Sometimes the delivery method gets in the way of our message and our messages get lost, ignored and under valued. Those were recurring comments at the Communication’s Table Topic at CSAE Trillium Chapter’s last PDX Professional Development session of 2016 that I facilitated. Four groups of participants took part in half hour roundtable discussions looking for best practices, solutions and new ideas to tackle the associations and not for profit staff concerns on the questions of ensuring your message gets read amidst all the noise; and getting your email read. We delved into the expectations they had in using other means to get to their members and stakeholders beyond direct in-box delivery, and the reluctance, both internal and at the receivers end to have messages broadcast in new ways. There’s a careful line between providing valuable information and spamming members adding to the communications noise we are supposed to be avoiding. Familiar themes became clear: the need to know your audiences; using your data and feedback to your advantage; and, start with clear goals on what you’re trying to communicate in the first place.
Audiences: Members, etc…
Do you know whom you’re trying to reach? By using your email distribution system’s IT data, you can see when do your members open emails, the click through rates to the links in your messages, the day of week, or time of day, that works best. Track this, and use this knowledge to change your behaviours based on data that’s available. There’s likely analytical data also available from member surveys to make decisions on what to send when, what’s valued and perhaps also learn what you spend considerable time and effort on developing that members rate as low value. It’s a good thing to assess if you are continuing to do an activity because it’s always been done that way, or if it still has value.
In an effort to know your audiences, internal and external, segregate them. Does it make sense to send the same messages or different messages to your distinct audiences? Try AB testing: Send an email to half a list at different times, or use different subject lines. Measure the results, and act on what you learn. Do you send members, lapsed and potential members the same email? By tailoring your message, your voice will be seen as more authentic and relevant.
Whatever you do, please do not spam the people most valuable to you, and with whom you have a valued relationship of providing value with valuable content. That being said, you can’t please all your members all the time. Beware of the ‘squeaky wheel’ with many suggesting change for change’s sake. Refer back to your data and your survey responses in decision making what works for your audiences.
The Email Subject Line and Best Practices
The email subject line discussion actually tackled how to get the subject line right to get the email read. To my surprise, the subject line question was a hot topic, and there was a lot of interest in covering what entices a reader to open an email!
Email Best Practices
The subject line is the headline that has to be true to the content of the email. We coined: ‘The Promise of the Subject Line’ for the recipient to know if this is timely, on a project, a newsletter, a call for some action in reply, and simply to know if this is a quick message to read on mobile on the go for a quick reply or will require opening attachments and giving more thoughtful responses. This provides some level of triage of an inbox to prioritize messages. If an email asking for action, say so in subject line.
Using clear subject lines is crucial, and when changing topic during an email thread, change the subject line. If possible for email to be on one topic, have clear subject line. This was noted to not only deal with issues together and see threads, but for easy filing and email recovery. Using the “Rule-of-3” topics in a subject line as a maximum was noted as a key take away: No more than three topics should be introduced in a message.
By having ‘theme’ emails (ex. newsletters, policy updates, advance copies of media announcements, or board reports) in same format for each template subject line and message content, it makes it easier for the reader to know what to expect and if it is to be shared with colleagues, reply with response, etc. Consistency pays off. If members like a newsletter at a regular interval, like every 2 weeks, stick with that. The point is to know that they like it, read it and get value from it.
The word ‘urgent’ and email should be used very carefully, and preferably in a very limited way if at all. It may be important the message be read, but if it truly is urgent, pick up the phone and call.
Know when -and when not to- ‘reply all’
Thinking about ‘replying all’? Think carefully if the response is intended for that one individual sender or if the group needs to hear you wade in on the conversation.
Key takeaways on best practices: Email
In short, the best practices we agreed to were making emails clear, easy to share and file, and with a great subject line as a teaser that drives people to want to read more. Keep messages short and to the point, and potentially with action directives on where to get more information. Know what works for your audience, what they like, what times work for delivery and who they are. Keep you email delivery and style reliable and predictable as far as timing – and keep checking in to see if what you’re doing works for your audience! Be selective and send important information, like call for abstracts, and timely industry information. Most importantly, have a system in place internally -that has leadership backing – on what goes out to members, who sends it, when it’s sent and shows coordination from the association. If each department is competing for the attention of the member, you’ll likely look like your spamming the audience and will drive them away.
All the communications sent from your organization contribute to your brand. Are your mundane and routine emails working in your favour on that front? Perhaps its time to take a look at what your communications say about your association, and if there are ways to refresh what you’re saying, integrate delivery to new methods of delivery – like social media – and renew your offerings.
This review skimmed the surface of what we discussed, and other table topics communications themes will be covered in future articles. Watch for ideas for your association on: using social channels and digital tools to reinforce your messages and reach new audiences; using media relations outreach to traditional journalists, sharing routine publications like annual reports; and, integrating your communications with your government relations and promotional campaigns.
If you’d like to discuss any of these ideas, please feel free to get in touch with me!