Why no-one is reading your emails (and what they’re doing instead)

Businessman using laptop computer

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being ignored? That despite your best efforts to ensure every email you write is a) highly relevant; b) succinct; and c) blurb-free, your message still gets overlooked?

Many organizations feel email overload has reached crisis level. So what’s happened? Why the sudden drop off in readership rates, and what are employees reading instead?

The biggest challenge facing internal communicators today is getting your message to stand out amongst all the other digital distractions. Ironically, there’s even more pressure to communicate effectively, with legislation mandating employees must be up to speed on serious areas such as compliance, cyber-security training, and health and safety.

Here are some insights into the forces at play, with tips to master better communications in the modern world.

1) The blur of bring your own device (BYOD) 

On the face of it, a BYOD policy appears to be a win-win for all: Employers save on hardware costs; Employees use their product of choice. Market researcher Gartner Inc. predicts that 85% of businesses will have some kind of BYOD program in place by 2020.

smart phone

But does this movement blur the line between work and private usage?

It’s tempting for employees to continue using their device at work in the same way they do at home i.e. visiting social media sites, sending private texts, gaming and more. This convergence of private and professional communications means your email gets moved further down the food chain.

Tip:

Think creatively with the format you send your comms. In their private lives, employees have become accustomed to consuming messages in rich formats.

Videos, pop up alerts, tickers, screensavers and newsletters are effective formats within the internal communications mix.

2) Screen sizes are smaller

The way in which we open and interact with email has changed. Nowadays, more email is read on mobile devices than on desktops. Stats say 56% of email is now opened on a small screen – an 8% jump from 12 months ago.

The switch in display size has monumental impact on email open-and-read rates. Emails that are poorly formatted, have too small typeface, and are not mobile-optimized can be an instant turn-off to recipients.

Tip:

Design your communications with a mobile audience in mind. It’s likely they’ll be reading your message on the go – literally (60% of computer users check e-mail in the bathroom!).

Time is short, so make sure your message gets straight to the point, and any call to action is clearly marked.

3) Communication invasion

These days there are so many other information sources that can distract employees, putting the squeeze on how much information they can actually consume.

LinkedIn, Twitter and a plethora of newsfeeds play a relevant role in the business community, but the downside is this constant streaming of data is diverting employees’ attention.

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There’s every sign these types of collaborative sites are gaining, not only in number but popularity too. More digital noise means less attention to the inbox.

Tip:

There’s not much you can do to stem this movement, except make your own communications acutely relevant. Think like a publisher: be disciplined about the frequency, message and format used. Get others to critique your messages objectively.

The more engaging and insightful your messages are, the higher your readership will be.

4) The Generational Divide

According to a recent study of more than 1,000 US-employees, baby boomer managers (aged 51 – 69) and millennial employees (aged 18 – 30) are at odds with each other’s communication styles.

The younger generation is immersed in social media tools, happy to share their opinions with the world, and lightning quick at using two-way instant messaging.

Yet the older generation preserve their thinking and are less comfortable with public collaboration. They’re more familiar with the top-down communication style, and inclined to plan more.

Tip:

The one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work. Consider a mix of messaging channels that will appeal to all ages. Non-urgent content could be packaged and distributed via monthly updates. This leaves breathing space for urgent, essential communications to get the attention they deserve.

Collaboration tools are popular, particularly amongst millennials, but be aware of the critics who claim these tools can be a major time suck.

5) Relevance to Reader  

A survey by 2,300 Intel employees revealed that nearly one-third of the messages received were deemed unnecessary. And for every six emails that are ignored for a day, five of those are ignored for good.

Staff may unwittingly be saturating email systems as they’re unsure of the decision-making or escalation processes, and so to be on the safe side, include too many colleagues in their distribution.

Tip:

Develop an ‘email etiquette’ charter for employees. The emphasis should be on balancing sender benefit vs recipient costs.

Recommendations could include resisting the urge of ‘reply to all’ (responding to the original sender is often all that’s needed). Abolish the forwarding long email threads to all and sundry, especially if a complex situation is easier to explain in person.

And be disciplined about who you include in the distribution list i.e. do those marked in ‘cc’ field really need to receive the email?

In summary, individuals are more selective as to what warrants their attention. The digital revolution has disrupted traditional communication methods – and email is a casualty. This has sparked a much-needed makeover for internal communications, and a call for more creative, engaging and memorable content.

Sarah Perry is the CEO of SnapComms and a contributor to ClickZ

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