There are a lot of mediums available when it comes to engaging your customers or members—social media, your online community, email, etc. Each serves its own purpose and comes with its own set of best practices advantages and disadvantages.
Email is a marketing channel that has shifted in usage and popularity over time, making it increasingly harder to capture the attention of your members. Organizations of all types and sizes have taken to emails as a primary way to get the word out about content offers, program, events, and products. This means that before you can vie for an open, we have to make it out of the spam filter or Outlook’s latest “clutter” folder.
Regardless of how great your content is, if your association emails aren’t getting opened, your message isn’t getting out there. Convincing people with overflowing inboxes to click on your email takes a little finesse. Here are some things you can do to improve your open rate.
Building a Strong Communication Relationship with Your Members
Before we talk best practices, let’s talk strategy. A good open rate among members is 20-30%. If your target audience has opted into your communications, the open rate should be on the higher end.
Before we get to the art of crafting an effective subject line, let’s review what it takes for a successful communication relationship between you and your members.
Allow for Opt-in and Topic Selection
Many associations see membership as an automatic email opt-in. The logic here being, if someone wants to be a member, then that person also wants to receive emails from the organization. That is not always the case. Members may want email from you, but only on certain topics that are relevant to them.
If you send out different kinds of emails (newsletters, event information, system communications about your technology etc.) and you want to improve open rates, allow members to opt-in to each of them separately. Giving your members the opportunity to select the kind of information they want to receive from your association will mean more opens for your emails.
Let Members Choose Email Frequency
If you’ve ever been bombarded by communications from LinkedIn groups, you know why LinkedIn gives users the option to decide how often they want to receive communications from each group. Allowing your members to make the same decision can improve your open rate and lower your unsubscribes.
A member may love getting a weekly communication from you, but daily emails are too much, or they may love a daily communication and don’t need to see a weekly wrap-up.
Let them make that choice. The leading reasons people unsubscribe from emails is too little value and too many emails. If you give them this freedom, they are more likely to open your emails when they receive them. Don’t be the cause of your own unsubscribes. Provide commuity members options.
Deliver Value and Quality from Day One
Very few people will revisit a restaurant with terrible food more than once. While you might excuse bad service and give the establishment another try, if you otherwise enjoyed the dining experience, you won’t sit through a meal of low quality. The same is true of email communications.
If you are sending your members content that is not valuable or of good quality (in their eyes), they won’t keep opening your emails to see if the next email improved. Your email communications will go straight to the trash.
However, if you concentrate on providing high-value content in your emails, and you'll earn a reputation for it. If you fail to connect to your members through that email, they probably won’t trash your future communications. They’ll give you a few chances, but only a few.
Ditch the “No-reply@” Email Address
Nothing says SPAM faster than seeing an email sent from a no-reply address or generic email address. Use a REAL association staffer’s email, create an email address just for sends, and/or set up rules that make email responses easier to handle.
Sending from “no-reply” takes the personalization out of your communications and paints your association as a large corporation, not an organization dedicated to its members.
Writing the Perfect Subject Line
With a strong reputation for creating valuable content and providing your members with the freedom to choose how they hear from the association, you now need to perfect the part of the email that you know your members will see.
Most people decide whether they open an email based on two things:
- Who it’s from (thus the reason to ditch the no-reply@)
- Subject line
If either is unappealing to your members, they won’t open it. What works in a subject line varies depending on your audience. You’ll want to test a few and see what types get the most opens.
Here are a few additional tips that work across general audiences. However, consider the interests of your individual members when writing your emails.
Tip #1: Tell Them What They Need to Know
Tell your members exactly what the email contains without causing recipients to make decisions about the email's content before they even open the email. Something like:
“Important information about tonight’s event”
This example creates interest in the information and the event without giving away the main points in the subject line.
Depending on the message that you are conveying, a direct approach might work best. Consider this for emails where the goal is to communicate important logistical or technical updates. These are for emails where you are answering a straightforward question for your members, such as updates to a chapter event or a changed functionality of your online community where you need all of your members to be informed.
Tip #2: Personalize It
Add in fields that allow you to personalize the subject line. Instead of “Question about your recent purchase”, use:
“Question about your recent event ticket purchase”
In a world where Siri knows how long it will take us to get home before we even ask, personalization is key. Your members joined your association looking to connect in some way. Whether it be with your organization or other members, they want a more personal relationship. This type of email is just a little way of saying, “Hey, I see you. I care.”
Tip #3: Don’t Use the Same Subject Line for Reoccurring Emails
If you send out a consistent communication such as a weekly or monthly newsletter, don’t use “Newsletter” as the subject line each time. Include some of the content to pique member interest.
The following example is a little long but tells members what they can expect:
“Info about Annual Conference, using Instagram, and managing risk”
Sending emails with the same subject line is a quick way to land in the trash or worse the “read later” folder. Recipients may have an idea of what content is typically in your newsletter, but without any further explanation there is no pull to read more.
Tip #4: Use Puns, Humor, or a Casual Tone (only if it fits your audience)
This tip can be hugely effective if it reflects your association and preferences of your members. A medical society’s email communication may not be the proper arena for a very casual use of hipster slang (unless the society is trying to recruit or retain hipsters, of course).
This tip is for a specific set of associations that have a good handle on their audience’s preferences. An association of Baby Boomers, for instance, may enjoy a reference to the Beatles; while that same reference may be lost on Gen Z.
Association Email Strategy Takeaway
Members will open your emails if they find value in the content you are sending and if you allow them to choose the way in which you communicate with them.
This may mean some members will opt-out completely from receiving your emails. While this may be disheartening, it is a much better option than pushing the SPAM button.
Give members what they want, in the way they want to receive it, and your email open rates will skyrocket.