Happy Endings Make for Great Beginnings - Why Email Signatures Matter
Theoretical Tales From The Front Line
I have a theory that I'd like to share.
It starts outs in November 2010, just as I turned 25 years old. I was laid off from my job as a reporter at Forbes Magazine. Magazines weren't making money anymore. It was all about the web. The next week, my boyfriend broke up with me. No one wants to date a jobless writer. I took it in stride with a lot of red wine, 3 seasons of Lost and made friends with the New York City delivery guys.
When I returned to New York that summer to cover the tech scene as an editor for The Next Web, I adopted "Cheers" as my email signature. My British colleagues didn’t consider it anything new but it was appreciated and noticed by my interactions with a U.S. audience.
My theory is that, since then, a lot of my success in life has come from two words that I wrote hundreds of times a day:
Why the impact? “Cheers” is light, respectful and a touch European. Using one’s initials is minimal and appropriate in the age of Twitter. (Especially when your name is as character intensive as Courtney Boyd Myers.) Together, my signature felt like the right amount of friendly – a nuance that can be especially difficult to achieve as a woman in tech.
Since then, “Cheers” has been widely adopted in the U.S. (which I have another theory about), but I still use it to this day. So while “Cheers, CBM” might not have the unique impact it once did; at the very least, it follows my appreciation of alliteration.
Choosing Your Sign-Off
We say goodbye hundreds of times a day. The words we choose and the style in which we use them matter, a lot. According to the Washington Post, saying goodbye is the hardest part of the email.
Part of the reason it’s so tricky is because everyone has very personal reactions to written language. For example, according to Esquire and The Week, the fact that I use “Cheers” means I am a pretentious twit who needs a drink.
Here are a few common email sign-offs and the reactions they provoke (in me):
Best regards: I used this as a sign-off before I knew what I was doing in my career. It’s polite, inoffensive, respectful and utterly boring and unoriginal. This one screams “job applicant”. Variations of “Regards” recently drove one Slate writer to suggest we abolish sign-offs altogether.
Thanks: I like this one and use it often, but it’s like the email signature version of “I’m fine.” Terse and to the point. Depending on the context, it has the habit of coming across like the person is annoyed or feels let down and doesn’t want to send a similar email again.
Yours: When a man uses this, I tend to think of Westley in The Princess Bride. It has hints of romanticism to it, but frankly it comes off as subservient. I even saw one woman write: Very Sincerely Yours. C’mon! This is what I would expect at the bottom of a love poem in the 1900s.
Sincerely: Speaking of the 1900s... While I understand the simplicity of this sign off, it’s dated and boring. In her book Etiquette - written in 1922 - Emily Post called it “the best ending to a formal social note”. It’s been 100 years, let’s change the tune!
None: When used mid-conversation, forgoing an email sign-off is very appropriate. However, if you're emailing someone to ask for an introduction or to take a look at your investment deck, this is inappropriate. Remember, everything communicates; including the lack of something.
Best wishes: Wishing gets on my nerves because it’s the wrong attitude. It’s sheepish to the point of being borderline unprofessional. Stop wishing and start hustling. That might be my new sign off: Best hustling, CBM.
*Lastly, no one prints emails anymore so stop worrying like an old lady and reminding people that you're saving trees.*
I don’t save “Cheers, CBM” in my signature settings. The formatting never looks natural, so I write it out each time I send a new email. Why spend the time writing a considerate email only to end it with an robotic goodbye?
Here’s what I do have in my signature settings:
Essentials: Name and Company (both hyperlinked to Twitter).
Nice to Haves: Title, Location, Community and Media Mentions.
Things I don’t have: Giant company logo, my telephone number and address.
In this very cluttered world you need to take every possible opportunity to make a good impression.Think of your signature as a marketing tool and a way to show your personality. Spark interest but don't spam. Decide what’s most important to your business and include only the essential information. If you don’t run a brick and mortar shop, there’s no need to advertise your address. If someone needs it, they'll ask for it.
You Stay Classy, San Diego
In the three years since I’ve been using “Cheers”, and thoughtfully crafting email settings, I’ve done several tests to measure the efficacy of my email sign-offs. There are a couple things worth measuring; first, response rate and second, the effectiveness of the email in regards to the positive response – whether it’s affirmation, clarification or approval that you’re seeking.
A shorter email signature almost always received a faster response and a more positive reaction. So be sure to eliminate all of the unnecessary bits of your signature settings.
The most important piece of advice I can give is that your sign-off should complement the tone of your email content. If you make spelling errors, say rude things and come off like an ass, no amount of Cheers! at the end of email will set things right.
Think you want to read another post on email etiquette? Let me know by voting for my next idea: “Modern Mail + Mores” on Help Me Write.