The phrase, "All politics is local" is a common phrase in politics, coined by former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill. The message is simple, a politician's success is directly tied to his ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents. The same is true for email. You have to target your email messages to the heart of what people care about. Make your message matter to them.
But how do you do that? Bob Ainsbury is Chief Operating Officer at GovDelivery. (By way of transparency: GovDelivery is the owner of GovLoop.) Ainsbury told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the way the government connects to the public is changing. And changing faster than it ever has before.
"The way government reaches out to the public is evolving, but the medium on which they reach out to citizens has remained fairly static for some time. The way governments are reaching out is starting to change because they are starting to learn how the effectiveness is working when they do reach out. There is more effort now in the industry to ensure that their communications are making a difference. We have gone from the send things out phase, to a get people responding phase," said Ainsbury.
What hasn’t changed?
"Email is a rock, email is the platform within which the core communication messaging is set. People forward emails. They might quote something on Twitter or social media, but at the heart, not only in the public sector, but across the universe, email is still the lion share of the mechanism to get digital communication out. That’s unwavering and there is evidence every month to support that," said Ainsbury.
Why is email the medium of choice?
"Email allows me to look at things at the time I want to look at them. Email allows me to filter things for relevance. I can calibrate my emails and I find it very easy to respond to them when I want to. Although email is parallel to the old physical world, it is so very much different from the physical world in that it really is a two way conversation. Although my Granny used to write me a letter everyday, I never wrote back. In the case of email it spurs both informational content and interaction," said Ainsbury.
What about social media?
"Social media is a very observational place, and a spot where people like to be controversial to generate interest, so other people observe them. A great quote from Sweden said, “We have 200,000 likes, and it has sponsored zero flu shots.” The whole point is “likes” don’t cause action. A Twitter posting doesn’t get someone to make a healthy meal for a child. Therefore we find social media to be more of an observational mode. It is a valid, relevant and important media, that we want to support, but it is in the context of an overall digital strategy," said Ainsbury.
How do you maximize your message?
Ainsbury said communication specialist need to:
- Understand their audience.
- Communicate things in an impactful way.
"We have this presentation that shows the day in the life of someone receiving email. You look at the email they have in your inbox by 10am. And you have to remember when you communicate by email, it is unlikely that the person is hanging around hoping that the email gets to them. They are scanning their email. You have to remember that the context is no longer this thoughtful live environment. You have to do things to generate interest," said Ainsbury.
Mobile is more than responsive design?
"We have worked with many organizations to help them drive mobile adoption. People looked at mobile as a responsive design problem. How do I take my email and make it readable? In fact, that is only 25% of the change. The rest of that change is making the information really clear (which is difficult)," said Ainsbury.
How to get the click:
- "If you have a link and you want people to click through to find more information, make that link a button. If you make it a button that will get clicked, if you make it a hyperlink in the small text, you might not get a click. In fact, we get double the clicks on response rates, double the action towards what people want to accomplish," said Ainsbury.
- "Segment your audience. The Centers for Disease Control for example has two very distinct audiences. One group contains, parents, families, schools and in the other has professional researches, nurses and doctors. The professionals may be interested in the morbidity report, but it is unlikely that the consumer audience has the same appetite for that. That is a stark example. Don’t think of the million people you have subscribed to your list. Think of the 100,000 that are interested in the fitness of health for families. Understanding that audience is the key to getting them information. Just the same way I don’t want to receive information from J.Crew on purses, because I am a guy and I don’t buy many. It seems simple, but it is a very important best practice," said Ainsbury.
Focus on the metrics:
"The best way to calibrate effectiveness and understand it is to look at the metrics and the data. We have spent quite a bit of time making sure there are metrics in the system to help people realize what has efficacy. No one wants to communicate if no one is reading it. It is not how many emails that got sent that matter, it is how many of those emails were responded to and acted upon," said Ainsbury.
- "How you can connect with more people and how you get those people to take action. The best practices work on both. Very rare in this world now, do people just expect you to read things. We expect people to take flu shots or move cars in a snow emergency. We expect people to attend events. So there are really clear and measurable ways you can look at to see if people took action. So combining the two, looking at how the audience gets grown, and how audience takes action is quite simply what we do."
"We send about six billion communications a year to 61 million unique people around the globe. That is well above a Nielsen sample. We have massive sampling of what is effective and what isn’t," said Ainsbury.
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