Email Etiquette: Formal Or Informal?

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Finding the right balance of formality when producing any form of content – be it for the web or not ­– is, and always has been, somewhat of a tight rope act. Social media has given rise to the informal marketing tactic. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – these are the modern day tools that we use to present the human side of our businesses to our followers and online audience. These are social networks, and so it is no surprise, really, that the type of content that works well for them are the less formal, almost casual, often humorous (though let’s not forget interesting and entertaining) posts that can very quickly garner the much coveted engagement that we are all after from our potential clients.

Indeed, social media marketing is as much about entertaining the masses as it is about flogging our wares to them. We hope that the former will enable the latter, and we market our brand in a way that we believe will capture the attentions (and ultimately the bucks) of our online following.

Blogs, too, it seems to have been largely accepted, are best off if they are left as informal as possible. I, for instance, do not shy away from using a sometimes overtly sarcastic tone in my blogs if I think that the subject matter will permit it. And, to be honest, I think that this works just fine. Indeed, it’s what we want and expect from a blog post. In fact, I would say that it is this balance that goes a long way to defining the art of blogging – the creation of informative, useful web articles that on the surface are delivered in a light-hearted, friendly, informal manner. Hmm, that’s a very similar description to the one that I would give for my favourite teachers right throughout my education. Blogs are great!!

But, this blog is not about blogs or social media. This blog is about emails, and the permissible level of formality that businesses should adopt when composing them.

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Email Etiquette

With emails, the question of formality is not quite so cut and dry. They are essentially – even if you’re sending out an email newsletter en masse – private correspondences between yourself and a subscriber.

And let’s think about that for a moment – the subscriber.

Subscribers are a level or two up from a Facebook or Twitter follower. Your subscribers have actually taken the time to fill out your sign up form, thusly forwarding an extended interest in your business, brand or product. These people, it might be fair to say, are slightly more serious about your company or your industry than a lot of your social media following will be.

Otherwise, the people that you will find on your email list will actually be customers of yours, and so these people have professed their level of dedication to you by a further degree again.

But, does this really make these people – your customers and other email subscribers – any more serious than any of your social media following? What I mean is – do these people expect a higher level of formality in the emails that you send them as compared to your hilarious and quirky tweets and Facebook posts that have made you such a hit on social media?

 

So – Formal or Informal?

Well, when you are sending out your email correspondence to your clients, be it for a newsletter, answer to a customer query, or any other message that you see fit to send, you are trying to make an impression that is somewhat different to the one that you are making on social media.

Social media marketing is by necessity and expectation of a less formal persuasion. But, with your emails, now is the time to show your potential customers and existing subscribers the true merit of your business, and, more often than not, this is performed best when striking a slightly more formal tone.

I emphasise slightly, because you don’t want to stray too far into the realms of the type of correspondence that you would expect to receive from a solicitor when things start to go awry in your personal life (or so I hear). You want to show your professionalism, yet still not lose that human touch that has attracted your social media followers to become email subscribers in the first place. As with the whole question of formality of address, it’s a question of balance. So, with that in mind, let’s now take a look at exactly what measures you can take to strike the perfect tone in your email correspondence with your subscribers.

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Tips On Getting The Balance Right

Address Recipients By Name

Always ensure that you address your recipients by using their name and his or her correct title. The highest compliment that you can pay to someone is to use their name, and your customers will feel like they are being dealt with on a personal level, rather than a generic one. And if you want to learn more about personalization, this guide will be helpful.

Identify Yourself

Your emails will probably be plastered with your logos and tag lines, but make sure that in the first line of your email that you identify yourself personally (i.e. use your name, rather than your company’s). Again this lends the personal touch, which is invaluable when it comes to customer relations.

State Your Intentions

Next, make sure that it is absolutely crystal clear exactly why it is that you are emailing. If it’s to alert your subscribers to a promotion, then state this clearly. If it’s to deliver some exclusive content, then make sure that is communicated at the start. People will very quickly lose interest in your emails if they can’t find what they’re about almost immediately after opening them.

Grammar And Punctuation

No excuses for slacking on these in your emails. Gaining subscribers is one of the hardest jobs of the social media marketer – but losing them is one of the easiest. Your email subscribers will not forgive you if your correspondence is poorly punctuated, spelt, or is covered in grammatical errors. They will lose faith in your business and unsubscribe. So, proof and proof again before hitting send.

Tone

Balance. Balance. Balance. Your emails are more formal than tweets, but mustn’t be so formal that they are a bore or even a challenge to read. They are your opportunity to show the professional side of your business, but mustn’t be overtly formal nonetheless. Depending on the type of your business, it might be appropriate to use the odd emoticon, but generally the advice is to leave these as tools for your social media correspondence :).

How formal do you think email correspondence should be? Shirt tucked in beneath a waistcoat, or elbows on the table and talking with your mouth full? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Emailing is also about understanding maintaining neutrality at times when required. You often come across sales distributors whom you don’t know personally but still you want to sound professional and a bit more humane. This is when the body of the email and not just the salutation matters.

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