Three short steps to email success

Everyone hates email. But year after year, even with the advance of social and collaborative platforms, we still rely on email more than any other channel for employee communications. But it’s a frustrating medium, to say the least.

Every day. We pour our hearts and souls into an important email note meant to elicit a response, hit "send," and…nothing. You would think we'd all be on board with reading and promptly responding to emails from our colleagues, but…somehow time, other priorities or just the overwhelming amount of email we receive each day gets in the way. It’s not surprising, given that direct marketing research shows only 20% of unsolicited emails that land in our inbox are opened. But somehow, we expect better when we are in the workplace, using the most effective internal communications channel available today.

How can you make sure that your important email gets read…AND gets a response? Here's a quick three step method to writing email messages that get replies. 

Step 1: Write a short (but informative), action-oriented subject line

Most of us – especially those of us reading email on mobile devices - decide whether or not to read a message based on its subject line alone. The best open rates for emails come from subject lines that are short, specific, and call for an action from the reader.

For example, let's say you need someone to review a set of thought leadership documents attached to your message and return their comments to you by the end of the week. You might have received emails requesting something like this in the past with subject lines like:

  • RE: TL project
  • Please comment
  • RE: Thought leadership documents

While these are all short subject lines, they don't focus attention, or inspire any sense of urgency by the reader to reply. Let's replace these with some action-oriented subject lines:

  • For review by Friday: 2 attached docs
  • Please review and reply by July 3
  • Your feedback requested by end of this week

Now the reader not only has an idea of what's inside your message, but also some specifics about what you need in return - and when.

Step 2: Start your email with a specific call to action
and 'what's in it for me'

What specifically does your reader need to do, and what's their incentive to respond? Even if you see the primary benefit as "I won’t be mad at you," or "We need this for a client," try to find a benefit for the reader that will encourage action. Let's continue our document-review-and-comment-by-Friday example above. Here are some examples of a first paragraph that puts the 'what's in it for me' and your call to action at the very start of your message:

"Hi Dave, please review the attached and return your comments by Friday. Your input will be an important part of making sure our content is accurate, and I'll be sure to call out your contributions at the review meeting with our partners."

"Dear Alice, thanks in advance for your help reviewing these drafts and returning your comments by Friday. Your expertise is exactly what we need to finish the project, and with your help we'll be done by mid next week."

"Hello Andrea - I promise if you can help us review and improve these documents by the end of the week I'll stay out of your inbox for at least a week. :-)"

In the third example above, you may have nothing else to offer but your sense of humor. But that may be just enough to encourage a prompt reply.

Step 3: If you do nothing else, avoid these three phrases

You can avoid doing just one thing and improve your chances of getting your message read and receiving replies dramatically. Stop using these over-used email starting phrases that encourage readers to tune out:

 “As you are aware…” This phrase encourages the reader to think, "If' I'm already aware, what's the point of reading further?"

“Please find attached…” Directing the reader right to an attached file almost guarantees they will read no further than this statement.

"For Your Info (or FYI)" These three letters are code for the busy reader that the information you are forwarding, attaching, or writing is informative…but not necessarily urgent. Your mail will likely be saved for reading "later."

Taking these short steps to optimizing the subject line and first part of your messages will go a long way towards encouraging your readers to reply.

Happy emailing!