Although social networks seem like the cool kids turning up fashionably late to the Internet party, it’s still boring old email that’s your best fundraising and campaigning tool. Although it has barely changed since the 1990s, the email newsletter should still be a cornerstone of your online communications strategy.
Pretty much anyone with a computer has got at least one email address, and we’re all guilty of checking them every five minutes on our phones. The challenge with email marketing has always been to stand out against all the chatter and the hundreds of other messages competing for attention. That’s increasingly a problem with Facebook and Twitter too though.
On average 10,000 email subscribers will generate you a lot more donations or petition signers than 10,000 Facebook fans or 10,000 Twitter followers (see the link to the SocialBrite article below for some stats). Amnesty International still relies heavily on email, so does Amazon, and even Twitter emails you every week to tell you what’s happening on Twitter. Until they stop doing it, I suggest you don’t either.
Choosing an Email Newsletter Provider
First things first – you can’t use your own email client (e.g. MS Outlook or Gmail) to send out bulk email. Or at least you shouldn’t. The Cc or Bcc fields shouldn’t be used for more than 50 people email addresses. It doesn’t give people the chance to unsubscribe, you can’t measure who opened it, and you run the risk of your email domain being blacklisted as a spammer.
Most of the email marketing companies provide basically the same service. They offer a series of templates that you can use off the shelf or customise them with your own colours and images. You can collect email addresses in folders and create and send different emails to different groups of people according to which folder they’re in/clicked a link in a previous email etc. Hook it up to your website and you can automatically email everyone who donated to you this year or any other segment you create in your CRM system.
Here’s a shortlist to get you started.
Mailchimp isn’t the cheapest provider out there but they’re probably the most user-friendly for newbies. Even if you don’t open an account with them you should definitely download their email marketing guides. Their templates look great and their service integrates with CiviCRM and Salesforce CRM systems. They’re free for the first 2,000 emails per month so if you’re starting to grow your email list from scratch then Mailchimp is a great choice.
Signup.to is a UK based email provider. Their rates are pretty reasonable and their customer service is really good. I have worked with them before and can personally recommend them.
Open and clickthrough rates
All of the the email marketing providers offer basically the same sets of statistics about your emails. The two most important are the ‘open’ and ‘clickthrough’ rates. These are the percentage of your recipients who opened your email and clicked a link in it, respectively. The open rate doesn’t necessarily measure the number of people who actually read your email – that’s pretty impossible to tell. An email is counted as ‘opened’ when the user’s browser downloads a hidden image in it. A note of caution: most email clients (Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail etc) don’t download the images in an email by default these days – they have a link at the top to do so instead. People can still read the text in your email, and if it doesn’t have many images in it then they probably won’t bother clicking the ‘download images’ button. So they’ve read your email but the statistics won’t pick that up. An open rate of 30% is pretty good for an average newsletter. It’s likely that the real figure will be a bit higher.
You’re better off keeping your email content short and linking through to a longer article on your website. The subject line is really important too – you could call it something like ‘April newsletter’ but only your most ardent of supporters is likely to open it. A slightly more teasing subject line is better. During his 2012 election campaign, Barack Obama’s email with the best open rate was simply ‘Hey’. Most email marketing providers have a ‘split testing’ facility whereby you can send two different versions of an email (with different subject lines for example) to a small segment of your list. The version that gets the highest open rate in the first hour could then be sent to the remaining recipients. It’s definitely worth trying out this function, especially for your important announcements.
Growing your list
It’s easy to add a newsletter sign up box on your website and Facebook page. Whilst you can collect people’s address, date of birth and phone number at this stage, you’re better off just asking for their first name and email address I think. Asking for too much at this stage is likely to just put most people off altogether. If you can link to some previous newsletters to give an example of what they’re likely to receive – then do so. The best-practice is to use a ‘double opt-in’ system whereby people add their name to the list and then they’re sent an automated email that asks them to click on a link within it to confirm that they want to subscribe. This stops me subscribing you to a list by sticking your email address in a web form.
Don’t be tempted to buy a database of email addresses. There are strict rules about ‘permission based marketing’ like email newsletters. Whilst you can import contacts into your account with the email marketing providers, you’re only allowed to do so if you actually have permission from those people to email them. Having a clipboard (or in iPad these days) at your events to collect people’s email addresses is a good idea, and you can speak to your corporate partners to see if they can help by adding you to one of the ‘third-party’ suppliers that most of us untick the box for when asked about it in an online form.
Check out this article on Socialbrite about growing your email list.