For frustrated membership and communications staffers sending missive after missive into their seemingly disinterested membership block (as registered by low open rates and abysmal click-through rates), consider the following sanity check before you reach full-blown exasperation.
While benchmarks for measuring email efficacy vary by industry, the general consensus is that 30 percent of emails sent to members will be opened, and about 8 percent will generate a click-through response.
Here are four reasons why you may be falling short of that benchmark:
- You don’t make your emails matter
- You don’t make your emails personal
- You don’t make your calls-to-action easy
- You don’t take a multi-channel approach
1. You don’t make your emails matter: When Andrea Santos assumed her position in January as Marketing & Engagement Coordinator at the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) in Washington, D.C., the association’s click-through rate for emails was between 1-2 percent.
“The industry-wide click-through rates for associations stands at 8.47 percent,” Santos said. “The click-through rate is always more of a challenge but, by industry standards and benchmarks, we could do better.”
One possible reason for the low response rate was volume. The association was simply sending out too many email calls-to-action to its 13,000 members.
The high frequency of email alerts diluted the sense of urgency, prompting its busy members to often delete them like they would spam.
“We were sending out as many as 10 a week,” Santos said. “That’s too many, according to industry benchmarks.” Fire up your supporters to take action in minutes!
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Sending six to 10 per month seems to be the sweet spot.
2. You don’t make your emails personal: When emails address members individually by name, they are much more likely to get a response, said David R. Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR).
“Never send members a general stock broadcast email,” he said. “It’s not ‘Dear Member,’ it’s ‘Dear Dave, this is what is going on.’ Make it personalized, customized” to individual members.
“The goal is to target emails to specific recipients,” Santos said. “For instance, today we’re offering a free webinar, part of a six-part series, in which respondents were notified through email” according to the specifics of their practice. “It gets a good response and is a big money-maker for us.”
One way PAR customized its email alerts is by linking contacts for elected representatives to each member’s association identification number. “Our emails are customized to the specific member’s ID,” Phillips said. “I know who they are.”
The time invested in assembling these links proved to be worth it. Not only did response rates increase, the messaging became more effective. In 2011, for example, when state legislators were considering a bill that proposed charging a private transfer fee in real estate transactions, PAR emailed a call-to-action to its 30,000 members, Phillips said.
“It generated 3,800 emails to those committee members telling them not to approve this particular piece of legislation,” he said, noting the bill was subsequently shot down.
The program only sends emails “to your congressman, to your legislator, not to everybody,” Phillips said. “They count the emails they get, but if it is not from a constituent, they throw it in the trash. They don’t want to get spammed from every yahoo.”
Since adopting the program, PAR’s click-through rate on calls-to-action have increased from 7 percent to 18-20 percent, he said.
3. You don’t make your calls-to-action easy: While it sounds simple, making calls-to-action simple for members to understand and easy to act upon can be easier said than done.
But it can (and should) be done.
One of the best ways associations and nonprofits can alert members to calls-to-action or to new initiatives is a simple email that encourages a specific response, such as sending a letter to a public official or signing a petition.
“Unclear calls-to-action are a problem,” Santos said. “Make sure you spell out what to do, what action to take, and why. You have to be explicit, make it easy to understand, with a simple follow-through. Don’t leave members wondering, what should I do?”
“We’ve had a pretty good response (to calls-to-action) because we made it so easy for them to do,” Phillips said.
When sending a letter to a legislator about a proposed bill or a specific issue, PAR essentially does all the work – except click and send, he said. “All (members) have to do is click and it takes them to the website,” Phillips said. “This gives them a chance to read (the letter or petition) and if they agree, click it away. Two clicks is all they have to do.”
4. You don’t take a multi-channel approach: Emails should be augmented with corresponding social media campaigns alerting members to check their mailboxes.
“The bottom line is there are multiple ways to communicate. That’s the good news. The bad news is you have to use them all,” Phillips said. “We used to just send emails for calls-to-action. Now, we do follow-ups with lots of social media. Retweet it on Twitter, post on Facebook, write a new blog. So, we go to great lengths to spread the word and tell (members), ‘Look in your email box.'”
Stephen J. Freitas, Chief Marketing Officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc., said his organization uses emails only as a way to alert its 800 member companies about information available on other platforms.
“Today, people — especially Millennials — would rather watch a video, not read an email or brochure,” he said. “We also share the videos on our social media channels. The good ones get traction and are shared” among members.
Of course, Freitas notes, outdoor advertising is, by its nature, a visual medium. “We make videos and post them on You Tube and our website. These videos explain the medium, its value, its role in the community, and its relevance to members,” he said.
The irony, Freitas said, is members often share the videos illustrating “message points about our medium” with others on their websites, in blogs — and via email. “We find this a very successful approach,” he said.
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