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Etiquette Question: Email vs. Snail Mail

Filed under Corporate, Etiquette

When to send email, and when to send snail mailThis week, I’d like to welcome SEO and social media expert Natalie Winslow as our guest blogger, answering the following etiquette question recently sent to me.

Dear Charles,

I have to admit something: I’m old-fashioned. I love sending thank you notes, Christmas cards, and hand-written letters to my friends and family members, who live across the country; however, I recognize that fewer and fewer people appreciate, or even want to receive, actual “snail mail.” My question for you is this: are there occasions when it is still better to send snail mail? Or should I switch all my correspondence to email?

Thank you,

Lynette Simmons

Dear Lynette,

Excellent question! I strongly believe that there are circumstances when snail mail is actually preferred to email. These include thank you notes, condolences, birthday cards, and holiday cards.

Thank you notes: While a thank you email is nice, it doesn’t have the same effect as an actual thank you card. This is true for both business and personal situations. A thank you card shows that you truly appreciate what was done for you or give to you, and you’ve taken the effort to let this person know that their gesture did not go unnoticed. The note does not need to be lengthy, but I believe that it is worth much more than an email or a note on someone’s Facebook wall.

Condolences: When a friend or good acquaintance loses someone, an actual card is a much more appropriate gesture than an email. Unless the family has requested no cards, a simple note, written concisely and sincerely, is incredibly valuable.

Birthday cards: While social media like Facebook and Twitter have eliminated birthday cards and birthday calls for some people, most of us appreciate a card on our birthday, especially from someone out of town. If you know your clients’ birthdays, this can be an especially impacting gesture. Compared to the other three, I don’t believe sending birthday cards is as important, but it’s definitely not overkill.

Holiday cards: The best kind of holiday cards feature a photograph of your family, and a simple holiday greeting. Most people still expect to send and receive actual, physical holiday cards, and more and more we expect to see how your children have grown, what trips you’ve taken, and how many pets you have! Holiday cards give us a physical connection to our friends, acquaintances, and clients.

Now, what about times when email is more appropriate? This is just my opinion, but more and more people are leaning toward email for the following: invitations, newsletters, and general correspondence.

Invitations: Evites are slowly replacing card invitations. I encourage you to send out e-invitations when hosting an event, but if you know someone is not tech-savvy, then a phone call should be adequate. It is still fun to send out invitations for children’s birthday parties, but it is definitely not necessary for events catered to adults.

Newsletters and general correspondence: Companies, organizations, and families have quickly been adopting the online format for newsletters and general correspondence. Newsletters sent by email can be saved, indexed, reopened, and easily searched for information. This is especially valuable when communicating with your clients and customers, although it is also useful for staying in touch with your family.

For example, my 85-year-old grandmother sends out a Winslow Family Newsletter every month. We are quite the global family, so the newsletter keeps us all in the loop, highlighting birthdays, trips, and other relevant information about our extended family. Even if someone in the family is traveling or away from home, he or she can still feel connected to the family by simply checking his or her email!

Thank you for your question, Lynette! I’m positive that social media will continue to play an expanding role in how we communicate with our clients, customers, families, and friends. For now, however, I believe that these are the most accepted ways of communicating.


Natalie Winslow

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