June 5, 2019

5 Steps to a Members-First Email Strategy

5 Steps to a Members-First Email Strategy

We spend a staggering amount of time reading and answering emails—more than 11 hours per workweek, according to McKinsey research. Despite our demanding inboxes, email is still the preferred method of communication for 86% of professionals—and 73% of millennials.

But, email fatigue is a real problem for everyone, including your members. The challenge for associations and nonprofits is finding the right balance: emailing valuable content but not adding to a member’s stress by inundating their inbox. To ensure your members and other email recipients continue to open and engage with your emails, you must take an organization-wide look at the frequency and relevance of your emails.

#1. Develop an Association Email Strategy

Every department thinks their information is absolutely critical for members to read, but giving departments the freedom to email whatever whenever they want is asking for trouble. Certainly, members want content that informs and educates them, and they want to know about upcoming events or products that might interest them. But you need an organizational or holistic approach to email communications so you don’t send too many emails.

Establish ownership. One person, someone in the marketing or communications department, must “own” your organizational email strategy. They have the responsibility and authority to enforce email policies. Along with a select team of representatives from email-sending departments, the “owner” or team leader approves and tracks any emails going out to all members or a segment of members. They help departments succeed by advising them on email content and design practices.

Start with an email audit. The first task of the email team is to do an email audit to find out:

  • How many emails (on average) members receive a week by type, for example, event promotion, product promotion, news, and informational or educational content?
  • Who’s sending these emails and how often?
  • What segments or distribution lists are being used?

The team also looks at email open rates by type of email and segment, as well as click-through and unsubscribe rates.

Survey members. Get feedback from members on your existing email communications, specifically by type of email. Do you communicate too much or too little? Break down the results by segment.

Consolidate. After associations go through this exercise, they usually discover they’re sending out too many emails. They often decide to consolidate marketing and news/information into one weekly newsletter. Of course, exceptions are permitted for urgent issues, for example, when you need members to take immediate political action.

Create a master communications calendar. Coordinate communications across the association by developing a schedule for emails going to all members or to a segment of members.

How often should you email members? The answer is different for every association—and for every member—but you can pin down a number by reviewing email analytics.

#2. Learn From Email Analytics and Testing

You may have read somewhere that Tuesdays are the best day to send emails, but that may not be true for your membership, or for all segments of your membership. The only way to find out is by testing different hypotheses on part of your list (A/B testing). Then, look at the resulting analytics and make a data-informed decision.

Don’t rely on assumptions, data from five years ago, or your email-reading habits—or the habits of your colleagues or boss. Do testing for different days of the week and times of the day. Pay attention to open rates and click-through rates. You may find you have a higher open rate on a weekday, but a higher click-through rate during the weekend.

Learn about email frequency from your data too. Pull up historical data to compare engagement in the weeks you sent out three or more emails to engagement in the weeks you sent only one or two emails.

Data can help you make a case to your colleagues (or boss) that sending fewer consolidated emails or segmenting emails is the best business decision.

#3. Focus on Segmentation and Relevance

If your members receive too many irrelevant emails, it’s far too easy for them to delete your emails without reading them. Or worse, they could unsubscribe. Relevance is based on the member’s needs, not the association’s. Very few emails are going to be relevant to every single member, that’s why you need to segment your email distribution lists and tailor content to that segment’s needs and interests.

Email recipients are 75% more likely to click on emails from segmented campaigns than non-segmented campaigns. Leverage your AMS to segment email lists by interests, past behavior/engagement, and/or demographic characteristics like career stage and location.

#4. Provide Choice in Subscriptions

Members want to be in control of the information they receive. They want to have a choice about email topics and frequency.

As part of the new member onboarding and member renewal process, invite members to fill out or update a subscription form on your member portal. Allow them to subscribe and unsubscribe from specific types of informational and promotional emails. Give them the option to receive a daily—if you have the bandwidth—weekly, or bi-weekly newsletter.

Don’t give up on inactive email recipients—the ones who haven’t opened any of your emails in quite a while. If they’re members, reach out to them to find out what they would find useful and how often. Depending on the size of this list, call them or send a personal email to get this information.

Run a special campaign for members who have unsubscribed from all emails. It’s possible they didn’t mean to unsubscribe from all or they could feel differently now.

Don’t keep inactive non-members on your email list. If they show no interest in your emails, remove them. These “unopens” have a detrimental effect on your email sender reputation and deliverability.

#5. Educate Staff on Compliance Issues

Data privacy regulations have changed the email landscape. Make sure anyone on staff who sends blast emails or who has the ability to add people to email lists understands the requirements of email privacy laws, such as GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, good ol’ CAN-SPAM, and Canada’s Anti-Spam Law.

Staff shouldn’t add a non-member to the database just because they received a business card from them. They must get the person’s permission or opt-in before adding them to an email list.

With a member-first email strategy, your association will make it worth the member’s time to open and engage with your emails. Find out how MemberSuite’s E-Marketing module can also help you increase the effectiveness of your association’s email communications.