Email’s not going away, so we might as well make it better

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June 11, 2013 by juicefong

You know what they look like. LONG. Cluttered. Five different fonts. Sloppy spacing. Way too much information. More likely you delete them than even scan to the bottom. It’s your typical email “blast.” And “blasted” is exactly how people feel when they receive them.

My internal communications team at Teach For America has long avoided anything to do with email. Since we began three years ago, our focus has been on things like video, audio, live events, social networking (Yammer for us), a kinda-sorta intranet (TFAHub), and beautiful Prezis. If anything, our attempt has been to avoid emails at all costs.

But as we did a listening tour of our own (nearly 100 employees, 30 minutes each) we gathered from folks that we were negligent of one of our core responsibilities as an internal communications team—making sure people can deliver information to the masses (our 2,000 staff members) and making sure the masses have the information they need to thrive. And as much we wanted people communicate in new ways, we realized that email’s not going away, so we might as well make it better. (Cue for you to copy that last bit there, then tweet it with a link to this post. Thanks.)

It launched yesterday, and here it is, with names and some info redacted:MondayMinute-061013-ReSM

This is the beautiful work of my teammate Rashina (@rashinabhula), who has been masterful in bringing the Monday Minute to fruition.

It arrives every Monday morning, and it’s a set of timely information aimed at an org-wide audience. We aim to consolidate relevant information for folks, and to eventually reduce the many one-off emails that are sent to the entire organization.

As you can see, it’s short and sweet. We wanted it to be something you could read or scan in 60 seconds, then either take action, file away, or delete.

Content is culled through a network of other staff members who represent all of our various functional teams. We sort it into “Upcoming Events,” “For Your Information” and “In Case You Missed It”—events or notices that have passed, but that people often take some time to search around for.

You’ll also notice a very clean layout, a simple descriptive phrase in red for each item, and most importantly—a limit of three lines of text for each entry. The embedded links allow us to keep things short; these might take you to a page on our kinda-sorta intranet, a video, a document and so forth.

Brevity is so important in an age when people are barraged with emails all day. Understanding the various depths that content can take is the key to making this work. Whatever content you’re working with can be summed up in say 20 words, or even captured in a 1-3 word phrase. That’s a philosophy we’ve employed here with the descriptors on the left and the short entries on the right.

Our thinking is this: readers will scan down the left-hand side and look at the descriptors first. When one seems to strike their fancy, they’ll shift their eyes to the right and read that very short text. If they are further compelled, they’ll click on a link or take some action.

If this sounds familiar, it’s really how Twitter works. In Twitter, you have an avatar and screen name—that’s the smallest piece of information. When you’re in the mood for the type of content typically shared by that person, you read their tweet. (When you’re not, you scroll on to the next.) And sometimes you read a tweet with a link and if you are so compelled, you click on it to get even more information. Basic concept that is all about brevity.

Ten hours after we sent the first one, we had a 53% open rate with just over 25% click-through rate on some link (and I think this first one was rather thin on exciting stuff, to be honest). In the interest of brevity, I’ll give you a close-up shot of part of it and leave you to ask questions or make remarks in the comments of this blog.MondayMinute-061013-ReLG

Happy Tuesday! Let me know what you think. Oh, we used MailChimp, by the way.

Justin Fong (@jgfong) heads the small but mighty internal communications team at Teach For America.

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