or issue at hand. Sig files are an excellent way of setting a tone and directs the ongoing communication’s priority or level of formality. Sincerely, Best, Regards, Respectfully.

You can also set up signatures with your formal name and a less informal version to set a comfort zone with the other party, such as Elizabeth vs. Lizzy. However, keep in mind not to be overly informal too soon with new contacts. Formalities are in place for a reason – especially in business communications.

DO have signature files that relay a different message based on where and to whom you are emailing. For example, if you are marketing on message boards or newsgroups, use a signature file that reflects your new product or the current promotion for that specific audience.

Different terms and words have different results depending on the market. Be sure to include a call to action such as: Download now… Contact Us today about… Get your free… You get the idea – sans hype. Don’t use multiple exclamation marks or question marks.

DO keep in mind that the perception your signature file provides will lend to others forming opinions about who you are. What do you believe in? Do you follow the roles? If you know how to use technology – or not.

There you have it! The basics you need to use signature files properly. First, use these tips to build your own personal library of signature files. Then, regularly update and work on your signature files. There is always something new to say about yourself or your business!

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