1) Often organizations experience burnout not because of the frequency of communications, but because of the *quality* of them. Specifically, we still seem to be in a weird phase where the person most often authoring email communications is picked because they are either: a) The one who writes press releases and/or direct mail, and thus are the “stuff with words guy” or b) The one who knows how to code in Drupal, so they must be the “all things Interweb” guy.

What organizations need is someone who really knows how to design messages that are Internet friendly, and emotionally impactful enough to spur spreading. This sounds eminently logical, and in the category of “duh,” and yet… I challenge you to read through the emails of some of the largest orgs, political parties, presidential campaigns, etc., and ask yourself if they really are likely to be read AND spread.

2) The 117 rule: ask yourself HONESTLY this question – if the recipient had 117 other emails in his/her email box when yours one came in, would it one stick out? Would this one be the one that was read? Spread? If the answer is “no,” then go back and re-write, dammit!

It’s a high bar, I know, but… it never ceases to amaze me how many people will spend hours, days, or weeks agonizing over an in-person presentation to 100 people, and yet will spend very little time on an email to 100 THOUSAND people. (“…just cut and paste that press release, it’s been spell checked so it must be fine, yada, yada, yada…”).

3) Test for “read” and “spread” – specifically, I think most folks will assume that the metrics of success are open rates or click through rates, but… I’d strongly encourage you to look at viral passaround rates over time as the ultimate measure. Sure, it’s nice if they read, and nicer still if they click through, but if you’re sending messages to people with 1000s of addresses in their email books, and they’re not taking the time to forward – then you’re leaving potential supporters and donors on the table.

4) Personalize and customize: get as much data (actively AND passively provided) as possible from the supporters, and customize the outgoing messages accordingly. For example, if I got a message about “why global warming is really bad,” I probably wouldn’t read it, but if I got a message about ,”why global warming is really bad, and why it is 5 times as likely to cause spontaneous combustion among Slovak-Italians who went to school in New England and now live in DC,” well… yeah, I’d click through and read it for sure.

Obviously, you can drive yourself nuts taking this too far, and this takes time, but… even a small amount of customization and personalization based on issue affinity and demographics can make a big difference in whether the recipient deems your emails to be relevant, or irrelevant.

John Hlinko
Vice President, Marketing and Creative Engagement
Grassroots Enterprise