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Make Your E-Newsletter a Member Must-Read

July 29, 2013

For most REALTOR® associations, the e-newsletter is the most important channel for reaching members proactively. Members who open and read your e-newsletters are more likely to take the class you offer, participate in your political efforts, share the market reports you generate, and attend your events.

Midsize to large associations have an average open rate of 32 to 36 percent and an average click rate of 21.08 percent, according to a recent study by Informz, an e-mail marketing solutions provider. If your numbers are lower—or if you don’t know what your rates are—take these specific steps to improve your e-newsletter.

Short, enticing, and truthful subject lines

Pique your members’ interest with creative, consistent, and truthful subject lines that allude to the content within.

Your weekly e-newsletter’s subject line should not be the same every time (Smithville Association of REALTORS® Weekly News). Make the subject line represent the most interesting piece of content of that specific newsletter for example, Smithville REALTORS®: Home Sales Dive. Have a consistent element in your subject line (i.e. Smithville REALTORS®:) to build familiarity along with a unique part (Home Sales Dive) to show that it’s a new edition. Note however that if your association is properly identified in the “from” field (i.e. from: Smithville REALTORS®, Smithville Association of REALTORS®, or Susan@SmithvilleRealtors.org) there’s no need to refer to your association in your subject line at all; for example: “Home Sales Dip: September News,” or “New Mobile App Class: Monday News.”

Just don’t get too carried away with the “enticing” part. “There is a fine line between creating an e-mail subject line that is creative versus one that is deceptive,” cautions Get Response Marketing’s blog writer, DJ Waldow. In a post entitled “Open This Email for Free Beer,” Waldow points out, “While both can lead to a subscriber opening your message, the latter is not only likely to create resentment, it’s also illegal [against the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003].”

When it comes to subject lines, shorter is always better. According to the Informz study, subject lines with fewer than 10 characters were opened the most. Short, clever subject lines are even more important today since a smartphone displays far fewer characters at a time than a computer.

Use a service, or end up in the spam folder

If you don’t want your content to end up in a spam folder, a professional e-mail service is essential. Choose from free services, such as MailChimp, or spring for the bells and whistles offered by Constant Contact or NAR’s Convio. Not only will a professional service ensure that your text and images are properly formatted for any device, it will provide statistics on delivery and open rates, enabling you to tweak your content for better results.

Some associations, such as the REALTORS® Association of the Palm Beaches, are integrating e-newsletter systems (in this case, HighRoad Solutions) into their RAMCO association management solution so that their communications are sent out with the most accurate and up-to-date information on members.

Click the headline, stay for the summary

The best-practice format for an e-newsletter item is a headline, a brief blurb (two or three sentences), and a link to “read more” information. Sure, it’s easier to just link readers to the original source from a headline, whether it’s REALTOR.org or USAToday.com, but once readers leave your e-newsletter, they are likely to stay wherever you’ve sent them. Instead, link visitors to a short summary on your Web site, with a link to the full article beneath it. This will make visitors more likely to notice your conference banner ad or the pop-up that reminds them about this month’s free technology class, for example. As always, when handling other people’s content, cite your sources and respect copyright laws. Don’t cut and paste an entire USA Today article onto your Web site without permission; just use your own words to summarize the relevant points and link at the bottom of your page to the original source.

Figure out what’s working; do more of it

Although Melissa Piccinich, the communication director at the Eastern Bergen County Board of REALTORS®, took pains to gather the most compelling national real estate news for her member e-newsletter, a look at what members were actually clicking on showed local news and tech tips were vastly more popular. “We restructured the weekly newsletter . . . and stopped encouraging the macro-level articles and starting promoting more local news, new buildings, property taxes, and the like,” says Piccinich.

Track results to target delivery

According to the Marketing Sherpa blog, “The 8 a.m. e-mail rush no longer works.” People’s e-mail habits are unique and in flux, so your e-newsletter strategies need to stay flexible. REALTORS®, naturally, have flexible schedules, so experiment with your delivery times and track your results. Although the Informz study shows that the time of day does not have a huge effect on open rates, e-mails sent in the late afternoon had slightly higher click rates.

Create and curate content

Coming up with interesting content is the eternal challenge. How do you balance association news, market news, and local news with your need to promote your own classes, events, legislative calls-to-action, and services?

For starters, consolidation is key. A well-organized, regular e-newsletter is more effective than multiple, random e-mails, as NAR learned when it consolidated dozens of e-newsletters into a more streamlined and less frequent format. On the other hand, many associations produce popular technology e-newsletters, separate from other association news.

Next, organize your content into labeled categories, such as “local news,” “technology tips,” “money savers,” “take political action,” “tips for your clients,” and so on. Ensure that you have at least one content item for each topic in every e-newsletter edition.

Get content ideas from your members via direct surveys or by providing an e-mail link in the newsletter for suggestions. Spend time monitoring what members are talking about via social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) for content ideas or establish a member content committee or workgroup. Remember, what you think is essential information for members may not necessarily be what they want to read from their association.

Stay out of the spam box

In addition to using a professional service to deliver your e-newsletter, watch the use of “red flag” words in subject lines and text, such as “sex,” “drugs,” “Viagra,” “for free,” and “no cost,” the latter two being the most likely culprits when it comes to association content. Unfortunately, there are many more words and phrases that block delivery, and the list grows longer every day. Check out one popular list.

Ultimately, the success of your e-newsletter depends on many factors. Keep content interesting and monitor click rates, and you’ll be able to optimize one of the most far-reaching and cost-effective ways to connect with your members.

Hilary Marsh is the chief content and digital strategist of Content Company. She can be reached at hilary@hilarymarsh.com.