The basics of email

Email is an incredibly useful tool, in fact it is one of the key business tools of the moment. You can email a single person or a group of people at a single mouse click.

You can send a simple message or you can send documents as well. You can join a discussion group, people who communicate with each other via email around a single subject area. Or you could send out an electronic newsletter once a month to a group of customers.

An email address consists of a personal part and a company part. It is worth remembering that every email address is unique, as unique as your mobile phone number or your home address. When you send an email your Internet Service Provider will read the address and send it to the correct domain name. The email will generally arrive on their server within a few seconds of being sent. However, just because you send the email, doesn’t mean to say it has been read. The person reading the email must have accessed their account to read the email.

You can set a variety of limits such as: carbon copies or blind carbon copies. You attach other documents which can be read, but only if the person has the correct software.

You can send email from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world as long as you have a connection to your internet service provider, and this is increasingly easy with web based email. Although I would recommend that you normally use a local email client like outlook, outlook express or eudora on your own computer. Most systems are fairly reliable and if the email doesn’t bounce back to you then you can be fairly certain it has arrived at the stated destination in the TO box, but you must consider the issue of whether someone wants to receive it, if they don’t then they may well delete it without reading it. However, unless you sent it to the wrong address, they won’t be able to say “I didn’t get it”.

You must also remember that an email can be forwarded on to other people and so if you don’t want to be embarrassed by those nude photos of you dancing in the surf in Hawaii – don’t send it.

Viruses are common, it seems as if a new one is invented everyday, and they are often transmitted via email. But, they don’t exist in the email, they are normally present in any attachments sent unless of course the email is a web page in which case there is a possibility that you may open them inadvertently. Having said all this, good Internet security software should take care of any problems like this and I would strongly recommend that you get some if you haven’t already – don’t forget you do need to keep up the annual payments though as it won’t work unless the updates occur.

Do think about who you are expecting to respond to any email that is sent to your business. The worst thing you can do is not reply to email as this makes your company look unprofessional. And remember, allowing anyone to send email from your organisation is about the same as signing the days letters. Is everyone in the company allowed to sign all letters? The contractual implications are as relevant in email as in any other form of communication.

Although one of the benefits of email could be the ‘paperless office’ in practice this rarely happens because of the need to have hard copies. What about your legal obligations to maintain all communication/audit trails? In some cases it can generate more paper as people print off emails. Should you adopt a house style? Many companies use a signature file at the end of all emails going out to identify the company and any policies they have in place. However, the company is responsible for email that is sent out and can still be criminally liable. Norwich Union had to pay out £450,000 in damages to Western Provident because of email libel.

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