Improve your union’s email campaigns (part 1)

Email is the “killer app” for online campaigning. It is quite simply the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to reach your supporters. More so than social media, email is the tool for communication and discussion. It is ubiquitous — almost every person with access to the Internet has an email address.

Email campaigning can be used by your union to promote your campaigns, alert them to major workplace news, inspire members and delegates to take action, and help members’ voices be heard by politicians and employers. At the same time, email campaigns can be used by union leaders to seek feedback, ask questions and provide feedback.

There are such a multitude of uses for email campaigning, that it takes a combination of know-how, experience and creativity to get the most from your campaigns.

Here are some of my “do’s” and “don’t’s” to help unions improve their email campaigns.

Do: Keep your emails short and simple.
Don’t: Waste too much time writing.

From your subject line, to the “skimmable” copy inside, the message needs to be clear and consistent. Don’t try to put too much information into the email, or cram multiple topics in them. Too many messages will leave your supporters confused or overwhelmed. If you have two things to say, it’s best to send two emails (preferably not on the same day).

Most people get scores of emails each day — some get hundreds — so they suffer from information overload. Your emails need to stand out from the crowd. These days, people are brutal with deleting emails — they are looking for reasons to press that delete button and you only have a short time to convince them that your email is worth opening.

The logical extension is that you shouldn’t spend hours agonising over the copy of your emails. In most cases, good enough is enough.

(The exception to this is email newsletters, which can have lots of topics. But for most email campaigns, you’ll be sending single HTML emails.)

Do: Target your emails.
Don’t: Carpet bomb every address in your list.

Without a doubt, you should learn to segment your emails, so they’re targeted. When your organisers go out on site, their key messages are unique and targeted to the members at the workplace they’re visiting. Why shouldn’t your emails do the same?

I’ve written about segmenting your emails here, so go and take a look to dig deeper. The more your target, the more relevant you’re making your campaigns to your supporters and members, and the better your results will be.

Do: Allow people to opt-out.
Don’t: Neglect preferences.

Not only do Australian spam laws require simple unsubscribing for emails, best practice email campaigning says you should have a one-click unsubscribe. Every professional email marketing service available has this feature. It not only makes your compliant with the various spam laws, but it helps protect you. Why would you want to keep sending emails to people — members or not — who simply don’t want to receive them? Relentless sending of emails to people who don’t want them is the behaviour of a spammer.

Permission is very important. It’s about trust. People — members, supporters, potential members — give you their email address as a sign of good faith. Don’t break that trust, and if they choose to not want to get your emails (even if they’re still members), then don’t ignore that.

On preferences — most email marketing services will let your email subscribers choose how they want to get emails from you. For example, whether HTML or plain text, a daily or weekly digest, and so on. This may be less convenient for you, but if it means they’re more likely to be happy and engaged, then you shouldn’t have any complaints.

Do: Use your website and social media to promote your e-mail subscribe forms.
Don’t: “Borrow” email lists.

Most unions will have the email address for the majority of members — and probably ex-members too. So you’ve probably got a list of several thousand people at least.

But it’s not the size of your email list that’s important — it’s the quality. By quality, I mean that the email addresses themselves are accurate and relevant. You want to be sending your emails to people who are actually interested in what you’ve got to say, your campaigns, and ideally, who want to join your union!

The best way to do get an email list like that is to build your own.

It may be tempting to use the email list of another organisation, especially those supporting your campaign. Rather than send the email from yourself directly, ask your supporter organisation to send an email on your behalf — that way you can be sure you’re getting permission from the recipient who can choose to sign up to your list.

Meanwhile, you can organically grow your campaign email list through all manner of means. Your union website and campaign websites should have prominent email sign-up forms. Make sure you include contact forms at all your campaign events, with an email field, so your rallies, meetings and conferences can be used to gather emails. Add an email section to your paper petitions.

The most important thing is to not just take my word for these things, but to test it for yourself. A good email marketing service will give you the most important basic stats you need — click-throughs — to start making your own judgement.

In the next part, I’ll go through some more “do’s” and “don’t’s”.

Download my free Introduction to Digital Campaigning for Unions.