Auto-Responder Email replies: Ur doin it WRONG.

Have you joined my incredibly non-annoying, once-in-a-while email newsletter?


Running HARO, I send out close to 1,600,000 million double-opt-in, requested emails every single month. Yes, you read that right. 1,600,000 emails per month, not one of which has ever been considered SPAM.

But unlike, say, Continental Airlines, or Crate and Barrel, my emails don’t come from “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” – When I started HARO, it was a personal mission. As such, every single HARO email you’ve ever gotten has come from my own personal email address – pe…@— (dashes and dots put in to confuse spambots. If you get the HARO, you know my email.)

You know what that means? That means I know when the HARO has gone out, not because I have a little alarm, and not because my editors tell me so, but because I go from 0 to 300 unread emails (on a slow day) in a little under sixty seconds when the HARO goes out – and those emails? AUTO EMAIL RESPONDERS.

You might think you’re being helpful by using them. In some cases, you are. Most cases, though, ur doin it wrong. Five quick rules on how to use the any kind of automatic responder on your email.

1) If it’s an out-of-office responder, MAKE SURE THE SUBJECT LINE SAYS OUT OF OFFICE – and not “Re.” If the auto-responder says “re,” it means you’re replying to me. Auto-responders are designed to be filtered quickly – “Oh, OK, OUT OF OFFICE from John, I guess he’s out of the office.” “Re:” and then the subject I sent you means “Oh, John’s responded. Let’s see what he says about the… Oh, he’s out of the office. Idiot.” Most auto-responders are programmed to say “OUT OF OFFICE.” Don’t change this.

2) That’s lovely that you’re on vacation. WE DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT. If I send you an email and get back an auto-reply saying you’re “Out of the office for the next two weeks, scuba diving in the Maldives,” that means that I’M NOT, BECAUSE I HAD TO SEND THE EMAIL. So automatically, my hatred of you goes up a notch. Simple and to the point: “Out of office until 9/4. Will return your email upon my return.” And don’t try and be cute. “Hey, I could answer your email, but I can’t email you from under the sea, where I am!” I’ll find you and crimp your air-hose.

3) Congrats, you’re on maternity leave. Once is fine, thanks. Almost EVERY email auto-responder feature understands that if you’ve emailed me once to tell me you’re out of the office, you don’t have to do it again, since logic would suggest that you’re STILL out of the office. Turning these off essentially means that EVERY SINGLE TIME I email you, or ANYONE emails you within a cc box, or anything, we’ll find out that yes, you’re still on maternity leave. For all eight thousand days of your maternity leave.

4) The gratuitous auto-responder – AKA, the no-good-reason-for-auto-reply. Worst part of the following image is that he’s a really nice guy, and I like him! So I’ve deleted the name of this person, but I get this auto-reply three times a day. I also get it after every email correspondence I have with him. That means, if we go back and forth six times, I get 12 emails from him, six of which I have to delete. STOP IT. YOU’RE HURTING PEOPLE:

Don't be this guy, however well-meaning you are.

Don’t be this guy, however well-meaning you are.

5) This is, hands down, the worst possible one EVER: The “I only check my email twice a day to increase productivity, and I’ll send everyone who emails me an auto-reply telling you that.” These are the people who’ve read that insane “I only work four hours a week and do it from a beach and outsource everything to small midgets in foreign countries and spend the rest of my time going on the Today Show” book. I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE TRYING TO BE LIKE HIM. YOU’RE NOT HIM. Emailing me to tell me that you’re not reading my email until 4pm when it’s 9:15 in the morning and I need something from you guarantees you only ONE THING: I WILL GO TO SOMEONE ELSE FOR WHAT I NEED, AND THEY WILL GET MY BUSINESS. By the time you get around to responding to me, I’ll have paid someone else all the money I was going to give you. End of story. If you have to shut off your email because it’s interfering with your productivity, you need to learn to better manage how to live your life, and email should be the least of your worries. As a caveat: If you’re using HARO and using that rule? You might as well unsubscribe – By the time you “get around” to answering the reporter, she or he will have all the info they need from people who answered immediately.

What’s your one auto-responder pet-peeve that I missed? Leave it in the comments.

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