If you are like me, you sometimes feel like you spend more than half of your day reading and responding to e-mail. What was once an efficient way to deliver documents and respond to simple questions has become the primary way many people in business communicate today. Whether you like it or not, the volume of e-mail coming at you is not likely to decrease any time soon. Need more proof? According to the new 2011 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, more than 90 percent of associations are communicating with members more frequently than they did as recently as three years ago, including 51.2 percent who indicated they are communicating “much more frequently.”
As an association, one of your primary goals is to communicate with your members about industry and legislative issues. By far, the most timely, efficient and cost-effective way to do this is through e-mail communication. An argument could be made that face-to-face communication provides for a much better level of understanding, and that would be fair. However, it isn’t realistic for all types of information or for all of your members.
In our recent survey, more association executives ranked e-newsletters as “extremely valuable” than any other communication vehicle in their arsenal, other than the member magazine. Taken as a whole with all comments factored in, e-newsletters had the most favorable rating.
A question I am asked a lot is: “How often should we send out e-mail communications to our members?” Too much and the user will feel overwhelmed. Too little and you will not have fully delivered on your charter to keep them informed.
To answer this, you should separate your e-mail communication efforts into three buckets:
- Industry/legislative news
- Association news
Industry and legislative news is essentially “current awareness,” and this topic ranked highest in terms of importance by our nearly 700 survey respondents. According to our data, the frequency of these communications is typically weekly or bi-weekly, although some industries may support daily updates. Most people I have surveyed feel that in most markets, daily e-mails can feel overwhelming and they would rather have a weekly wrap-up. An exception would be if there was a major legislative or industry story that broke mid-week. Those should be sent immediately. These “current awareness” products typically have a slightly lower open rate and are quickly being supplanted by RSS feeds and other pre-set search tools such as Google News.
Association news, which also ranked in the top five categories in terms of perceived importance to members, is generally less time-sensitive but from your perspective should garner more attention. This is where you really must reinforce your value proposition by providing unique, original information and insight. Association e-newsletters typically have the highest open rates if sent once or twice or month. Anything more frequent than that and open rates tend to decline.
Finally, there are e-mails used for marketing or promotional purposes. Promotions for conferences, webinars, books, etc. are very efficient ways to drive sales. However, you must keep in mind the total volume of communications members are receiving so that marketing emails retain their effectiveness. I recommend that you do no more than one of these each week because our research has shown these to rank much lower in importance than the other topics I’ve mentioned.
Our research found the majority of associations are not doing as well as they could when it comes to letting members opt-in or out of specific communications from them. Most are not adhering to their recency/frequency rules—if they have them at all—and many more are not customizing their communications for individual SIGs or segments of their membership (see related story by Hank Berkowitz).
Taken as a whole, you should not send your members e-mail communications more than two times in any week, and one time per week would likely be even more effective. Conversely, if you aren’t sending them something at least once per month, you probably are not engaging them as fully as you could. The key, of course, is to provide valuable content that your members look forward to receiving. Invest staff time and effort in this and the reward will be great.
Marcus Underwood is Vice President and General Manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.