“I never received an email about that.” You’ve heard this before and you always doubt it’s true. You know you sent that email. Unfortunately, there are many ways email communications can go wrong.
Here are seven email etiquette pitfalls you might be making and how to fix them, plus best practices you should use to enhance your communication skills when planning, writing and sending emails.
Email etiquette pitfalls to avoid
1. Emails that are sent from one central mailbox.
The benefit of a shared, centralized mailbox is that everyone knows which department a message is coming from; however, when the majority of messages from a shared mailbox are not relevant to the recipient, even minor emails get ignored.
Instead of an everything-under-the-sun approach, use multiple “from” addresses that depend on the department and subject area. For example, with the HR mailbox, try address fields like benefits@, 401k@, policy@, training@ and more. This sends a clear message to recipients of what the message is about and its relevance to them. It also reduces the odds that an important message will be missed.
Relevancy is key to enticing email recipients to open emails. When you diversify the address fields, your employees can assume the topic of the email before opening it.
2. Emails that go out to everyone.
Broadcasts that should be narrowcasts are major contributors to feelings of email overload. Those on the receiving end of too many emails become more comfortable ignoring them.
Consider the differences among employees that you may have in your organization: new hires, long-term employees, employees in different roles, employees in different departments, and employees with different levels of education. These differences matter.
Relevancy leads to attention. If you want to make your message content more relevant, you need to be able to accurately target your audiences, which may require new tools.
Try to categorize your emails as best as you can; the more relevant the employee is to the email, the more likely they are to read it in its entirety.
3. Emails that have bland subject lines.
The subject line is the second filter (after the identity of the sender) that people use to decide whether they should respond to an email now, later or ever. You only get about seven words to capture people’s attention or pique their curiosity.
Try writing the subject line as an intriguing question to capture the attention of readers. Consider what matters most to your staff and what represents value to them: making or saving money, being productive, or doing a good job. How can you modify your subject lines to focus on piquing employee attention around these value propositions?
4. Emails that are sent at inconsistent, inconvenient times.
Crafting communications, getting them approved and sending them out in a timely manner is often a harried and hectic project. But that sense of relief upon finally hitting the send button is not an accurate indicator of whether communication has taken place.
“Sent” doesn’t necessarily equal “received.” Just because an email has been sent does not mean it has been widely read and understood. Office employees are busy doing their jobs, and reading corporate communications is not a bullet point on their job descriptions.
People generally process between 100 and 200 email messages per day. Where does your email message fit in? Probably not at the time you sent it, especially if some recipients are in different time zones.
Instead of sending an email on your schedule, consider sending on your employees’ schedule. Establishing a consistent time or day for messages allows your employees adequate time to read, digest and respond to your communications.
5. Emails that are written in PR speak.
A press release can be an email, but you don’t want to repurpose press release content into an email. Only PR and media pros have the expertise to translate the nuances of corporate speak. The rest of us tend to tune it out, preferring simple language in an authentic voice instead of working to parse through the jargon and acronyms.
If the words in your email aren’t terms you typically use, don’t send it. Instead, write your message as you or the CEO would write them, in simple terms. Better yet, send a video instead of, or in addition to, the text. YouTube is all the evidence you need that authenticity beats pretentious insincerity. Varying the method of your messages between text, audio and video can generate interest and more engagement.
Another important tip is to think about how your message looks. Long, gray blocks of copy aren’t appealing or likely to engage your readers. Break up long paragraphs and use bullet points, bold text and underlining to make your messages visually appealing.
6. Emails that contain multiple topics and numerous links.
The inbox is the corporate work processor. Because people receive so much content, it’s tempting to think you should consolidate various missives into one weekly or monthly uber message with a variety of valuable content, stories and links. Why shouldn’t you do this? Because it will get ignored.
Email overload is more about content volume than message volume. People can easily consume a pile of brief, focused messages. However, they can get indigestion from a single long, dense message loaded with rich topics and frosted with lots of links.
That doesn’t mean you should never use long-form content. Some communications demand it. However, when they do, they use plenty of white space and subheads. Otherwise, keep emails under 500 words and focus on one message.
7. Emails that are not mobile-friendly.
Smartphones are everywhere these days, meaning your audience is less likely to be reading your message on a desktop or laptop computer than they are to be reading it on their phone. That experience may not be optimal.
Try it yourself. Open one of your emails on your mobile device and consider how painful the experience of trying to read and comprehend it can be.
Creating mobile-responsive emails that use larger font sizes and other mobile-friendly adaptations will boost the odds that your emails will be read.
Email best practices
Optimize preview text.
The preview text of an email is almost as important as the email itself. Many times, people get emails through push notifications either on their desktop or mobile device and will see only the preview text. Often, this text defaults to “Email not displaying correctly? Click here.” Most recipients of emails with this default preview text dismiss it. Remember to always make a custom preview text that informs recipients of the email’s subject.
Personalize your email greeting.
Employees may ignore non-personalized emails, believing the email may not be intended for them. When you tailor each email to the individual employee, personalized emails receive better open rates among employees. If you introduce a personalization token, you won’t have to create and send dozens of manual emails. Fill in the instructions for the token to grab the recipients’ first names and include them in the header so everyone receives a personalized version of the same email.
Create a compelling subject line.
Keep subject lines enticing, but precise. Email services typically allow subject lines to be between 30 to 50 characters, including spaces. After that limit, the email providers cut off the rest of the subject line. This short-but-sweet text should also entice the recipients to open and read the email as soon as possible. The subject line should create a sense of urgency so employees know that they need to read the email, while also informing them about what to expect once they’ve opened it.
Make sure your subject line is between 30 and 50 characters so email providers don’t cut off any part of the subject line.
Get to the point.
Emails can quickly fill with trivial information. The more unnecessary clutter in your message, the more likely employees are to click out of the email. As the expression goes, “time is money,” so it is important to get your email message across in a timely manner. Reading a messy email while trying to work can be a bit of a challenge for employees, so keep the unimportant messages to a minimum and get to the point as quickly as possible.
Make the open rate your key metric.
Just because you send a message doesn’t mean your employees read it. For most internal corporate communications, opens happen as soon as the message hits the preview window.
Open rates are a measure of reach and only tell you the message was received. For most communications, that is not the point. Attention, readership and engagement are better indicators for data-driven communications results.
Time is something everyone has the same amount of – and that most people wish they had more of. Corporate communications teams are often overworked and understaffed. Employees might feel overloaded with email, but it remains their primary screen and preferred channel.
How do you balance both sides of the equation? Send shorter, more frequent, more focused and more targeted messages.
Additional reporting by Sean Peek.