Email tip for unions: don’t overload your members

December 12, 2010

Email is an excellent way to easily and cheaply communicate with your members. A good union email should always include some kind of call to action – an “ask” for the recipient to do something, whether forwarding the email, visiting a website, donating money or registering an event.

The best thing is that most union members not only accept emails from their union, they expect and value them. Similarly, for campaign-specific email lists that include non-members and people from the general community, there is an expectation of regular updates from the campaign.

However, a successful union email strategy relies on balance in many areas. Balance in trying the calls to action in your e-mails and balance in the amount of e-mails you send over a period of time.

Giving your email address to someone – or an organisation – is a large act of trust. Someone’s email address can be very private – especially their personal email address. We, as unionists, need to recognise and respect this fact. When they give us their email address, we need to ensure that the emails we send are relevant to them. People get hundreds of emails. If we’re not giving them compelling emails, why would they read emails we send them?

How can we solve this problem?

Well, let’s start with how many e-mails you send out.

If you are building an email list from your campaign websites using any mainstream autoresponder, you will have access to the statistics for sign-ups and unsubscribers. Keeping a watchful eye on your growth and ratio of unsubscribes you get is essential. The aim of any email campaigning effort is to stay present in your audience’s minds without overloading them with an e-mail every single day and simply annoying them.

There are no hard and fast rules for how many e-mails you can send in a week since it largely depends on your target audience and how you’ve built your list up to this point. For example, if you send an e-mail out every two days, each e-mail trying to get your list to do something or donate money, you are likely to have a lot of unsubscribers. Obviously, this is detrimental to your future success. In this case it may not be the volume of e-mails you’re sending out, but the fact that you’re trying too hard to get your subscribers to do something in every single e-mail. In my experience, more than one email in the same day is a definite no-no. Not only does open-rates dramatically drop, but unsubscribes also increase.

Not only that, writing an e-mail every day or two is very time-consuming, with not necessarily a return on that time. As a general rule of thumb, you should only send out emails for genuine news or important issues. More than twice a week can test your subscribers’ patience.

Most members and subscribers have expectations about the numbers of emails they receive from their union. Going outside of those bounds can violate the trust they’ve put in you. Consistency in sending emails is very important. If you send emails sporadically, you don’t build up rapport or trust with your members

When you do send out an email with an important call to action, it’s a good idea to let your members know exactly what the email is trying to do, tell them why it’s important, and why you think it will benefit them. This helps maintain a high level of trust from your members, and helps keep your action rate up.

How much is too much?

There are two ways to check whether you are sending too many emails. Your open rates and your unsubscribe rates. (You’re using an email service that can track these things, right?)

If you’re losing more than 1% of your email list each week through unsubscribes, then you’re definitely sending out to many emails. If you’re losing subscribers, then decrease the rate you send emails. Try sending “newsletter” style emails, that are made up of links to your union’s website or blog articles. These can replace individual update emails that you’ve previously been sending on a daily or twice-daily basis.

You may also notice that your email open-rates have dramatically dropped after sending a few emails over one or two days. Average open rates are – in my experience – between 15-25%, but I’ve seen them drop to less than 4% when three or four emails were sent to members over two days. People just get fatigued, and no matter how many times you put “urgent” in the subject line they aren’t going to open your email.

One of the best things you can do to really maximize your e-mail campaigning strategies is to give your members “valuable info”, meaningful calls to action, and a reason to return to your campaign or union website time and again. By doing this you are much more likely to have a higher response to your calls to action or increase your traffic to your website.

Getting email stats

I’ve seen to many times unions sending bulk emails to hundreds or even thousands of emails to their members using Microsoft Outlook. Using a program like Outlook or another bulk-email program denies you important information about whether your members open your emails or click on the links. It also makes it difficult to send emails that look good.

That’s why I’ve set up a boutique email campaign service for progressive causes, that provides all of this information, handles lists, and gives you amazing analytics. There are literally hundreds of email service providers like this – some of them of very high quality, like MailChimp or BSD Tools (which is very expensive). However, your union absolutely should use a service that provides statistics – and can handle unsubscribes (which can be required under Spam Laws).

[box type=”info”]Campaign Monitor has a fantastic resource for email campaigning. Check it out here.[/box]


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