An apology was issued to 38 British soldiers yesterday because they had mistakenly been told they were to lose their jobs – via email. Getting dismissed by email is not new, of course, but it is no joke when it happens. Equally, some partners have been “dumped” by text message. It seems we find it all to easy to send bad news in writing – after all, it avoids the embarrassment of having to look them in the eye. Worse, though, are the supposed dismissal emails sent as a joke, or the “your wife is having an affair” kind of text message sent “for a laugh”. The problem is that people rarely see the joke; we almost always believe texts and email.
In fact, new research from Ohio State University shows that people are rather gullible when it comes to email. Apparently, content that we would dismiss as nonsense when we see it on a website, or in a Tweet, is just the kind of stuff we believe when it is sent in an email. This effect is increased when the email comes from a friend. If someone you know and trust sends you an email which contains a rumour, or is just blatantly untrue, you actually tend to believe it.
Although this study concentrated on political rumours, the effect it found was significant. Indeed, the researchers went as far as to say that because email is so believable, it is potentially dangerous. People are considerably more likely to believe material from people they know and like – even if it is not true.
However, if you run an online business you can use the believability of email to your advantage. For instance, by developing a relationship with your potential or actual customers your emails will be more trusted. I am not suggesting you should lie, of course. But once you become a “friend” of your contacts, your emails will be more believable than the other marketing emails that come their way.
Similarly, if you can muster a group of “evangelists” for your business to email their contacts about the good you do, then such emails will be considerably believable – more believable than if you sent out messages yourself to the same bunch of recipients.
This study is yet more endorsement for the fact that concentrating on email marketing is essential in building credibility. Your potential customers are more likely to believe your emails than your website, the research suggests. But don’t joke – they may well believe you, or you will have to send out an embarrassing apology like the Ministry of Defence had to do yesterday.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+