Thursday 1 March 2012

The Amazing Power of the Words "Thank You For Your Message"

I was recently forwarded an excellent article by Business Insider managing editor Jessica Liebman entitled 'The Number One Mistake People I Interview Are Making These Days'. That mistake? Not sending a follow-up email thanking the interviewer for the interview. As Liebman explains, not sending a thank you message after an interview ends up inadvertantly sending the message that you're either ambivalent about the job in question or you're disorganized and forgot about following up. Either way, it goes without saying that this is not a message you want to be sending to a prospective employer.

This article, however, got me thinking about the broader power of the words 'thank you' within the context of the PR profession. As a professional communicator, I consider it my job to response as promptly as possible to emails. Much of the time it's a two-sentence response along the lines of "Thank you for your message. I will be getting back to you shortly." In exactly ten seconds I've managed to acknowledged that the person's message has been received, thank them for it and communicate my intention to follow up on the matter. And as a bonus, the word 'shortly' is nicely ambiguous, meaning that it's now up to you whether it means 'in ten minutes' or 'by the end of the week'.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a communications professional is when people don't take the trouble to do this. As PR people, we are in the business of encouraging two-way communication, and by not taking ten seconds out of your day to respond to email messages you are hindering that process. When I send an email and don't get any sort of response, my default assumption is that either I typed the wrong email address or that the person I'm writing to has left the organization, or something else along those lines. It's always very anticlimactic - and irritating - to find out that Person X did indeed get my message but gave no acknowledgement to that effect.

Beyond simple courtesy, there are any number of good reasons why a quick thank you message is good practice for anyone working in a communications capacity. Here are my top five reasons:

1) It's easy and it only takes a few seconds.

2) It generates goodwill on the part of clients, stakeholders and inquiring publics - and shows what an awesome communicator you are.

3) It helps perpetuate two-way symmetrical communication, which is the goal of any decent PR professional.

4) It buys you time by saving you the trouble of responding to numerous pesky follow-up emails.

(Note: You may still get pesky follow-ups, but if you've already communicated your intentions, you've done your job as a communicator.)

5) It helps keep you organized.

This last point is an added benefit of sending a quick note of thanks in response to a request. In my experience, you're far less likely to forget to do something when you've taken the trouble to state your intention of doing it. It's usually best to have a personal routine whereby you follow said thank you emails with a note on a whiteboard, a post-it note on your computer screen or a new 'task' in your Outlook - whatever be your aid-to-memory of choice. Procrastinating on responding to an email is a great way of ensuring that whatever it is you have to do doesn't get done, meaning heaps of unnecessary stress a week or a month down the road.

In sum, if you want your work as a communicator to run as smoothly as possible, always respond to emails with a quick acknowledgement. Phone messages are a somewhat different matter, requiring a bit more planning and time, but there's rarely any excuse for not responding to an email as soon as you receive it. The same also applies to social media inquiries, the whole point of which is to facilitate near-instant two-way communication.

In the meantime, I would like to thank Nikki Van Dusen (@nikkivandusen) for giving me the heads up on the Business Insider article. And to everybody else, thank you in advance for reading - and if you have any inquiries about anything related to this blog (or anything else for that matter) I will be getting back to you shortly. Seriously.

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