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The Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University

Monday, June 06, 2005

Using E-mail Signatures

What is a signature block in e-mail? If you look at the bottom of many e-mail messages you receive, you will see information about the person who sent the message to you. Often this is the person's contact information. The person does not type this information at the bottom of each outgoing e-mail message, but rather the e-mail software that the person uses places this text at the bottom automatically. In Microsoft Outlook, for example, the ability to create a signature block is under Options, Mail Format.

What do people put in their signatures? In the beginning, when people were primarily using dial-up connections to do e-mail, the signatures (or signature block or signature files) were small (2 - 4 lines in length) and contained basic information about the person (full name and complete contact information). The reason for keeping them small was due to the speed of the dial-up connections and not wanting to take up too much bandwidth. But times have changed.

Signature blocks have evolved into places not only to post contact information, but also marketing information. Signature blocks are used to promote the person or the business. With more people using broadband connections, the signatures have gotten bigger with some even 10 - 20 lines in length. They can be used both with plain text (ASCII) or HTML e-mail messages.

What about sending a virtual business card instead? Some e-mail systems can attach a virtual business card to an e-mail message. Since these can't be read by everyone and may be seen as unwanted attachments, a regular signature is better.

What should you consider when constructing a signature? With so much variation in what people place in their signatures, here are a few things to consider when constructing (or modifying) yours:
  • Include some or all of your contact information. Some people include everything, while others just give the bare minimum (full name, telephone number and web site address/URL). Since e-mail messages that are archived as part of online discussion groups are scanned by spammers as a way of collecting e-mail addresses, many people have stopped putting their e-mail address in their signatures. They feel that the receiver of the message will know the e-mail address (in the From or Reply-To fields) and not have to look in the signature for it. If you work from home, you may decide not to place your address in your signature as a way of protecting your privacy. For example:

    Jane M. Doeh
    Tel: (555) 555-5555

      • Include your title (e.g., Mr. or Ms.) if you are communicating with people from a different area of the world/culture. We tend to assume that the people we communicate with will recognize if our name is male or female and then refer to us properly, but that is not true when dealing internationally. In order to save embarrassment, include your title (prefix).

      • Highlight what you do. Consider including a brief statement about what you do. This might be your tagline or a sentence about your services. Yes, you could make this as lengthy as you want, but you do want people to read it, so keeping it short will help. If the person wants more information, they can go to your web site or contact you directly.
        Jane M. Doeh
        Tel: (555) 555-5555
        I'll help you get your life organized.
        • Include promotional information, especially if you are offering something special (perhaps for a limited period of time). For example, if you are offering a discount, a class, a book or whatever, note that in your signature. Include a URL where the person can go for additional information.
        • Use graphical elements cautiously. It is possible to add graphical elements, but do test to see how they will look when someone receives them.

        • Test your signature. How you see your signature may not be how others see it. Send an e-mail to yourself that includes your new signature. If you have multiple e-mail accounts, send the message (with the signature) to all of your e-mail accounts so that you can see what it will look like when it is received. Some systems might truncate the long lines differently than you imagine, so doing a little testing can be useful. This, of course, will not ensure that every e-mail system treats your signature as you expect, but it will help.

        • Have a different signature for different categories of recipients. This may initially seem like more work than its worth, but it can be very helpful. For example different signatures for:
        • Personal and business correspondence
        • Existing and prospective clients
        • Types of clients (e.g., retail vs. wholesale, type of products they purchase)
        Your e-mail program will likely ask that you designate one as being your primary signature and then give you the option to change it for a specific e-mail that you are sending.
        • Change your signature frequently. It is easy to create a signature and then use it forever. However, if you change it periodically, people may pay more attention to it (and not take it for granted). Consider changing it at least a couple times a year.


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