Why Salutations Still Matter in the Digital Age.

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Linked In member Alan started a good discussion in the Small Business Accelerator group with the question “What happened to the salutation in emails?” That is a closed group, so you can only see the discussion if you are a group member.

It is an intriguing topic and the question received many varied and interesting replies. I thought it would make a good subject for a blog post, here is my response, I also recorded it as a podcast, just click on the player below to listen.

Comment starts:

As a general rule, I use “Hello” and the recipient’s name for two reasons. One, very few people use Hello, the default seems to be Hi which as a non-North American for most of my life I find too informal for business use. I like to be outside the herd. I do not have an objection to Hi on emails sent to me, but would prefer the sender showed some originality if the correspondence becomes frequent.

Secondly, as a Boomer generation male I am cautious about addressing younger females as “Dear”. I do use Dear, when appropriate and will sometimes incorporate the recipient’s name into a compliment as a salutation if it works. Generally only in follow-up emails in a series on a related subject.

Time related salutations are awkward, we have no way of knowing when our emails will be opened and many of us are communicating across time zones. Your Good Morning might seem incongruous when I am checking my emails late at night. “Good Day” sounds antiquated.

“Greetings” before a name is an alternative I occasionally use for Hello.

Emails received with no salutation do not give me a good first impression and are more likely to be deleted unread. I rarely send a salutation-less email and only if I want to make a point or provide a one or two-word response.

The salutation “Dear” and my first name in emails from people with whom I have had no prior contact assumes a familiar relationship status. In the pre-email days, the equivalent salutation in a letter would be one of Dear Sir / Madam, or Dear Mr. Mrs. Miss, and surname / last name.

I accept that my last comment is due to my generational and educational biases and that society has evolved with less formal rules. However, we all have biases, so a marketer who ignores a generation’s biases in email correspondence is going to experience a lower response rate than one who does recognise them. Even if the recipients themselves cannot identify which words or omissions are triggering the negative effect.

Comment ends

An inappropriate, disrespectful or offensive salutation can create a negative effect in the receivers mind before he or she has read the content. Sandwich that between a weak subject line and an ineffective opening sentence and you have an email that is not going to be read or get action.

Groups of people have biases, they could be generational, educational, religious, ethnic, cultural, occupational, recreational, geographical or any of a range of distinctions.

It’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but exercising care with salutations in emails is just one way we can make our communication more effective.

How do you prefer to be addressed in emails, what is your preferred salutation in those you send? Are they the same or do you use different salutations for different contacts?

Leave a comment.

Wishing you success.

Peter Wright


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  4 comments for “Why Salutations Still Matter in the Digital Age.

  1. Roberta Hunter
    January 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Well, I have to admit, or confess, I am sometimes guilty of “no salutation” in e-mails. Emailing has become so common place and with good friends it is easy to just ‘get on with it.’

    However, in certain formal communications I always use some sort of formal or informal salutation. Such communications would include, but not limited to, job applications, letters of praise or complaint. [Yes, I send praise letters too. I try to make it at least 2:1], emails to someone I do not know that well. And there in lies the issue. Emails have become a familiar means of communication between friends.

    I also try to follow or mimic the person I am emailing. If they use a greeting I tend to respond in the same manner. It also depends if it is a first email or a second or third email on the same topic or thread.

    I do not often use a salutation when I am just sending a silly you tube video or joke. I just send it with a, “Hey, thought of you when I saw this.” Another issue with emails is group emails. How do I greet or address ten or fifteen people?

    • February 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Thank you for your ideas Roberta. You are correct about emails having become common place with friends, and that easy to “get on with it” factor might be why many of us – I know I am sometimes guilty too – do not take enough care in compiling emails for other, more formal correspondence. I am not sure if you visited the Linked In group, but the majority of comments were along the same lines as your comment here.

  2. Michelle Kosloff
    February 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Hello Peter, Enjoyed your blog post today. It is something to think about. Its so easy to have an email misconstrued that I really think that people should think about what they write.



    • February 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Hello Michelle, good to hear from you, you are absolutely correct, aware of a recent experience of that very problem with unfortunate consequences.

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