Like it or not, most of your communication with potential customers, business partners, prospective employees, and nearly everyone important to your company goes through email. Yet most of your recipients are drowning in an endless sea of it. Some aren't even bothering to read your messages all the way through.
If that's happening, it may be your own fault. In today's busy world, there are new rules for good email, and we all need to learn them, says Heatherm Huang, co-founder of MailTime, an app that makes email conversations look like text messages for easier viewing and responding. He believes that following the new rules of email etiquette will raise the chances of your emails getting read--and getting a favorable response. Here's his advice:
1. Keep it short.
"People are reading more of their emails on the go or as they multitask in meetings," Huang says. That being the case, not everyone fully reads or comprehends lengthy missives. In fact, he says, surveys of MailTime users show 76 percent of employees dislike emails more than three paragraphs long--and 20 percent say they won't read any email longer than a paragraph.
2. Answer promptly.
Zappos founder Tony Hsieh famously waits till the following day to answer every email, a system he calls "Yesterbox." That may work for him, but for most of us, more rapid response is the norm. I once had a customer send me an email about a project, and then follow up with a message that began, "I guess you're not around ..." 15 minutes later.
Reason lies somewhere in the middle. For example, 56 percent of MailTime customers respond to emails within four hours, Huang says. "Business moves quickly and so should your emails."
3. Think before you CC.
Copying an email to everyone who might possibly have an interest in it might seem like a good idea, but with everyone's inbox on overload, it's an outdated approach, Huang says. "Think about your co-workers who may have nothing to do with some of the emails you send. If you're sure someone will not need to reply to an email, don't send it to them."
And don't blindly reply to an entire group, he adds. Look through the recipient names and remove anyone who doesn't need to receive the message. It's always easy to remove names, even if you're using a mobile phone.
4. Match your greetings to your recipients' style.
How should you address people when you email them? You want to match the tone of your greeting and sign-off so that it resonates with whoever receives it, Huang says. For some formality-loving recipients, this might mean addressing them by their last name. For others, a casual "Hey!" is all that's needed.
Same goes for your email signature or sign-off, Huang says. "It might be 'Sincerely' or 'Best' or nothing at all, depending on the audience."
5. Manage your emotions.
"Getting in touch with your emotions before you hit Send is a great habit to build," Huang says. "Sending an email out of anger is a recipe for regret."
With that in mind, he recommends writing a message, saving it as a draft, and then rereading it at a later time. "Take a breath before you hit Send, and make sure you reread your message with a clear head," he says. "Rapid-firing questions or sending a curt response is no way to behave, even when you're trying to check an annoying task off your list."
6. Be human.
Email can be impersonal, so it's a great idea to humanize it with personal touches that bring it to life or tell recipients more about you. But choose your expressions carefully, Huang advises. "Cliché greetings have become less popular," he says. "People view them as a poor use of limited device screen area."
Instead, consider emoticons or GIFs, he says. "Around 20 percent of our users send GIFs in business correspondence regularly, and the number is growing. It's now acceptable for colleagues and business partners to humanize their correspondence with graphics, which also helps to more quickly convey thoughts and feelings."
And anything that helps you more quickly convey your thoughts and feelings will make your email more effective.