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If you have been closing your business emails the same way that you might close a letter on letterhead, it may be time to re-think your strategy.   You are missing an important marketing opportunity. However, doing it well requires some sophistication about the nuances of electronic technology.  It is also important to include legally required disclaimers and disclosures, so that you don’t expose yourself to legal risk.

Take a Fresh Look at the Contact Information You Provide

At the very least it should include your name, title, organization, phone number and postal address.  Some people include email address, but presumably the recipient of your email already has that.  Very few of your contacts will be interested in a fax number, but what about social media information?  If social media is an important part of your business presence, by all means include it. Some commentators suggest adding a recent Tweet or a blog post snippet, but at this point your signature may be beginning to look like a second e-mail message.  It’s probably better to err on the side of simplicity.

Since We’re Talking About Simplicity….

Make sure that your signature opens correctly when clients receive your email.  Complex signatures that contain images and colors may not open correctly if the recipient has chosen to accept email messages in plain text format.  An image signature can often become an attachment, which will increase the email file size and risk being blocked by a firewall.

It’s a matter of knowing your audience.  Clients of a creative ad agency firm may expect bells and whistles that would just alarm clients of an investment firm.   It is hard to imagine that animation would ever add enough to be worth the distraction.

If you think that writing out HTML longhand is a task best delegated to someone else and don’t know a jpeg from a gif, you may be on the verge of creating chaos for yourself. There are lots of hungry designers out there who can probably do a better job for you than you can do yourself.  It’s important to get this right because the same signature format should be used consistently throughout your organization.

Take Care of Legal Matters

Update: IRS Circular 230 boilerplate disclaimers are no longer required.

The CAN-SPAM Act (which stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) sets out seven very specific standards for marketing emails, including the requirement of a physical address and what a subject line must include. Lawyers, as you have probably noticed, always include a disclaimer about material being intended only for informational purposes and not constituting legal advice.  IRS Circular 230 similarly limits the communications of tax professionals.  Other standards apply in other industries.  Think about the disclaimers you have probably seen relating to vehicle gas mileage or at the end of every advertisement for a weight-loss product.  Make sure that you understand how these may affect your email signature.  Remember that whole issue came up because you were thinking about improving the marketing component of routine communications.

It’s a balancing act.  Your business communication, including your email signature,  should be fresh and interesting enough to attract an audience without becoming distracting or exposing you to legal risk.

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