A Facebook friend recently updated her status, "Anyone else think it's improper to reply to a business email "always at your service, mylady?" Yes, I thought so." She was a bit shocked and offended to be treated so unprofessionally by someone who obviously had a different sense of humor than she did. He crossed a line and likely forever damaged his reputation in her eyes.
Of course, the comments rolled in rapidly as people expressed their enthusiastic agreement. One male friend hit the nail on the head when he responded, "Sounds a bit sexist and patronizing, even if not intended."
In another example, a media representative friend of mine called me a while back all in a tizzy because he had received and email from an advertising agency owner who had requested media coverage of a client and signed the email, "Love, Lisa, (not her real name.)" He was stunned by the inappropriateness of this signature and wanted to justify that he wasn't over-reacting. Although it seemed she thought it was a cute way of sweet-talking him into getting what she wanted, she acted unprofessionally and misinterpreted the level of their relationship.
Both of the above examples were likely innocent mistakes, however they illustrate how easy it is to damage your reputation by simply crossing a line. Your reputation is very closely intertwined with your brand, which is a reflection of your constituency's perception of you. To illustrate my point, consider how BP's reputation over the past 3-months has affected their brand.
Your brand is critical, so be careful to avoid any inappropriateness that could potentially damage it. Resist the temptation to be cute because it might not be perceived that way on the other end.
Image Credit: Microsoft