What’s In and What’s Out with Email Subscriptions

If you’re on a mission to grow your subscriber base – and many in government are – this is the post for you!   Recently, ReturnPath published a report showing trends that may help you avoid some subscriber list pitfalls. These trends were culled from private sector email marketing, and with as much as you need to do on a daily basis, it can be hard to keep up with your day-to-day responsibilities and private sector trends. So, we’ve culled a few important trends to note and provided some public sector insight that can help you make these trends works for you.

Personal Information Requests and Subscription Confirmations Are Down

ReturnPath looked at email trends in 2008 and then again in 2013. In 2008, ReturnPath employees signed up for subscriptions to 61 brands, and then later unsubscribed. Initially, nearly half of the brands asked for postal addresses and additional information from subscribers. Today, one-third of the same brands ask for an email address only. For those asking for additional information, they’re pretty happy with a name and zip code.

checkSimilarly, today fewer brands are asking the person signing up to confirm their subscription, also known as a double opt-in, which was more of a standard practice in 2008.

For many government organizations that gather email addresses from stakeholders, asking only for an email address or wireless number for SMS/text alerts is completely in line with how the private sector is handling subscriptions.

Going a step further and asking for a zip code or name allows you to personalize and geo-target your messages. If you do ask for more information, whether that’s a zip code or name or something else, make sure that it’s an optional request. The key is to not bombard someone with a multitude of questions, as they will be much more likely to abandon the process.

Welcome Messages Increase; First Message Delivered in One Week Ideal

Another area that has seen a lot of change in the past five years is the welcome message.  Today, 80% of brands (up 40% since 2008) send a welcome message after a subscriber hits submit, and the vast majority of welcome messages are sent within two or three days.

ReturnPath also reported seeing a new trend in “first message” confirmations or receipts. Today, once a subscriber signs up to an email list, most marketers send their first message within a week, which tends to cut down on spam complaints, while those who wait two weeks to send the first message get more complaints.

For public sector organizations, the welcome message and first message trends show people who subscribe to receive email or SMS updates from your organization want to receive information quickly. You should provide a triggered welcome message as soon as a new subscriber signs up, thanking them for providing their email address.

Then make sure that you send them a message that’s relevant to their interests a week after they signed up. Brands that made a special offer in their first message outperformed their peers, so consider the content of your first message. Try offering an action for your subscriber to take (for example, to register for an event or to learn more about programs or initiatives that are going on within your organization), or using this initial opportunity to highlight your top content.

Increased Frequency

trendOne thing marketers spend considerable time thinking about is the frequency of message delivery. While you might think you’re bombarding subscribers with messages too often, ReturnPath found that  those organizations who sent messages more than once a week had  20 percent lower spam rates  than those who sent messages just once a week.

Additionally, private sector companies that sent messages less than weekly had lower open rates.   Another practice that private sector companies used was simply to ask subscribers to add the brand or company to a whitelist or safe sender list. This also led to higher open rates.

For government organizations, if you offer email updates on a specific topic, be sure to send messages on that topic or similar topics at least weekly. Your digital communications platform should also offer the ability to send digests of content on a daily or weekly basis.

Surprisingly, in the unsubscribe arena, it was slightly less easy to opt out of email five years ago than today, but today, the number of brands that take subscribers off their lists within the 10-day limit has grown to nearly 95 percent from 89 percent in 2008.

Here, too, government organizations should always offer a way for stakeholders to unsubscribe. Best practices show that having a standard footer with an “Unsubscribe” link is critical. Also, allowing stakeholders to visit a page that gives them control of unsubscribing to specific topics versus your entire organization’s list gives your audience the power to continue receiving information based on their needs. For instance, if your organization helps small businesses, you should offer multiple topics that may be of interest to various business owners. But if someone is starting a business, he or she needs specific information; once the business is started, that business owner is going to need different information. Giving the owner the option to unsubscribe from one list about starting a business and offering him/her the option to subscribe to another list on managing a small business allows you to continue building your relationship with that stakeholder.

Not all private sector email marketing trends are relevant for public sector communications, but it’s important to have an idea of what’s going on in that market because citizens and stakeholders have come to expect the same kind of speed and digital agility across the board. How are you using subscriber lists and/or implementing digital communications in your organization? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

« - previous | next -