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    Is Your E-Mail Address Bad for Business?

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    Hunch.com recently ran a survey of its users' e-mail addresses, along with various lifestyle topics. You can find the results at "You’ve got mail: What your email domain says about you." Perhaps most interesting is the "Snapshot of Findings" at the end of the article (though the interactive images are also informative.)

    While we might argue that nobody really cares what your e-mail address is for personal messages, business messages are another matter. Just as a suit projects a different image than jeans and a T-shirt, so does John.Jones@ACMEcorpInc.com convey something different from snookie1776@yahoo.com.

    In my work, I see many e-mail addresses, whether in my computer inbox or on business cards. Here's what each type of domain leads me to assume about the sender.

    @somebusiness.com tells me the sender works for a corporation with an IT department, or is savvy enough to appear so. It bespeaks a certain professionalism.

    @personalname.com means the sender is someone to whom personal brand is necessary. Many authors and actors have e-mail addresses like this. Again, it projects professionalism. It also means the address is easy to remember.

    @gmail.com indicates one of two things: Either most people in the sender's business use Gmail, or the sender is knowledgeable enough about tech to use Gmail's related services. I might expect such a sender to be capable of conferring in Google Docs, for instance. This e-mail address also suggests a certain admirable frugality on the sender's part.

    @hotmail.com also indicates one of two things: Either the sender is relatively young and has a Windows machine with an e-mail address tied to an MSN Messenger account, or the sender is someone who has had that Hotmail account for some years. In the second case, I'd assume a businessperson familiar with Windows, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

    @me.com (or the older @mac.com) indicates an Apple user. Before I proceed, let me state that I am platform agnostic. I've long used an Apple at work (as many, many people in publishing do) and Windows at home (for the wider expanse of software, especially games). I've also owned Windows-based PDAs for years but more recently switched to an iPod Touch. All that being said, my impression is that the average Apple user is someone to talk "features" with, but not "functions." There are exceptions (especially now that Mac OS is based on Unix), but when I see @me.com, I think someone creative more than methodical. I'm betting Richard Branson has an @me.com account.

    @yahoo.com makes me assume someone who has been online for a several years, but who might have had a family member set up the Internet connection. This address is fine for personal e-mail, but it has grown too dowdy for business. That's especially true for people working as independent consultants. If you're handing out business cards with perforated edges and snookie1776@yahoo.com as an e-mail address, that pretty much shouts "I'm a one-person operation working out of my home." Switching to first.last@gmail.com or first.last@hotmail.com will greatly improve the impression you make. (Getting a few custom business cards from Vistaprint will help as well.)

    @aol.com suggests a middle-aged sender who doesn't really "get this whole Internet thing," but who nonetheless has been online from the beginning. It bespeaks a certain dependability, which is good. But I would never expect to have a tech conversation with someone who's e-mail address ends in @aol.com.

    @isp.com (Charter, Time Warner, and so on) strikes me as similar to @yahoo and @aol, in that these addresses are assigned by a service rather than chosen. What's worse, if the sender moves or changes Internet providers, this address is lost, and all people the sender knows will have to update their address books.

    Maybe these characterizations reveal more about me and my biases than about people who use these various e-mail services. Still, the fact that Hunch.com would run its survey in the first place indicates that people do judge one another by their e-mail addresses. What do these addresses make you think?

    —Lester Smith

    Image by Mike Licht