Erin Newkirk admits that she too, has been guilty of touting the value of handwritten thank-you notes at the expense of actually sending them.
Except that unlike the rest of us, Newkirk was actually at the helm of one of the first online greeting card companies, Red Stamp. Founded circa 2005, before Facebook was a regular part of everyone's daily life, the company aimed to be an online “social secretary,” acting as a reminder service along with offering high end occasion cards sent through its website. “Our twist was that for an additional fee, we would hand-write and send cards on behalf of our clients,” says Newkirk.
By focusing on physical cards only, Red Stamp Cards lost its way, explains Newkirk. So the company did a hard pivot (though it still offers paper options for those who prefer it) to serving up e-greetings via mobile. Launched in September, Red Stamp’s app  is approaching half a million downloads, testimony to the rising tide of consumers eager to send greetings on the go.
A far cry from texting, these e-messages deliver thoughtful dispatches in a polished format, with the added punch of immediacy. For those sending thank-you notes for business, this is particularly powerful because, as Newkirk puts it, “expressed words of gratitude are more important than the paper they’re written on anyway.”
She does recognize that communicating at this pace is fraught with potential pitfalls (ever hit "reply all"and send something to unintended recipients?) and with that in mind, Newkirk offers Fast Company some pointers on modern etiquette for virtual correspondence, and tips for businesses to get maximum ROI from a note of gratitude.
Just Do It
Don't be overwhelmed by blank space. Every note you write can be broken down into three easy-to-pen parts:
- Revisit what prompted the note. This gets to the meat of your message. For example: I was very appreciative of your expertise/time/etc.
- Relive an important/highlighted part of the exchange such as: Specifically, because of your expertise/time/etc., we were able to do this or that.
- Reveal what comes next. Wrap up your note with how you will get in touch or your plans for moving forward. For instance: Next time, coffee is on me, or, I'll follow up with your promised deliverable.
Make It Personal, Stay Professional
Be yourself, but filtered. Always err on side of being gracious and the tone will follow.
Then, put yourself in your recipient's shoes. Are they casual, formal, or traditional? Do they pride themselves on their technical prowess? That, too, will dictate the tone of the note, the salutation, and how you deliver it (social post, e-greeting, or paper note). You should also use personalized stationery. You can then add your social media profile/team/company photo, include your logo, and list your accolades in your signature line.
Digital is perfectly okay as long as it’s personal and timely. It is truly is the thought that counts.
Don't Lose Them at Hello
Beware of the temptation to hastily press SEND. Real-time correspondence is powerful, but if you don't get key information correct, you'll lose them at hello.
Try to avoid anything that might be polarizing. One big faux pas is the use of stationery or paper that displays hobbies, pets, or photos of the family. Stay away from emoticons. There are ways to be light and convey tone without them.
Using someone’s name is a powerful way to connect, but presents potential pitfalls. Take a moment to check the spelling of your recipient's name. If you get it wrong it’s an immediate turnoff, and they’ll think this is not a personal note even if you spent an hour crafting it.
Read through your note with a critical eye for typos. Reading out loud helps you hear the tone even better than a quick and silent scan.
Don't be afraid to reach out more than once. Everyone wants real-time feedback, and waiting a couple days for mail is torture. You will be rewarded for timeliness and you can follow up later with a real postcard and a slightly different twist.
There aren’t many occasions you shouldn’t reach out. To express sympathy, go back to keeping the recipient in mind. Let someone know you are thinking of them as soon as you can. "As a small business owner myself, if I client I have lost someone it’s appropriate to reach out with a digital note," Newkirk says. Then be prepared to follow up with something a little less on the fly.
Think Non-Traditional Holidays
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Newkirk says it’s a great time for businesses to send greetings to valued clients. Instead of disappearing into a mound of formulaic greetings around Christmas and New Year's, sending a note on a non-traditional holiday such as Valentine’s Day can help a business stand out from the competition. “It’s an excellent time to send a business greeting that’s still warm and personal,” says Newkirk. However, leave the Xs and Os for the object of your affection.
Speak from the heart. Be warm, be natural, and be conversational.
On Red Stamp, it's free to send an e-greeting and $1.99 for a postcard--and you can't beat the ROI of showing you care.
[Images courtesy Red Stamp]