Here’s What Happened When I Let an App Dictate How I Wrote Emails

Writing Emails With Crystal

A couple years ago, I got an email that obviously wasn’t intended for me. How did I know?

It was about me.

“She clearly doesn’t know how this comes across…” my coworker had written above a message I’d sent her. And then she must have clicked “Reply” instead of “Forward.”

Of course reading this stung — yet it was also a learning moment. I realized that I’d always counted on my writing being interpreted how I’d intended it.

But my assumption was inherently flawed.

After all, it’s much harder to strike the proper note without tone of voice, body language, and facial cues. Consequently, miscommunications over email happen all the time.

Enter: Crystal.

This platform analyzes the personality of the person you’re writing to (it draws on their online presence to look for clues).

Then it determine the optimal way for you to write to them, enabling you to actually tailor your email to that person’s unique quirks, preferences, and communication style.

That’s the idea, anyway. To find out if Crystal is as effective as its creators claim, I took it for a test drive.

Connecting With Strangers (Trying To, Anyway)

I just moved to Boston a few weeks ago, so I’m eager to connect with the locals that I’ve previously admired from afar.

The first person I wanted to meet: “Joe,” the VP of Marketing for a beacon marketing startup.

Beacon marketing uses location-tracking devices to send customers “right time, right place” messages — and it’s taking off. Not to mention, Joe boasts 20-plus years of experience and an impressive track record.

Here’s what Crystal suggested:

Writing Emails With Crystal

Usually, my requests for informational interviews are around five sentences. But with Crystal’s data, I got right to the point.

Hi Joe,

Would you be open to a 20-minute coffee meeting? I’m a recent grad fascinated by proximity marketing, and I’d love to learn more about how you’re using beacon technology at Swirl. In any case, thanks for being an inspiration.
Thank you,

Aja Frost

I waited and waited for Joe to respond — but he never did. It’s hard to know whether Crystal’s advice was off-base, or whether Joe was simply too busy.

But there was no way I was going to give up after one try, so I decided to reach out to “Levi” next. Levi works for one of my dream companies. Plus, we’re in fairly similar fields. According to Crystal, I should leverage our common ground.

Writing Emails With Crystal

Here’s the email I sent:

Hey Levi,

The SEO content on your blog is incredibly helpful — even though I only found your blog two days ago, I’ve already read every post. I’m an inbound marketer like you, but I’m pretty new to SEO techniques.

I was thrilled to discover you live in Boston too. Would you be open to grabbing lunch or coffee sometime? I’d love to learn about the process behind your SEO audits.

In any case, thanks for the great content!


As you can see, I also incorporated Crystal’s suggestions to appeal to Levi’s emotions and use expressive language.

Levi responded right away and agreed to meet for lunch. Crystal for the win.

Upping My Communication Skills

I also decided to test-drive the app with my boss. I’ve been emailing or Slacking her at least three times a day for months — meaning I feel pretty confident I know her preferred style.

However, for this stage of the experiment, I decided to let Crystal take the lead.

The app advised me to write with short, casual language, use abbreviations, appeal to her emotions, and throw in a smiley face.

Here’s what I would’ve written:

Hi Sarah,

How do we typically solicit guest authors for the blog? I found a great writer I’d like to reach out to.



Short, simple, and straightforward.

However, it’s not a reply that Crystal thinks will be a fit for Sarah’s personality.

So instead I wrote:

Hey Sarah,

Happy Friday! Quick question: how do we usually reach out to guest authors? I found someone awesome for the blog. 🙂



The second version is clearly more relaxed and personal. I couldn’t tell any difference in Sarah’s response (she’s helpful and friendly no matter what.)

Yet when I looked at how long it had taken her to reply, I realized it was almost twice as speedy as normal.

Maybe it’s coincidence — maybe it’s Crystal.

Improving My Relationships

The platform also offers more high-level relationship advice, which frankly made me a little skeptical. After all, how well can an algorithm predict the challenges and successes I’ll have when working with another person — especially considering all of the data is coming from what we’ve publicly shared online?

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot.

My “test subject” was an editor who’s worked with me at least 20 times. She’s awesome, but she demands more rewrites than anyone else I’ve ever written for (and probably more than necessary).

With Crystal’s guidance, I reasoned, I could avoid those time-consuming and energy-draining edits.

I plugged in the editor’s name. As soon as Crystal spit out the results, my suspicion was replaced by shock.

The app had perfectly pegged us: We’ve got diametrically opposed working styles, which naturally leads to conflict:

Writing Emails With Crystal

For the next article we agreed on, I didn’t instantly start hunting down sources like I normally would.

Instead, I sent her an extremely detailed outline showing what I planned to write about, which studies I’d like to cite, and who I planned on interviewing.

She gave me a few suggestions — but surprisingly, didn’t red-line anything this time.

I submitted the post with some trepidation. However, for the first time ever, she ran it as-is: Clearly, knowing what I was doing in advance had made her far more satisfied with the piece.

Mission accomplished.

Final Thoughts

After looking up almost everyone I know — or want to know — on Crystal, I discovered that the personality profiles are fairly standard.

For example, if the app says someone “likes emoticons,” there’s a strong probability it’ll also say they appreciate “short, casual language.”

I ended up using two general styles: the short and sweet approach, for the Joes of the world, and the chattier, more personable approach, for the Levis of the world.

It seems like Crystal is pretty limited when it comes to diagnosing which styles people respond to.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

Combining Crystal’s insights with my first-hand knowledge led to some great results (see: the interactions with my boss and editor). Going forward, I probably won’t use Crystal on complete strangers — but I’ll definitely use it for professional acquaintances and coworkers.

What are your thoughts on Crystal? Do you find it creepy or helpful? How accurate is Crystal’s reading of you? Let us know in the comments!