Email list etiquette for unions

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More than 580 union leaders, campaigners and organisers subscribe to my email newsletter.

As membership based organisations, unions regularly send emails to their members. Most members accept – and even expect – regular email updates from their union.

By following good email etiquette, unions can ensure their emails are less likely to be junked.

Despite this, unions should still respect the principles of good email etiquette when it comes to unsubscribing and permission-based sending. This is especially the case when your union is running a campaign that sends emails to people who are not members but support the union’s campaign.

Most professional email services (such as Mailchimp, or my own Campaign Advantage) have these principles hard-wired into them. So it can be a good idea to review what good email etiquette is.

When someone gives their email address to your union, they are generally entrusting you with a responsibility to not misuse that information.

Get permission

Make sure the people you’re sending emails to have given you permission to send them emails.

This may seem obvious – especially since union members “opt in” when they join your union. If you can, you should try to add a note on your membership form that specifically states that they will receive emails from the union – this makes it absolutely clear for the member, and you, that they will receive emails.

If you’re running a campaign and are collecting email addresses, make sure you also include a specific opt in tick box or clause on the petition or form you are using.

By not getting permission, you also run the risk of your emails being marked as spam. Most large organisations (where your members likely work) use spam-blocking services. If a significant number of people mark your emails as spam, it can get you, your host or your service black-listed, which means that lots of your emails will never reach their intended recipient (this is the case for using third-party lists below).

Don’t use third-party lists

This is the simple exension of the first point. Don’t use emails you get from someone else. In most cases, it is against spam laws, and even if it’s not, the people whose emails you are being given or (hopefully not) have purchased are not expecting emails from you.

This is even the case if you get emails from another union or peak body. If you are running a campaign in a sector with another union or group, rather than get their list to send emails to, ask that organisation to send an email from them on your behalf.

Also, this almost goes without saying, don’t buy lists. I’ve received emails from businesses offering lists of emails of people associated with the sector my union works in. Bought email lists are bad news – they are rarely accurate, and the people whose emails you are being offered have not opted in to get your emails.

What’s more, most professional email services won’t allow them.

Remove unsubscribes as soon as possible

Most spam laws require bulk emails to include a “one click” unsubscribe method at the end of the email. It is your responsibility as a good email-citizen to remove the email addresses of people who no longer want to receive your emails from your list.

Professional email services will do this automatically, but some people reply to emails they receive asking to be removed manually. Make sure you check your manual unsubscribe before sending any bulk-emails.

For emails of non-members – gained for a campaign – this is a no-brainer. The person who wants to unsubscribe simply doesn’t want to receive your campaign emails any more.

When members want to unsubscribe, it’s a bit more complicated. Obviously as a union, you have the right to communicate with your members. You may have an obligation to send them information regarding their rights to attend Annual General Meetings or similar events.

However, a member who wants to unsubscribe from your bulk-emails is basically telling you that they don’t read your emails anyway. Is it really worth sending them emails they won’t read – and that may annoy them when they keep receiving them?

Stay on topic

This isn’t that hard for a union – but it’s worth keeping in mind. If someone has subscribed to campaign updates about your issue – such as industrial action or wage case – then all your emails should be about that issue. You shouldn’t send them, out of the blue, an offer about cheap homeloans from Members Equity, or deals from Union Shopper – or updates about an unrelated campaign issue.

Similarly for members, it’s a good idea in the first email to a new member, to set out what kind of updates they can expect from you. You may send out periodic e-newsletters, campaign updates, messages from the Secretary or media releases – so you should let your new member know to expect those in their inbox.

If your email service can handle it, you could set up groups or segments – which cover the various types of topics you’re likely to send emails about. This can let your members decide what kinds of emails they want to recieve.

The bonus is that if you stay on topic, and give some of this power back to your members, they’re far more likely to remain interested and engaged with your emails, rather than just hitting “spam” or “delete”.

[box type=”info”]Read other posts about good union email practices here.[/box]