Avoid These 5 Follow-Up Mistakes for Email Success

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The advent of email, like the telephone before it, has created a whole new form of etiquette attached to using it. And even though most of us have been using email for what seems like forever, many people still stumble a bit when it comes to the ins and outs of proper email etiquette. One of the biggest areas that can trip you up is the follow-up email.

Follow-up emails, replies . . . whatever you want to call them, mastering them is one of the keys to being a smart and savvy email user. But too often, people don’t think enough about the impact they make when they send them (or don’t send them). Sending a proper follow-up or reply is vital to the success of the initial email. Be it with family, friends, or in the workplace, follow-up emails are what make sure the task at hand is being fully dealt with and that everyone is on the same page.

Here is a list of the top 5 mistakes to avoid when dealing with a follow-up email. How many of these are you guilty of?

1. Generic Emails

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You may think you’re being smart and saving time by creating specific canned responses for emails that you send on a regular basis. It’s tempting when you have so much else to do. But the second time someone receives one of these generic emails, it will lose all impact. These types of emails tend to annoy the recipients and ultimately get ignored. No one likes to feel like they’re being palmed off with a generic, boilerplate response, and you want to make sure your email gets read.

When you personalize each email, both of you win. While your reply should be brief (see #5), it should also hit all the key points you need to make. Focus on crafting short, concise emails and you’ll have no need for generic ones.

2. Not Following Up on Time

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Let’s say you’re done with a meeting and you tell someone you’ll follow up with him or her by the end of the day. Five o’clock rolls around and you still haven’t sent that follow-up email, but you want to head home and just send it tomorrow. This seems fine to you, but that person may be waiting on your email to take action, and your not sending it on time will affect their work and schedule.

Send all follow-up emails on time, no matter what. When you’re late with something like this, what you’re basically saying is “My time is more important than your time, so I’ll send it when I can.” This is the wrong message to convey to anyone, especially a coworker or, worse yet, a manager.

Once again, focus on emails that are short and to the point so you never have an issue following up on time. That someone will appreciate it – and as a bonus, that’s one less thing you have to do tomorrow.

3. Not Following Up at All

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The only thing worse than a late follow-up is none at all. Even if no follow-up or reply was specifically mentioned, it’s good etiquette to send one anyway. This doesn’t just apply to the workplace, but to friends and family as well.

If you throw a party and invite everyone via email, it’s good email etiquette to send a follow-up message to everyone after the party thanking them for coming. This email can contain a few pictures from the party, a list of dishes left that need to be picked up, or just a few sentences thanking everyone for being a friend and making it a fun party.

Always follow up or reply, no matter what, even if it’s just to say “thank you.” If you don’t, the person may assume you didn’t get the initial message, which causes confusion and, worse yet, resentment when he or she finds out that you did get the message but just chose not to reply.

You wouldn’t not return an important phone call, would you? Treat emails with the same level of respect and everyone will be happier.

4. Not Using Bcc for Multiple People

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Back to that fictional meeting from #2: let’s say you need to follow up with multiple people about the same thing after the meeting. If those people don’t need to see replies from one another, you should use the blind carbon copy, or Bcc. field. This way, no one on the list can “Reply all” to the other people for no good reason. This helps keep email traffic down for everyone else while allowing you to send one email instead of multiple ones.

People love to hit the “Reply all” button when sending a reply, but it’s becoming more and more of a sore point for many these days. In fact, there are a growing number of us who’d like to see “Reply all” go the way of the dodo bird.

Bcc is an invaluable tool in the email world, and one that is rarely used. It’s a bit like the quiet but brilliant kid in the corner that no one goes over to talk to. To cut down on the use and abuse of “Reply all,” always use Bcc when sending a follow-up. You get the reply, and your recipients get only the messages that relate to them.

5. Too Long, Didn’t Read

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TL;DR is short for “Too long; Didn’t read” and is Internet shorthand for something that was, well, so long that the recipient didn’t read it. Make sure your follow-ups aren’t so long that they go unread. Keep it short, concise, and on topic. Save other topics for other emails. Stick to the 5-sentence email and you’ll be good to go.

Read your follow-up before you send it. If you have a hard time getting through it, then the recipient will, too. While it should be short and sweet, it shouldn’t be so short it could be taken as terse. Be nice and friendly, but as short as you can be to get your reply read.

Wrap-Up

Follow-up email is an art form that takes some practice and attention to detail but can be mastered fairly easily. One of the best ways to get people in your office or life in general to always read an email from you is to reply and follow up correctly. Those people may not consciously notice this, but you’ll automatically get yourself on the always-read list that everyone has in their heads.

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