Project Wonderful

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Guest Post: Best Practices for an Email Program

My broworker, Matt Ingoglia, digital campaign guru and only person who feels my pain about DC pizza (awkward selfie of us above) answers your questions about running an effective email program for your campaign!

Question: How often should I email my list?
This is something I deal with every day, and the truth is there's no easy answer to that question. When it comes to political campaigns, however, I can give you two solid rules of thumb: avoid sending more than 2 blasts to your entire list per week, and don't email any supporter two days in a row. The only exceptions to that are if you're running some kind of push around your GOTV program, up against a reporting deadline, or trying to publicize some major news moment to your benefit. Otherwise, you would do well to avoid breaking either of those rules as they tend to drive the most unsubscribes.

A Tuesday/Thursday email schedule tends to yield the best returns for fundraising asks. People are usually swamped with tasks on Monday, and by Friday they're more likely to be checked out and not repeatedly checking emails. Emails that go out between 12 and 2 perform the strongest, particularly if your list is national in scope, as any earlier misses our West Coast supporters and too much later means folks aren't at work checking emails. We also tend to avoid weekend sends for the same reason – but have made exceptions in the event that a major deadline or event falls immediately before it. Every list is different though, so your mileage may vary.

Question: I am often not sure what to say. What are some ideas?
The most important thing to remember when putting together an email to your supporters is making sure the content is relevant to the audience you're messaging. In this case, people on your list have taken some kind of action – whether it was at an event, through your website, whatever – that essentially says "I want to be involved." Making sure every communication is done in a way that gives them a chance to continue helping you is paramount. That means knowing both the overall point of the email (Do you want them to sign a petition? Contribute? Watch a video or ad? Attend an event?) and being sure to make that intention clear in the text.

Some of the most popular pieces of content I see candidates share are stories of endorsements. This is a great way to show your viability as a candidate – and also serves to motivate your list with a "keep the momentum going" type of ask. Ditto for any time you get favorable news coverage, excel in a debate, or want to amplify an ad you've just cut. Your truly engaged supporters will love hearing about these events, and by virtue of reading about them, be more primed to take the next step and donate/volunteer.

The flip side of that is to never let an opponent's attack go to waste. It sounds cynical, but it works: if someone ever comes after you unfairly, it's time to let your list know about it. This is especially true if the issue relates to something generally seen as "off-limits" in a campaign – namely, family or personal life. Your supporters will likely feel the outrage too and send contributions your way – particularly if you frame it along the lines of "I need your help to fight back against these attacks." Opponents' attacks on your policy positions aren't as effective in this sense (and you don't always want to raise awareness of these to begin with), but ultimately those can be useful in terms of highlighting contrasts with them.

Lastly, make sure to take advantage of the calendar! You'll want to make sure to capitalize on events you can forecast – if there's an upcoming debate, for instance, be sure to capture video of it and share that with your list after the fact (again, making sure to always ask them for support in continuing your momentum). Same goes for the final days before a reporting deadline, as I discussed above, and primary day/election day. These are also good opportunities to have surrogates put their names on email for you - I've seen candidates enlist their dads to send emails on Father's Day, for example – or campaign staff sending "urgent updates" in the final days before the vote.

Question: We have a separate list of people we think might be moles, only a few. Should I send out an abridged version of the emails to them? Or do I just write the regular emails assuming anyone might see them?
If you suspect someone is on your list to keep an eye on you, especially an opponent, don't hesitate to delete them from your list. You don't need a reason to do this, and chances are they probably expect that you'll eventually do so. That said, you should always make sure any email you send is something you'd be comfortable with anyone reading – no matter how you segment your list.

The converse of that is you or someone on your team should definitely be following what your opponents do on email. If they go after you unfairly, you want to make sure you know about it.

Question: Is there a good software program that takes large lists, like Gmail or msn or yahoo etc?
I definitely recommend Salsa or MailChimp for smaller campaigns. Both will give you way more space than you'll likely need in terms of storing your list, and have good tools built in to allow you to segment your list into smaller subsets that you can then email separately. For example, you could use either one to single out major donors to your campaign, thanking them for their past support and encouraging them to step up again. In addition you can set these up to automatically import anyone who signs up through your site. Constant Contact should let you do this as well.You'll definitely want to use some email marketing platform though. Gmail or Yahoo place pretty strict limits on the number of people you can message at one time, whereas these do not.

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