Email etiquette in the modern era – A study by GetResponse 

11 min

Welcome to the landscape of business emails, a realm that seemingly stands apart from the relaxed chatterboxes of Slack or the casual feeds of social media. But does it? Or do the same rules apply? Can spontaneous GIFs, emojis, and informal banter cross the chasm between social platforms and our work inboxes?

Our most recent study delved into the realm of email communication to address these uncertainties. We invite you to join us as we explore the balance between formality and friendliness, identify common email mistakes, and evaluate the strategy behind CC-ing our bosses in our work emails.

Don’t worry, we’ve kept it light!

So, come along as we dive into the fascinating world of modern email etiquette. There’s a lot to uncover here!

Key takeaways: let the numbers speak for themselves

  • 67% of respondents believe you shouldn’t be using emojis in business emails; 
  • 73% consider featuring GIFs and memes in emails a bad practice
  • 58% don’t find cliché signatures like “Kind regards” genuine;  
  • 85% of respondents feel like they are included in unnecessary emails
  • 87% of respondents agree that grammar is important in email communications; 
  • 72% would expect a reply to their email in under 24 hours.

But there are even more insights, findings, tips, and advice inside – so make sure you read ‘till the very end! It’ll be worth it, I promise.  

Let’s jump in!

Emojis in emails: friendliness or unprofessionalism? 

The year is 2023 and there is no bigger debate in the email marketing scene than the use of emojis. OK, perhaps there are some, but emojis are important, right? 🥹 

Between Gen Z trying to push “💀” and Millennials vigorously defending “😂” it’s quite easy to get confused. And a wrong use of an emoji might mean offending your email recipients. Perhaps that’s why almost 67% of respondents believe that using emojis in email is a bad practice.

I wouldn’t be so adamant, though. It all depends on several essential factors like your brand’s tone of voice and your target audience.

Of course, if you’re handing in your resignation letter, you may want to stick to a professional tone. No place for funny faces here.

On the other hand, if you’re responsible for the People & Culture department in your company and you want to announce the winner of your last month’s contest – some “🎉”s might be in order.

OK, I get it – you’re in marketing and you want to know if it’s fine to send emojis to customers. Those aren’t entirely business emails, though, are they? They can be marketing promos, or transactional emails, or your latest content updates. It would greatly depend on the situation!

If you don’t believe me, just check how emojis in the subject line affect open and click-through rates in our latest Email Marketing Benchmarks Report. As you can see, there is no definite answer to the question.

So the best bit of advice I can give is this: ask your audience. Perhaps you don’t have to ask them directly, but, you know, run a split-test and see what kind of emails receive a better engagement rate. Only this way can you be certain what works best for your specific use case.

Email etiquette in a GIF-filled world: balancing formality and fun

Another popular topic in the email marketing community is GIFs. Here, even more people seem to agree that there is no place for those in work emails.

There is some logic to it. After all, a non-optimized GIF can lower your performance significantly (they do tend to take forever to load!).

What’s more, a GIF is only as good as the context it is shared in. That’s why they work so well in an informal setting: you have inside jokes with your friends that can only be conveyed with a good-old GIF and you’re certain everyone will get it. What if none of your customers saw Parks and Recreations and they won’t appreciate the latest Rob Swanson gem you just pulled?

You see where I’m going with this. GIFs require context. Without one it’s not a good GIF and it has no business being in your email – remember that time you used a GIF of a random stock person smiling? Please, don’t let it happen again.

Instead, GIFs make an excellent touch point for business correspondence on other channels (such as Slack or Hangouts, or whatever alternative your company prefers).

Email signatures: old-fashioned courtesy or a chance to show your personality?

One of the first pieces of advice I give people new to email marketing is this: drop the ‘kind regards’ nonsense. You don’t want your boss to sound like your high school teacher and you don’t want your email to sound like it’s been working for a governmental institution for the past 20 years.

And it turns out I’m not alone in this conviction: 58% of respondents don’t find the signatures styled along the lines of “Kind regards”, “Sincerely yours”, or “Best wishes” genuine.

With that, a reasonable question arises: what do you say in your email signature, then (aside from your name and job title)?

Again, it all depends on your situation. If, say, you work for a law firm and are writing an email to a very important corporate client, then “Kind regards” would be expected. Would it seem genuine? That’s only for your recipient to decide, but it’s a requirement of business communication to include something like this.

If, however, you are a lifestyle coach or an affiliate marketer trying to build relationships and nurture trust within your mailing community, signing off in such a cold and informal fashion will do more harm than good.  I personally love the newest trend with Gen Z’s sincere email signatures – they won’t make a difference to the audience that doesn’t care enough to reach the sign off, but will force a chuckle from anyone who does.

Email small talk: a warm handshake or empty pleasantries?

And what about small talk? “I hope this email finds you well”, “How was your weekend”?, “Got anything cool planned?” and all.

Well, there doesn’t seem to be a specific consensus here: while 52% of respondents wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable sharing how well they, indeed, are doing, only 45% would be hesitant to share their weekend details in a work email.

Does it mean you shouldn’t ask? Well, firstly, I don’t consider results bordering on 50% to be statistically significant, so to me the best answer here would be: just go with your gut.

And the second-best answer is: always pay attention to social and cultural clues. For example, your American colleagues might expect this sort of small talk at the beginning of the conversation, albeit by email. At the same time, in Central Europe it may very well be considered a waste of time and you will never learn how their weekend was.

Consider this: if you’ve received a newsletter from your favorite email marketing crew – don’t forget to subscribe for Content Monthly Update by GetResponse, by the way! – and the very first sentence asked you about your day, would you feel any need to reply? Didn’t think so.

In turn, what if your dearest colleague asked you to cover the next Tuesday’s shift for them and they opened up with “If you have anything planned, please let me know!”?

Context, friends. It’s all about context.

CC-ing your boss: mistake or a quest for accountability?

The community seems to have not reached any conclusion once again.

While 38.5% include their manager in email communications quite often, almost just as many (34%) tend not to. And once again, context to the rescue!

Some might argue that having your boss sneakily CC-d in most email communications speaks of insecurity, lack of professional independence, and overall fear of making a mistake. On the other hand, there are issues that actually require your supervisor’s direct involvement, such as budget allocation, signing up a new client, service, or product, or dealing with workplace harassment.

Email etiquette best practices: how to be everyone’s favorite sender

While there may be some debate on the major do’s and don’ts of email communication, there are some email etiquette rules you can adopt to ensure you don’t annoy people by mistake.

1. Always double check your recipients

43% of respondents had to recall their email because they sent out something important or embarrassing to the wrong person by mistake at least once.

You can easily avoid that simply by taking a second and making sure your email will, indeed, land with the person you’ve intended.

2. “Reply all” when the situation demands it

Of course, nobody’s perfect and unpredicted stuff happens. I have personally replied to just one person instead of “replying all” when the situation clearly required way more times than I dare to admit here. Unfortunately, that question didn’t make it to our survey, but I bet I’m not alone in that email shame. 

Instead, 43% of respondents admitted to doing the direct opposite and have replied to the email with “reply all” by accident.

That little button is sneaky and types of communication that do require replying all are often sprinkled with emotion. Take a deep breath, go AFK if you feel like it’d help, and make sure you press the right arrow.

3. Make sure the person you’re adding to the email will benefit from it or contribute to the discussion

This one is ironic because 85% of respondents believe that their colleagues include them in unnecessary emails, while only 67% admit to the deed.

Just like there are plenty of “this could be an email” kinds of meetings, there are some emails that simply shouldn’t have been sent.

Lots of people have a good practice of diligently checking their inbox at least once a day. Ask yourself: would you approach the person in the office and ask them to join your chat? If not, they probably don’t belong in that email thread.

Email is an effective tool for business communication but only if we respect each other within the medium.

4. Keep an eye on your grammar

While you may find Grammarly’s suggestions annoying, it’s an easy way to seem more professional and attentive to detail – just like your CV promised!  

The absolute majority (87%) of respondents agree that grammar is important in email communications.

So, if you want to impress your colleagues and the manager you’ve CC-d – run a quick proofread before hitting that “send” button!

5. Highlight the important parts of your email

As we’ve established, the goal of a good email is to deliver relevant information in a convenient manner. And what could be more convenient than seeing all the important parts already highlighted for you in color?

59% of our survey’s respondents agree it’s a generally good practice, too.

6. Don’t use ALL CAPS and tone down on exclamation points!!!

Well, writing that surely gave me a bit of anxiety, how about you? Feel like I’m yelling already? The same happens to people reading your emails when you decide to highlight the absolute urgency of your communication.

More than 60% of our respondents agree that both fall into the category of bad email practices.

But how do I highlight that it’s important/urgent/priority/etc.? Well, you can start by following the previous best practice and underline the important parts by using a different color in your email’s body. If your corporate setting doesn’t approve of color-coding, you can always write in Italics or strengthen your copy with bold highlights. Both are acceptable in almost any case.

7. Aim to reply within one working day or less

Imagine standing at someone’s door knowing full-well they’re home, ringing the doorbell, just to be ignored. That’s what email ghosting often feels like. Especially if we’re talking about internal business communications (and not spammers trying to break into your inbox).

So it’s not particularly surprising that most people (72%) consider it polite to reply to an email within 24 hours or less.

8. Don’t be like yours truly

You must really care about email etiquette or survey-based statistics if you’re still here, so I believe you deserve a little reward for persistence. Here’s my shameful secret.

I wish I could say it’s an AI-generated image. Alas! There may be no hope for this one, but you can still tip the scales and do better. It won’t hurt if you go and clean up your inbox right now, by the way. Just saying!

P.S. Make sure to try sending some of your emails via GetResponse – you may have to adhere to some of these practices on your own, but we’ll take care of its looks and provide excellent deliverability!

Anna Kvasnevska
Anna Kvasnevska
Anna is a content marketing specialist and a proud member of the GetResponse team. With more than 5 years of experience in content creation, as well as her intercultural background and cross-industry perspective, Anna is happy to share her insights into the latest updates from the world of online marketing, eCommerce, and technology. Connect with Anna on LinkedIn.