Fighting the Tyranny of E-Mail

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We all do it. Right after we get to work, maybe before we get to work, in the hotel when we arrive, just before we go to bed. We are driven to the computer to get our e-mail. In this era of instant communication, turning off or not being available for a moment is not permitted.


Many times, my staff has called me while I'm out of town and riding in a cab just to ask whether I've read my e-mail about the newest big issue. Ten years ago, the issue would have waited until I got a fax. Now, it's gotten so intense with clients and associates asking whether I've gotten my e-mail that I purchased the Palm VII. Great machine. But it does add to the frenzy of each day.


E-mail is the killer Internet app, for now. Almost everyone uses it. The Industry Standard has combined reports on the impact of e-mail worldwide into a comprehensive picture and notes that at the end of 1999, there were 570 million e-mail boxes worldwide. The U.S. market includes 334 million boxes - more than one per person - according to Messaging Online. In the Industry Standard report, Jupiter Communications predicts that by 2003, 432 billion e-mail messages will be sent per year, up from 132 billion in 1999.


The Industry Standard's report quotes the Pew Internet Project, which found that the content of messages is both personal and business-related. Fifty-six percent of adults say e-mail has improved their connection with their family, and 66 percent say it has kept them in contact with friends (with women responding positively in greater frequency than men to these statements). The Pew study also noted that e-mail marketing is expected to expand so that by 2005 there will be one commercial e-mail for every two or three personal messages. Marketers can rejoice that during the study 63 percent of Internet users stated they do not think unsolicited commercial e-mail is a problem.


Syndicated services like Hotmail and GoZing.com offer free e-mail, and many wireless appliances offer services free, if the recipient agrees to receive merchandise offers or company-directed e-mail.


How did we come so far, so fast? We all like to get e-mail for pleasure. But I am convinced the reason we have to be "on" all the time is that we think the boss is expecting instant results. Hence, the tyranny of e-mail. We feel compelled to respond right away, as though someone really needed an answer that fast. So what if everyone decided to wait a little longer? Maybe we wouldn't feel so frazzled at the end of the day. Maybe, we would make more sense because we thought through the process a little longer.


Here are tips to help reduce the stress and overthrow the tyranny of e-mail.


• Manage your inbox. Nothing is more stressful than opening your e-mail and seeing hundreds of e-mails in your inbox - read or not. Try to delete or file an e-mail as soon as you have read it.


• Create folders for subjects. If you use Microsoft's Outlook, use the keyword identification so that the e-mails with the specific words go directly into the specified folder, rather than into your general inbox.


• Set up another e-mail address for personal e-mails (like all those jokes and department store sales announcements).


• Use other forms of communications within your company. Try using internal message boards for a particular project. This cuts down on the copies you receive. The project's information is posted to the message board and remains there for everyone to access and respond to.


• Set your browser to filter out all broadcast junk mail or intrusive mail. This works well, but it can dump important messages, too.


• Turn off sounds or pop-ups that alert you to new e-mails. This makes it less compelling to drop everything and read and respond each time you get new mail.


• Control the receipt of e-mails by setting the time to five or 10 minutes on the "send" option.


• Set your browser to return all weekend e-mail notifications to the senders so people don't expect an immediate reply to their e-mails on the weekends.


Now that we know how to free ourselves from e-mail tyranny, as marketers, what should we do to ensure that our outgoing e-mail messages and electronic marketing campaigns are welcomed into recipients' inboxes? In our new world of around-the-clock direct marketing, time of the week, hour of the day and the location are regularly targeted.


Here are tips to make outgoing e-mail more friendly and effective.


• Don't send e-mail to people who haven't requested it. Don't copy others on information that is meant only for the person who is counting on information.


• The best time to reach businesspeople with e-mail is lunch time. Remember to time your deliveries to take into consideration differing time zones.


• Don't send a business e-mail late on a Friday or one that arrives on a Monday morning. A person's mailbox is usually full from a weekend of receiving such messages. Your e-mail may be deleted instead of read.


• The same logic applies to sending e-mails right before a long holiday weekend.


• Friday is getaway day, too. Another reason to go light on Friday e-mails and send nothing on Friday afternoons.


• Consumer e-mail is best read on weekends, especially Sundays. This is when a person has the most time to read it. E-mail does tend to take over personal time.


• This is a big one: We cannot do merge/purge, yet. Not because of technology, but rather because of a growing-pains thing with the newbie e-mail companies. So how do you avoid sending duplicate messages to the same name? Space out the drops between each list by a day or two. This will avoid everyone looking silly or sending spam.


• Nothing wastes time and patience as much as having to scroll through pages of addresses to get to the meat of the e-mail message. When sending an e-mail to the department mail list or (especially) to the companywide mail list, send the e-mail to yourself (using the "To" field) and put the mailing list nickname in the blind carbon copy, or "bcc" field.


• Always put a meaningful title as the subject line.


• Keep the e-mail subject short. Make it meaningful. Don't send anything that might be confused for spam. If you send the boss an e-mail with the subject "Here's a Deal for You!" his e-mail filter or he himself may delete it without reading it.


One more thing: Don't reply to an e-mail when you are angry about its contents. Cool off first. If you must attack the keyboard while you're in the mood, store the message in a "Drafts" folder for a while before you send it. You'll be glad you did.


E-mail offers must be sent early in the correct season. Waiting too long to use a specific list can turn a legitimate offer into spam. It's not list fatigue, it's consumer fatigue that will plague the tardy user of an e-mail list even in the correct season.
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