We've been talking all things content marketing this month, and today's subject is a biggie. Everyone wants to talk social media all the time, but it's not the most important thing when it comes to engaging with your current donors and customers. That's right I said it—social media is NOT the most important thing. Breathe that in, people.
Don't get me wrong, social media is an important (and unavoidable) part of marketing, especially when it comes to finding new prospects, but it shouldn’t be your top priority, and it isn’t even what your donors or customers prefer. I'd rather you stop focusing on social media, and start focusing on your email list.
I've had many, many conversations with friends and clients about this topic. I get some slow head-nodding, blank eyes, puzzled looks, and then a question or two usually follows. Something along the lines of, "Why is email marketing so important?" or "Ok, but what should I send to my email list?" I usually also hear that people do send emails to their fans and supporters, but it's been a few...months.
Sending emails just sorta happens when they get around to it. Maybe they'd planned to send out an email blast, but there was yet another fire to put out. Or, they'll email again when they have something "important" to say.
Any of this sound familiar?
I'm here today to tell you what and why you should be emailing your list. Because it's vital to the health of your organization. Yep, it's that big of a deal. Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your nonprofit or social enterprise, or not, email needs to move up on your priority list.
WHY EMAIL MARKETING IS IMPORTANT
Though social media is the shiny object of the marketing world, email marketing should be the staple. It's true that nothing will ever beat in-person conversations; those should always be the first option. But for electronic or online communication, email should be your focus.
Why? You "own" your list. We've already seen a handful of algorithm changes on Facebook this year alone, and they're all making it more difficult for your business to get seen by your fans and followers. That's great for us as individuals who want to see more pics of our friends kids, pets, vacations, or last night's dinner. Not so great from a marketing standpoint.
And as things change again, and they will, you'll be further and further removed from your audience, unless you are paying to get in front of them. However, with an email address, you land directly in their inbox. Whatever you need to communicate to them is front-and-center. They don't have to go hunting for it, and they don't have to wait to just see it occasionally, if the internet powers that be, decide today's the day to show them.
Plus, if one of those nifty social networks goes away tomorrow, or decides to remove businesses entirely, you have no way to reach those people. Poof! They're gone. But you know what you do have? That's right, your email list!
You also have more real estate in emails to get your message across than on social media, and emails still have the highest conversion rates as well. Two, more very good reasons!
Oh, and if you're slightly panicked about neglecting your social media, here's my solution.
(Side note: I recommend setting a reminder to download your list a few times per year so you never lose it either. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed!)
WHAT TYPES OF EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND TO YOUR LIST?
Okay, now that you understand why you should be making more use of your email list, you might be stuck on what to send. Besides a lack of time, this is the issue I hear most.
So, what should you email to your list? The good news is that the options are pretty limitless!
Here are just a few examples:
New hires, job openings, or internship opportunities
Recent blog posts
Thoughts from the founder or staffers
Links and resources your audience would find helpful
Tips and tricks
Needs list (ex: resources a nonprofit might need to further their mission)
Staff or recipient profiles
Holiday announcements or celebrations
Photos or videos of people using your product/service
Testimonials and stories
End of year impact reports
(Want 85 more ideas? Click here!)
Think about it: These people willingly gave you their email. That means they want to hear from you! And they want to hear from you more than a couple of times per year... So, don't neglect sending just because you don't have any "big announcements."
I also recommend keeping a list somewhere of topics that would be good for your emails, even if it means they need to wait a while. You don't want to lose any good ideas! I use Evernote, since it's always handy, but you can use Google Docs or Sheets, a Word doc, a sticky on your computer, or whatever is a good fit.
To make things even easier on yourself, you can even set up a template for your regular email newsletters so that all you have to do is just drop in the new content each time. This is exactly what I do with Special Features. I have a formula that I follow of specific things I want to communicate to my audience. Each section has a purpose. Doesn't mean that it'll stay that way forever, but right now, it works for me.
A FEW TIPS ON FORMATTING YOUR EMAILS
Photos and graphics, or no photos and graphics? Headers or no headers? Long or short?
The truth is that I've seen emails of all shapes and sizes get the job done. Some are beautiful and some are plain. So, whether you have yours laid out by a professional graphic designer or not is your call. What works with your brand and your voice? That choice is up to you.
Here's what I will stress, however: It needs to be easy to read on laptops, tablets, and phones. (A LOT of people are reading your emails on their phones these days!) That may sound completely intuitive, and like I don't need to say it, but trust me, I do. I have seen some emails that likely have great content, but they are so hard to look at and read that I just hit delete. I'm sure you've done the same.
Write is short paragraphs of one to three sentences. If you're reading anything on a phone, do you want to just stare at a wall of text? Answer: Nope.
Use headers where needed for clarity and changing topics, especially if the email is long. People are skimmers, whether we like it or not. Don't fight it.
Let white space be your friend.
Leave the jargon at the office. Keep the language easy to understand.
Give clear calls to action (telling people what you want them to do), and make it easy for them to do it.
Make it about the reader as well as your organization. Make the content relatable, and let them feel a part of your work.
Go back to your brand standards. All your fonts and photos should match your brand, or be extremely complementary if, for example, you have a really uncommon font. But make sure everything looks like goes together—and matches your brand. Watch out for sizes, spacing, and keep those headers in check, too. Tip: Look at it like a blog post. Get all matchy, matchy.
If you think that you do want to include graphics, but aren't good at design, have a graphic designer create templates that you can use over and over, just replacing text and photos as needed. This is what I did.
I had my designers create a standard template for my monthly newsletter, a couple variations for different categories of opt-ins, and a really generic one for simple announcements. Now, anytime I need to create a new email blast, I just choose the right template and switch out the info and graphics—presto! Now, I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. (Hint: This also makes coming up with your content easier because you know what "boxes" to fill in!)
Your formatting is just as valuable as your content, so don't skip this step.
WHEN SHOULD YOU EMAIL YOUR LIST?
As with pretty much everything else, there are no concrete, black and white answers. Sometimes that's a good thing because you may feel bad that you can't keep up with "standards." However, sometimes that's bad because you don't have a guaranteed blueprint to follow for success. What works for some may not work for others.
But, here's what I tell my clients: I'd like you to email your list at least monthly. I guarantee you've got something to share each and every month. If you can email more frequently with smaller updates throughout the month, do it! But if you wait more than a month, you risk being forgotten.
Remember, we're all out of sight, out of mind creatures. So, if you aren't talking to your list, you'd better believe someone else is!
I'd also like you to figure out a consistency or frequency that you can stick to. This is an effort to make sure it happens, and also helps people expect when to hear from you. Both are uber important.
For example, in an ideal world, I'd email my list a couple of times per month with small updates and information that will be helpful to them. But as a solopreneur, I've got a lot on my plate. So, for now, Special Features goes out once per month. Specifically, the first Thursday of the month. I even have a reminder in Asana to help keep me on task. One particularly busy month, I worked late and finally hit send about 10:00 p.m., because come h*ll or high water, that thing was going out on the first Thursday of the month! It's a promise I made to myself and my tribe.
Others I know send emails every Friday, or every other Wednesday. So, make the decision of when you're going press the magic button, and commit to it.
THE NUMBER ONE EMAIL MARKETING MISTAKE
One of the biggest problems in not emailing your list very often is that you only tend to email them when you need something. This is a big no, no.
It takes time to build the "know, like, and trust" factor with your audience. This is what leads them to action.
Like real life, this is a relationship to be nurtured. So, how would you like it if you had a friend that only talked to you when they wanted you to buy something or donate to their cause? Ewwww. I imagine they'd move off your friend list pretty quickly!
Yet, this is what I see nonprofits and social enterprises doing again and again. They get busy, and only email their fans and followers when it's convenient for them. As a result, donations flounder and sales fumble.
The result? Organizations are left thinking email marketing doesn't work. So, once again, they put it off.
But the lesson should be to change the strategy. Begin working on the relationship with your audience regularly and gradually, rather than using it part of the backup plan.
EMAIL MARKETING AS A STRATEGY
Here are Signify, we're big on strategy. Yes, it's good to be sending those emails, writing those blog posts, and connecting on social media, but it becomes much more effective when there's a strategy behind it.
Other than, "because I have to," WHY are you sending the email?
Do you need to sell a product, drive donations, announce a new program, or promote an event? All of these are pretty big "asks" and will usually require more than one email. A series of emails primes them to take action. This gives them all the information or motivation they need to make the decision. And this requires planning. You'll need to figure out ahead of time what what to say and when to say it.
Often, once you lay out on a calendar or spreadsheet all the things you absolutely need to say in a year, you'll see how fast space actually fills up. Then you can plug in other types of emails such as the above examples.
Of course, the unexpected will come up, and that's fine! Nothing wrong with a special announcement now and again.
If you find it overwhelming to think about a year's worth of emails, start with six months, or a quarter, or heck, even a month. But it's time to get intentional. Email marketing is too important to ignore or leave to chance.
What questions do you have?
Read the other posts in this series:
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.