9 Tips For E-mail Excellence In The Social Web
Well into the era of the social web, e-mail remains the most popular form of digital communication. According to some, we’re still ‘Inbox Workers.’ In a 2011 study, the Radicati Group estimated that the number of worldwide e-mail accounts would reach 3.3 billion in 2012. Certainly not all of those accounts are intended for professional use, but for those who rely on e-mail to connect with clients and colleagues in the era of the social web, here are a few tips to help ensure that your e-mails are excellent:
1. Don’t respond immediately. Although the acceptable e-mail response time may be shrinking due to our immersion in more immediate communication platforms such as Twitter and SMS, remember that e-mail is a distinct platform. It is perfectly acceptable – and in fact advisable – to sit on a response for a short period of time before sending. Try not to wait days, but hours is OK. Draft a response (in Word, if you want to avoid any chance of an unintended send), save it, and revisit in 15 mins. Odds are you will tweak at least a few things.
2. Never e-mail when angry. In professional contexts, overly emotional e-mails are simply a no-no. If you feel compelled to draft an angry or emotional message, do so, but do not send it. Anger seldom comes across well in e-mail, and once sent, there’s no taking it back.* If a difficult conversation is in order, pick up the phone. You can still communicate honestly, but you won’t have to live with the paper trail. Plus, when you later collect your thoughts and write a follow up e-mail (as one should after an important conversation), you’ll come across cool as a cucumber. Win.
3. Get your facts straight. Nothing worse than misspelling the name of a potential employer or client (I speak from experience). Triple check that all e-mail addresses, names, attachments, dates and times are accurate. Let’s throw spelling and grammar in there too. Like a cover letter, there is little room for error in professional e-mails. Oh, and if you’re like me and have multiple addresses coming to one account, be sure to respond from the address to which the e-mail was sent. This is easy to automate.
4. Use auto-response already. There’s really no excuse for going away and not setting your auto-response. A general (and brief) message letting people know you’re away is much better than having to explain your absence two weeks later. It’s common courtesy and can also help you enjoy your much-needed inbox break.** Be sure to include alternative contact info in the event that the sender needs to get in touch urgently (ie. a colleague who is covering for you or an alternative e-mail/phone #).
5. BCC. Speaking of common courtesy, if you’re sending a group e-mail, put your own address in the To: field, and blind copy the other recipients. Unless, of course, it’s intended as open e-mail thread. People don’t want their e-mails shared without consent – respect that.
6. ‘Hey’ is not a subject. Use the subject field as it was intended: To give the recipient(s) basic information about the contents of the e-mail. You should be able to scroll through your inbox and know what a thread is about without opening the e-mail. An appropriate subject might look something like this: “Reminder of 3pm Meeting Sched. 11/03 on WHMIS training”.
7. !!! … !!! … Can we please do away with these grossly overused punctuation marks already? Points of ellipsis and exclamation marks can help to convey a feeling, but when used all the time, they lose their potency and can seem more like stand-ins for good writing. So I put a challenge to you: Try writing a week’s worth of e-mails free of these old friends. Not as easy as it might seem, but you’ll find other ways to express yourself and you’ll likely come to realize how much you depended on them. I took the challenge when writing this post – bet you didn’t notice ’til now.
8. Hey There. Salutations: A much-discussed element of e-mail etiquette. There is no one way to navigate these waters, but when e-mailing for excellence, it’s best to err on the side of formality. It’s always a safe bet to begin conversations with Dear Ms. So and So (unless you know she is a Mrs. and prefers that title), and watch for cues moving forward. Usually professional correspondences end up in a place of comfortable formality (ie. Hi/Hello, Regards/Cheers). Start formal, be respectful, take cues, and you can’t go wrong.
9. Signature 2.0. Think of your e-mail as your digital business card. These days, most of the main providers allow for rich editing, which means you can include an image in your signature. A picture of you and your dog? Maybe not. A graphic of your personal or work brand alongside current contact info and relevant social media links? Now you’re talking, er, e-mailing. It’s easy to set up and earns you big points on the web savvy scale.
- Respond promptly but not immediately
- No room for errors or anger
- Common courtesy rules
- Err on the side of formality
- Don’t rely on old writing habits
- Utilize the subject and signature functions
- E-mail often serves as peoples’ first impression of you – wow them with attention to detail, professional tone, and visual branding.
*Some e-mail providers are allowing for an ‘un-send’ option, but don’t rely on this. Once the recipient has opened the e-mail, there’s no turning back. And with mobile technology, we all know how fast e-mails get opened.
**Some people are even taking an e-mail ‘pause’ when not away.
Photo courtesty of 28 Dreams