My inbox used to cause me a ton of stress.
It's the place I talk to clients, colleagues and team members. But it's also the place I hear from political campaigns, brands, non-profits, journalists and so much more.
For many years, all of those emails would come into one single place and it was always so hard to know what I needed to work on now, and what could be put aside for later.
But, as it turns out, Gmail has tools to help.
These two simple tricks — that combined only take me moments to set up — helped me take my inbox back from the chaos. And they can do the same for you.
These hacks work with Gmail AND G Suite (aka Workplace). So if you use Gmail professionally, you're still covered!
Creating a gmail filter
So I'm a HUGE newsletter nerd. My inbox is full of emails from journalists and organizations. And I love them. BUT they were cluttering up my inbox & it was keeping me from getting things done.
So now, whenever I sign up for a new one, I immediately do the following: I open the first issue & click those 3 vertical dots at the top.
Then I simply click "Filter messages like these"
Then I click "Create filter"
Now I select "Mark as read" and then I click "Create filter"
Now whenever I get an email from that sender, Gmail automatically marks it as read.
Step 1 complete!
Now on to step 2.
See unread emails first
Go to your email settings.
Switch from "Default" to "Unread first"
This will split your inbox into two sections.
At the top, you'll see your unread messages.
Below, you'll see all those newsletters and other things you want to get to... eventually.
They're not archived or filed away, completely out of sight, never to be seen again.
They're still right there in your inbox. But now they're comfortably out of the way, allowing you to triage your to-do list accordingly.
You can easily move emails from one section to the other at any time by simply marking them read or unread.
That's it. You're all done! Told you it was simple and easy.
This simple Gmail hack has made me so much more productive... and less stressed.
Hope it helps you too!
If you like free tools, tricks and hacks, consider subscribing to my newsletter where I share two free digital tools every two weeks. You can learn more and subscribe at freetools.digital. I also have a corresponding TikTok account. Connect with me!
And if you're looking for more content, check out my podcast Step Up Your Social. All episodes are short (~10 minutes or less) and provide quick, actionable tips to help you take your digital marketing to the next level. Listen today at stepupyoursocial.com or wherever you stream podcasts.
I also work directly with brands of all shapes and sizes, helping them find, hone and tell their stories online. Ready to take your digital marketing program to the next level? Let's chat!
So many brands works so hard on their social media posts and newsletters, but overlook crucial comms opportunities by outsourcing important messaging to bureaucrats.
When someone places an order with you, or donates to your organization, or even just signs up for your newsletter, are they welcomed into the family and made to feel as special as they are? Or simply sent a brief “thanks”?
Too many brands overlook such key moments in their audience journey. In today’s episode of Step Up Your Social, we’ll look at one massive failure, and a whole bunch of successes.
Hopefully this episode will inspire you to revisit your own customer or donor journey and edit accordingly!
Listen to the full episode here or wherever you stream podcasts. And scroll down for a full episode transcript.
Full Episode Transcript
A friend of mine recently had his outstanding student loans forgiven as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives all outstanding student loans for people who have spent 10 years working in public service.
He knew he was getting close, but the program is complicated and he didn’t know exactly when he would cross the ten-year threshold.
Then one morning, the email arrived.
The subject line read “You’re amazing” and when he opened it, it screamed “Congratulations” in 36 point font next to a picture of fireworks.
"Our country couldn’t work without you and the work you do” it continued.
There was a GIF of Jim and Pam from The Office giving each other an air high five.
The email went on: “The United States government thanks you for your dedication to our civil society and we are excited to inform you that all of your remaining student loans have officially been forgiven."
Then there was a picture of President Joe Biden eating an ice cream cone and a note that read “whether you like ice cream, travel, or just an extra hour in bed, we hope you find a way to celebrate this tremendous achievement. Congratulations. And thank you for your service.”
Of course that is not at all how the email read.
Rather the email’s subject line informed him: “Action Required: View the message in your Paperless Inbox and take action.”
The email itself was a templated form with a green button inviting him to “go to paperless inbox.”
Once there, he found a PDF formatted to look like a letter informing him that his loans had been forgiven.
It did use the word “congratulations,” but everything that followed would have looked more in place from his accountant at tax time than the federal government informing him that his life just got a whole lot better.
Now granted — this is an official correspondence from the US Government.
But here’s the thing — the US government is a brand, just like any other. And, as is all too obvious for anyone who follows even the slightest bit of news, it’s got a massive branding problem.
What an amazing opportunity the government has to recognize the once in a lifetime gravity of this message and take advantage of it to buy itself some massive — and much earned — good will.
The federal government is rewarding people for their hard work and consistent payments with a massive gift. Rather than letting an amazing copywriter draft this life-changing note, they let a loan servicing company do it, where it was promptly outsourced to a bureaucrat.
What a missed opportunity.
So you, the listener, are most certainly not responsible for drafting comms for the federal government. So why are we talking about this on an episode of Step Up Your Social?
Simple. So many brands make the same mistake (if on a much smaller scale).
They worry so much about every tweet and Facebook post and newsletter, but then let bureaucrats write emails that matter so much.
Here’s a test for you — pause this episode and go subscribe to your own newsletter with a new email address. What happens when you do?
Do you knock your own socks off with your welcome, or do you get a simple “thank you for subscribing” and then get added into the standard queue waiting to hear from your brand again… eventually?! There’s probably a decent shot you didn’t even get a confirmation at all, right?
The Hustle is a phenomenal daily email that shares business and technology news right to your inbox.
Their content is amazing and they work hard ensuring their readers enjoy every issue. They definitely understand that a welcome email is a huge part of setting expectations and welcoming users into their community.
Years ago they went viral, not for their reporting or their formatting, but for their confirmation welcome email.
The welcome email informed them that the moment they subscribed, a buzzer went off in their office and now everyone was celebrating with hand shakes, hugs and even shots of tequila.
Silly? Yes. Memorable? Hell yes!
You can find the full email here.
And it's not just welcome emails that get overlooked.
I’m a paying Canva user. I pay annually.
The typical company would send a note letting me know that my credit card was about to get billed. But Canva is no typical company.
Rather than informing me I owed them money, they wished me a happy anniversary and congratulated me on another great year using their amazing product.
My wife and I have two little kids. We recently bought them each a pair of Keen sandals. A few weeks after buying them, we got an email from Keen asking if “those shoes dirty yet?” chock-full of helpful cleaning tips to keep our kids shoes looking clean and ready to go.
I’ll close this episode with one more example. When CD Baby first launched in the late ’90s, they were shipping physical CDs to people. Weird, I know.
Every order resulted in an automated email, which simply read “Your order has shipped today. Please let us know if it doesn’t arrive. Thank you for your business.”
But one day, Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, realized that he could do better. So he replaced that bureaucratic drivel with the following:
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD an d polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th.
I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!
Quite a re-write!
Sivers claims that simple email created “thousands of new customers.”
And I believe him! I know I for sure would be way likelier to tell my friends about it, then a note simply informing me that my CD has shipped.
So here’s your assignment: go through your own customer or donor journey and ask yourself - do your most important communications sound like they were written by a bureaucrat or by someone who actually loves your brand as much as you do.
Kevin Nicholson is running in the Republican primary to take on Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in November.
In 2018 he ran in the Republican primary to take on Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.
He didn’t win in 2018. His chances in 2022 are slim. Which is good - his politics are awful!
But he’s running for higher office in my home state of Wisconsin - so of course I’m on his email list. (It’s part of my civic duty as a Wisconsin Digital Strategist to pay attention to such things!)
His emails are boring. Run-of-the-mill copy-and-paste jobs screaming about the world ending and asking for $5 so he can fix it all. There are lots of big red buttons and 24 point fonts. Sign up for a dozen or so statewide Republican email programs and you can pretty much mix-and-match them amongst each other, just swapping names and logos.
But... because I’m a huge digital and political nerd, I like to track my emails as they work their way through an ever-widening group of shady characters. That’s right <<<GASP>>> lots of political campaigns sell their email lists to the highest bidder.
Scott Walker used the massive email list he built up throughout his thwarted Presidential campaign to help pay off his campaign debt. (You might recall he raised — and spent — a ton of money on his campaign, only to drop out before the Iowa primary.)
He sold that sucker to anyone — and everyone — with money to burn.
So yeah, for better or worse (and it’s definitely for worse) it’s common practice in politics to sell, rent and trade emails these days.
“Selling or swapping your campaign’s email list is an amateur move that demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for your own supporters. When someone signs up to hear from your campaign, they’re placing their trust in you with the understanding that you’ll use their contact information responsibly. Handing their email address over to a consultant or another campaign is an unethical betrayal of that trust that reflects poorly on the candidate and their campaign operation.”
That’s according to Josh Nelson, the CEO of Civic Shout and a co-founder of The Juggernaut Project, two companies that help Democratic campaigns and progressive groups grow their opt-in email communities. He’s become a leading advocate in the space, publicly calling out bad actors with the aim of curbing such practices on both sides of the aisle.
But here’s the thing about selling your email list: along with being unethical, it can also be risky.
Which brings us back to Kevin Nicholson.
Tracking Your Email Address with Gmail
So most people don’t know this, but Google actually has a simple way to track your email address as it floats around the internet.
Let’s say your email is WisconsinPolitics@gmail.com. When you sign up for an email list, you can add a simple tracking tag to your email. Doing so is extremely easy. Just add a + after your name and a keyword or phrase you want to track. For example: WisconsinPolitics+ScottWalker@gmail.com.
Now anytime you get an email to that tracked version of your gmail address, it will actually be addressed not to WisconsinPolitics@gmail.com, but to WisconsinPolitics+ScottWalker@gmail.com. This makes it very easy to spot.
So in the case of Kevin Nicholson, my email doesn’t come to Josh, but to josh+nicholson.
Pretty simple, right?
Pro tip: this even works with professional email addresses run via Workplace (or G Suite as it was once called).
So you could be SocialMedia@wisconsinpolitics.com. Simply add that + and now you’re SocialMedia+ScottWalker@wisconsinpolitics.com. It works exactly the same way.
So when I signed up for Kevin Nicholson’s email list, I did so using a gmail tracker.
It didn’t take long for me to start getting emails from questionable sources. But while the new senders were questionable, how they got my email address never was.
First it was Sheriff David Clarke. And it was brutal. Like so bad I’ll spare you screenshots. But yeah, it was bad.
Next up was the Wisconsin Conservative Digest. Never heard of them. Wish that was still the case.
They send me massive screeds poorly formatted and… let’s just say I’m not their target demo.
But then a few days ago, I got an email from them that I found interesting. Quite interesting in fact.
While they don’t seem to be outright endorsing him, they published a letter from Tim Michels... who is also running in the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial primary.
So to clarify: Kevin Nicholson made a quick buck selling my email address… to a group that’s now openly promoting a candidate he’s running against.
You love to see it!
That’s not just unethical, it’s also just bad politics.
So that’s my cautionary tale for you. Have any of your own to share? Hit me up on Twitter. I can’t get enough of this stuff.
If you are running for office — or know someone who is — my team and I help progressive candidates and campaigns find, hone and tell their stories online.
Warren Buffett is a better writer than you for one simple reason: he knows his audience and he writes directly for them. Are you doing the same?
Don't write your content for "the world," rather write it for an individual. Don't try to make yourself *sound* smart. Try to make your reader *feel* smart.
This episode covers some takeaways from Social Media Marketing World 2019 and pulls from a great presentation given by Ann Handley, the author of Everybody Writes.
Full Episode Transcript
Last week, I attended Social Media Marketing World in San Diego. Throughout some upcoming episodes, I’ll be sharing a few takeaways from the massive conference, which played host to around 5000 social media and marketing professionals!
But today I want to talk about a presentation I saw by Ann Handley, the author of Everybody Writes.
While her session was called “How to write an email newsletter that people clear their schedules to read,” it could have just as easily been called — it’s time to focus less on the news of newsletter, and more on the letter.
I’m a huge email junky — along with writing email newsletters for my own business and my clients, I also read a lot of emails from brands, journalists, politicians and the like. And I mean a lot. In fact, email has become my primary method for keeping up with the news. I get daily or weekly emails from a ton of journalists and organizations, and let me tell you: there’s a huge difference between an email that was written for me, and one that was written for the world.
And that brings us to our title: Why Warren Buffett is a better writer than you. Warren Buffett is arguably the smartest person alive in his field. He could probably sit down and write his annual report ensuring that you couldn’t understand a word of it. He could use big words, tech jargon and language intended to make him sound smart, rather than to make you become smarter. But he understands that he doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone (at least not in his writing!). He uses his annual letter to convey a message and he wants to ensure that message is accessible to all. To do that, he has a trick. And it’s such a simple trick, you won’t believe it.
Rather than writing his annual letter to his stockholders, en masse, he writes it to his two sisters, Doris and Bertie. Now I’m sure that Doris and Bertie are very smart women. But they aren’t as smart at investing as Warren Buffett — no one is! When I say he writes it to them, I mean literally. He starts his letter “Dear Doris and Bertie.” He removes the line before sending it along, but the DNA of the letter is personal and real. He doesn’t want his sisters to feel dumb — he wants them to feel smart! And he writes accordingly.
Ann Handley talked about this concept at length during her session at social media marketing world and it really resonated with me — because it’s something I’ve recommend to my clients for years.
Along with working with nonprofits and business professionals (as well as solopreneurs, bands, artists, authors and all kids of other brands!) I do a lot of work with candidates and elected politicians. I was doing an audit and a training for a caucus a while back and I realized that a majority of the members of the caucus were regularly tweeting our press releases. No one on Twitter wants to read a press release. NOT EVEN THE PRESS!
I told them that before they sent any further communications, whether it be via Twitter, Facebook, email, anything… they should picture an actual constituent reading their content. Do you think that sweet grandpa you met last month while knocking doors is going to appreciate your press release? He isn’t! Take the message of the release and make it digestable to him. Is he going to know the terminology of laws and budgets and legalese? Maybe. But probably not! So write it for him. The goal is not to make yourself sound smart — the goal is to make your reader feel smart.
I tell all my clients to picture an actual customer before sending a post. I even had someone tell me they loved the idea so much, they wrote a customer’s name down on a post-it note and stuck it to their computer. This way, anytime they write anything, they force themselves to think of this specific person.
Warren Buffett is a better writer than you because he knows his audience — it’s his sisters. Become a better writer simply by focusing on an individual, rather than the world. Because even if your tweet or Facebook post goes viral, or your email gets forwarded on by Oprah and millions of people see it, it’s still being consumed by single individuals, one at a time.
Don’t think of your content as a megaphone, blasting everyone in the area with your knowledge, wisdom and wit. Rather think of it as a telephone, creating a connection between two people. Your writing will be better for it. And your audience will walk away with a much better understanding of your message. And isn’t that kinda the whole point?