So, you’ve set-up your email list and you’ve got some people to sign-up… so what now?
There’s a range of things that you can do to increase the chances of engaging with the most amount of people.
So, here’s a run through of things.
This list is for the helpful email newsletter or regular email that people have opted in for. It’s not for unhelpful spam, okay?
Consider your variables.
These are the things you can change around and adjust to see what works best. Adjusting one can have a big impact.
Subject line: That’s the line that accompanies your email. You’ll need to think of something interesting and eye catching that entices an open. Avoid ‘Weekly email vol 1.’ It has all the allure of a soggy novel. Vary it.
Timing: Think about what time you’ll send it. When would it get most attention? Would people be busy with their own jobs mid-morning and straight after lunch to spare time? Often, using an email provider you can pre-schedule a time to send your email out. Fridays and Monday are often bad days to send out an email. You get lots more out-of-offices on those days.
Pictures: Think about whether an image would work. But remember, that these can’t always be opened and big email lists rarely use them.
Merge tags: This is a way you can open up your email with a personal address to your audience. So, it’s ‘Dear Dan’ if it’s to Dan and ‘Dear Vera’ if it’s to Vera. You’ll need to have uploaded your list as a spreadsheet or similar format so the database knows to pull out the right first name.
Start the email: Tell them the reason you are emailing. They may have signed-up to the museum events list, for example, and you are letting them know of the summer events.
Links: Chances are you’ll want people to click through to a webpage. Pay close attention to the number of links you have and see how they perform. The first link tends to be the one with most click throughs. Don’t over stuff it. You can see what content works best by checking to see who opens what.
A call to action: Round-off with a call to action. This is the thing you’d like people to do. For instance, ‘click the link’, ‘donate’ or ‘buy one for your holidays’.
Sign off as a real person: People prefer talking to people. So sign off as one. When Barack Obama first won the election he didn’t sign all his campaign emails. Why? Because people cottoned onto the fact that he would be too busy. So, the regional organiser John Smith or someone else was fine.
Make sure you experiment endlessly. Your audience is pretty unique to you and the only way you’ll find out what works is by experimenting with your variables. You’ll see what works through studying your analytics.
Other top tips
Use a mobile-compatible template: Most email providers will shape your email and give you a template. There’s often a range. Try and start with the simplest one and one that will open on a mobile phone.
Add an address and an unsubscribe button: By law, you need to do this, so add one.
Sign-up: Follow political parties from the UK and the USA and online retailers. You’ll get a free education in how to write engaging emails. Pick the ideas that feel right from the look and feel.
Relevant content: It goes without saying that the content you provide will make or break your email list. Sending beef recipes to a vegetarian cookery list won’t work.
Style: Be light and engaging if you can. You’re asking people to sign-up and be signposted. Don’t make it a chore.
Test it: Before you send your email, test it. Most email providers allow you to send a test email first. This will allow you to check the links you’ve embedded as well as allow you to review your content. Don’t ever send it blind. Send it to a colleague to get their feedback. When you do send it, try and look at it on a mobile phone. Ofcom in 2015 says that 66 per cent of people have a smartphone and it’s where they check their emails.
Evaluate, evaluate and evaluate: When you’ve sent an email wait a few days and go back and see what worked and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to send out test emails to small groups to see what the stats say works before you send the bulk list.
Before the internets were invented life must have been so dull. Y’know, really dull.
You wrote a press release, you organised a photocall and once in a while TV and radio would show an interest.
A few years back the yardstick of success where I work was getting the local TV news to come host the weather live from your patch.
There’s been a change. Like a glacier edging down the mountain valley blink and not much has happened. Come back a while later and things have unstoppably changed.
Truth is, it’s a fascinating time to be a comms person. We’re standing at the intersection between old and new.
Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loves newspapers but he’s intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet. That’s a quote I love.
Here’s another quote I love. Napoleon Dynamite once said that girls only like men with skills. Like nunchuck skills, bo staff skills or computer hacking skills. For a digital comms perspective Napoleon’s quote could be applied there too. What you need are social media skills, press release skills and interactive mapping skills. And a bit more.
Sitting down recently I calculated the many strings to the bow that are now needed. I counted 37 skills, abilities and platforms I’m either using on a regular basis or need to know. Some more than others. Or to use Napoleon’s parlance, bow skills.
Out of interest, and to save me time in googling their associated links, here they are:
The ability to understand the detail and write in plain English.
The ability to understand the political landscape.
The ability to communicate one-to-one and build relationships.
The ability to work to a deadline.
The ability to understand comms channels and what makes interesting content on each.
Write a press release. The ability to craft 300 words in journalese with a quote that’s likely to tickle the fancy of the journalist who you are sending it to.
Use Twitter. To shape content – – written, audio, images and video – in 140 characters that will be read and shared.
Use Facebook. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.
Use Wikipedia. To be aware of what content is being added knowing that this belongs to wikipedia.
Use LinkedIn. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.
Arrange a photocall. The ability to provide props and people to be photographed and to work with a photographer and those being photographed so everyone is happy.
Use Flickr. To source pics, to post pics to link to communities, to arrange Flickr meets.
Use Pinterest. To source pics and share your content. To build a board around an issue or a place.
To understand when print marketing may work. Like flyers or posters. Yes, even in 2012 the poster and the flyer are sometimes needed as part of the comms mix.
To understand when information can be better presented visually. Through a simple piechart. Or more interestingly as a word cloud or via wordle. Or if its packets of data in spreadsheets or csv files through things like Google Fusion Tables or IBM’s exploratory Many Eyes.
To understand what they are and how they can work. In print for a specific community like an estate or a town centre or via the free under 2,000 emails a month platform mailchimp to deliver tailored newsletters by email. There’s the paid for govdelivery that some authorities are using.
To make sense of information overload and keep a things. With things like pinboard.in you can keep tabs on links you’ve noticed. Here’s mine you can browse through. For campaigns and useful interactions you can also use storify to curate and store a campaign or event. You can then embed the storify link onto a web page.
To know the right channels for the right comms. Social media shouldn’t just be a Twitter and Facebook tick box exercise. It should be knowing how and why each platforms works for each audience. Same goes for the smaller but important platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.
To know what’s on the horizon and be prepared for it when it lands. Same for emerging fields like Augmented Reality. What is science fiction today will become commonplace in years to come. People like hyperlocal champions Talk About Local who are already working in this field.
To know how to measure and when to measure. The measurement for traditional comms have been around. Potential readership of newspapers. Opportunities to view. Opportunities to see. The new digital landscape doesn’t quite fit this and new ways are being worked out. There isn’t an industry standard means just yet. But the gap has been filled by those who claim to be. The very wise Dr Farida Vis, who took part in the Guardian’s acclaimed research into the English riots of 2011, pointed out that sentiment analysis wasn’t more than 60 per cent accurate. There’s snake oil salesmen who will tell you otherwise but I’ve not come across anything that will be both shiny and also impress the chief executive. Tweetreach is a useful tool to measure how effective a hashtag or a tweet has been. Google Alerts we’ve mentioned. Hashsearch is another useful search tool from government digital wizards Dave Briggs and Steph Gray.
To connect with colleagues to learn, do and share. Twitter is an invaluable tool for sharing ideas and information. It’s bursting with the stuff. Follow like minded people in your field. But also those things you are interested in. Go to unconferences. Go to events. Blog about what you’ve learned and what you’ve done.
To truly understand how the web works you need to use and be part of it. That way you’ll know how platforms work and you can horizon scan for new innovation and ideas. It won’t be waking up at 2am worrying about the unknown. You’ll be embracing it and getting excited about it’s possibilities.
Good comms has always been the art of good story telling using different platforms. No matter how it seems that’s not fundamentally changed. It’s just the means to tell those stories have. That’s hugely exciting.
If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.
Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.
Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.
How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.
Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.
Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.
Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.
Here are 10 interesting uses:
1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.
2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.
3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.
4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.
5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.
6. National Trust have an excellent Facebookprofile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.
7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.
8. On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?
9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.
10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.
EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…
1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.
2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.
3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.
4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.
5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.
6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.
7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.
8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.
Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.
Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.