Guest post by Rachman Blake, member at NextSpace San Francisco.
May 2014, a Thursday night—technically, Friday morning.
I’m at NextSpace Potrero Hill, still awake after my 4th all-nighter. I’m at NS so much I’ve become friends with the late night cleaning staff.
I’ve spent hours crafting e-mail invitations to the FunnyBizz Conference on humorous content creation. Everyone we talk to loves the idea of the conference. We have to get the word out, but with no advertising budget whatsoever we have to rely on good ol’ fashioned hype and word of mouth to spread the news for us. That means finding people who are interested in what we do, which means using Meetup.com to mine for like-minded meetup group organizers, and then ask them to share our conference with their group free of charge—a foolproof strategy.
I go downstairs to take refuge in Yumbin Snack Bin. As I shamelessly load up on late night/morning carbs I begin reading a draft of my e-mail to one of the largest tech meet-up groups in the Bay Area. This e-mail is make or break: if he shares it with his group we’ll hit 20% or more of our target registrations.
…. blah blah…Would you like to share this conference with your group
No wonder the meetup group organizers have been unresponsive. I sound like a corporate stiff. No personality, no flavor = no response.
So I turn to Google. What’s the best way to e-mail a complete stranger and ask for a favor? Scott Britton’s e-mail templates suggest making it personal—not “So I see you and your wife Rachel just had your first child, congrats!” when “Hey, I noticed you were mentioned by GigaOm recently, congrats!” comes off as personal without being creepy or feigned—and I seem to accomplish all of the above in my e-mail. It is concise and personal; but alas, no response from Mitchell.
Finding something about the person like an article or a book and mentioning it is a great way to score points. Lucky me—his LinkedIn link is broken. I’m not finding any articles he’s written. I’ve got nothing. The combination of sleep deprivation and Pirates Booty popcorn drives me to go a little bit further. When I get back to my desk, I add a touch of humor. One key component to any stand-up comedy act is self-deprecation, which is a form of vulnerability. So I make myself vulnerable, and wouldn’t you know it—this time he responds.
I tried visiting your LinkedIn profile to find something to comment on in an attempt to make a connection, but the link from your meet up profile is broken. Derp.
So instead, I’ll comment on your meetup picture…with a polo shirt and a large stick, you look like you’re about to lead a revolt in Napa.
Hi Rock Man (ok that wasn’t funny),*not the first time someone has made a terrible pun with my name, but all is forgiven*
Nice to “e-meet” you (can’t stand it when people write that).
He agrees to share this with his group! This brings me to my first tip for integrating humor into e-mail.
1. Timing: Use humor when appropriate
Always follow best practices for cold e-mailing. Make it personal. Keep it short. Ask one question, and keep it simple. Then use humor. In my case, I took a gentle swipe at his shirt. I got a response but I did my research first. I had a feeling Martin wouldn’t mind based on his pictures and selection of meet-up groups. Not everyone will find a stranger asking for favors and using tongue-in-cheek humor amusing, which will leave you where you started—without a response. For your sake, I hope that you never have to deal with people who can’t laugh at a joke, even a bad one, but don’t go overboard; if it crosses the line of good taste, keep it to yourself.
2. Persistence: Funny follow-up is effective
I’ve been emailing with Susan, another Meetup contact, about the conference for several weeks when poof–she disappears and I can’t get a hold of her. The conference is just a week away. Every day sans response means less people attending.
I send her a “follow-up” e-mail.
A day later, I follow up again.
4 days left—there’s still time, but not much.
Like my 11th hour attempt to sway Mitchell, a combination of caffeine and lack of sleep drive me to try something unconventional (thanks to Earle Richards for this idea):
Huzzah! She responds:
So sorry! I’ll send this out today
Aristotle’s definition of humor is “something unexpected, the truth of which is recognized.”
Leave it to everyone’s favorite junk food lover to stand out from the clutter in a busy person’s inbox. Like my correspondence with Mitchell, I followed-up in the traditional way—GIF-less and on point—before escalating to humor. You may not always need to use it but it’s a nice ace in the hole.
Another important member of the meet-up community I had trouble contacting was Michael.
Michael is a venture capitalist who runs a newsletter with several thousand subscribers. I e-mail him the first time with a professional subject heading, and the second time decide to go with “You’re a badass”—decidedly unprofessional, but almost guaranteed to elicit a response.
Michael must get a lot of emails from people who think he’s a badass, because he doesn’t respond. This means it’s time to up the creativity another notch
I borrow a leaf from Salesloft’s book (check out their awesome blog *here*) and use this beauty as a subject heading.
Subject: Chased by a hippo
Are you too busy to respond because you’re being chased by a hippo?
Perhaps the hippo is courteous enough to give him the time to reply, or maybe he just needed to see something funny in order to respond:
Send me information. Happy to share!
He shared it with his group!
E-mail falls into a grey area of communication. It doesn’t have strict guidelines like an academic paper, so it can be informal—not a typo laden e-mail to your college buddy, but by no means does it have to be Ph.D thesis-level either. The average professional sends over 112 e-mails per day, 560 per week, 2240 per month 25,000+ per year. Some of your e-mails will go unanswered. You need to stand out. Funny follow-up is one weapon in your arsenal that, if used properly will get you noticed in someone’s inbox.
You have a chance to influence someone, to bring a smile to a client’s face, to disarm your boss—to be human, just for the sake of being human. If we’re going to spend hours e-mailing, why not make a real connection while we’re at it? One of the best ways to do that is with humor.
Rachman Blake is a member of NextSpace San Francisco and the co-founder of AppHeroes a tech recruiting company that connects startups with mobile app developers through live events that use humor. Connect with him on LinkedIn.