POST HASTE: Tips for Writing Effective Marketing Emails

577377091_e541a6f180So, you’ve set-up your email list and you’ve got some people to sign-up… so what now?

There’s a range of things that you can do to increase the chances of engaging with the most amount of people.

So, here’s a run through of things.

This list is for the helpful email newsletter or regular email that people have opted in for. It’s not for unhelpful spam, okay?

Consider your variables.

These are the things you can change around and adjust to see what works best. Adjusting one can have a big impact.

Subject line: That’s the line that accompanies your email. You’ll need to think of something interesting and eye catching that entices an open. Avoid ‘Weekly email vol 1.’ It has all the allure of a soggy novel. Vary it.

Timing: Think about what time you’ll send it. When would it get most attention? Would people be busy with their own jobs mid-morning and straight after lunch to spare time? Often, using an email provider you can pre-schedule a time to send your email out. Fridays and Monday are often bad days to send out an email. You get lots more out-of-offices on those days.

Pictures: Think about whether an image would work. But remember, that these can’t always be opened and big email lists rarely use them.

Merge tags: This is a way you can open up your email with a personal address to your audience. So, it’s ‘Dear Dan’ if it’s to Dan and ‘Dear Vera’ if it’s to Vera. You’ll need to have uploaded your list as a spreadsheet or similar format so the database knows to pull out the right first name.

Start the email: Tell them the reason you are emailing. They may have signed-up to the museum events list, for example, and you are letting them know of the summer events.

Links: Chances are you’ll want people to click through to a webpage. Pay close attention to the number of links you have and see how they perform. The first link tends to be the one with most click throughs. Don’t over stuff it. You can see what content works best by checking to see who opens what.

A call to action: Round-off with a call to action. This is the thing you’d like people to do. For instance, ‘click the link’, ‘donate’ or ‘buy one for your holidays’.

Sign off as a real person: People prefer talking to people. So sign off as one. When Barack Obama first won the election he didn’t sign all his campaign emails. Why? Because people cottoned onto the fact that he would be too busy. So, the regional organiser John Smith or someone else was fine.

Make sure you experiment endlessly. Your audience is pretty unique to you and the only way you’ll find out what works is by experimenting with your variables. You’ll see what works through studying your analytics.

Other top tips

Use a mobile-compatible template: Most email providers will shape your email and give you a template. There’s often a range. Try and start with the simplest one and one that will open on a mobile phone.

Add an address and an unsubscribe button: By law, you need to do this, so add one.

Sign-up: Follow political parties from the UK and the USA and online retailers. You’ll get a free education in how to write engaging emails. Pick the ideas that feel right from the look and feel.

Relevant content: It goes without saying that the content you provide will make or break your email list. Sending beef recipes to a vegetarian cookery list won’t work.

Style: Be light and engaging if you can. You’re asking people to sign-up and be signposted. Don’t make it a chore.

Test it: Before you send your email, test it. Most email providers allow you to send a test email first. This will allow you to check the links you’ve embedded as well as allow you to review your content. Don’t ever send it blind. Send it to a colleague to get their feedback. When you do send it, try and look at it on a mobile phone. Ofcom in 2015 says that 66 per cent of people have a smartphone and it’s where they check their emails.

Evaluate, evaluate and evaluate: When you’ve sent an email wait a few days and go back and see what worked and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to send out test emails to small groups to see what the stats say works before you send the bulk list.

This post is part of the LGA’s email best practice guidance that you can read here.

Picture credit: Emilano / Flickr:


PUBLIC HOPE: ‘People aren’t as bad as the Daily Mail would like you to think.’

A while back someone told me that people aren’t as bad as the Daily Mail would like you to think.

Twice this weekend the social web confirmed this.

First, a stabbing in London. A man is wrestled to the floor. His attacker claiming that this was for Syria.

‘You ain’t no Muslim, bruv.’ shouted a bystander. It becomes a hashtag.

It’s an instant London response that ordinary people can lend their voice to.

Second, in Cumbria flooding.

My 76-year-old Dad is from Keswick and is adamant he’s driving his Volvo up there because he’s got it in his diary. As a kid his home in High Hill flooded more than once when the Greta burst its banks.

We used Environment Agency flood warnings on their website and footage and pictures posted to Twitter to talk him out of it.

Elsewhere on Facebook, a friend spoke proudly of his sister who works in the public sector in Cumbria.

My sister was called out to man a reception centre. She was picked up at 11pm by mountain rescue. She had to walk through sewerage to get there. They got stranded in the cold and wet. She had to get showered when she got there. She doesn’t know when she’s there until nor what she will be doing. But she’s done it, without moaning. And is a bloody star.

A stabbing in London and burst rivers in the Lake District. What was the common link between the two?

In both, the public sector raced to the danger.

Police, local government, fire and ambulance headed to the trouble and communicated in realtime.

I tried and tried but I couldn’t see one single one of those who snipe at the public sector wrestle the knifeman to the ground or fill a sandbag.

If you are public sector, be very proud.

If you are not, just know that they are not as bad as the Daily Mail would like you to think and one day you’ll need their help.


DIGITAL DAY: 12 things to make your #ourday or #housingday go well

snippoSo, there we were 10 minutes before 6am at the start of #walsall24 and still not sure if it would work.

What was this? We were using Twitter to tell people a snapshot of all the things our council did in real-time over the course of 24-hours from a pothole on the A41 to a Zumba class. Nothing would be too small.

We’d got some content lined-up. Lists of scheduled work from road engineers, leisure centre programmes and had someone stationed in the social care contact centre in the small hours.

Would it work? We checked our first potential tweet and knew that it would… it was environmental health officers investigating a noisy cockerel in a built-up area. Wow. I didn’t know we did that.

From there, we took part in the first Local Government Association #ourday and hosted the first discussion of a #housingday for housing.

We’ve learned things since and from this experience here’s 12 things to help shape your day.

Routine is interesting. From the jet pilot to the parking officer, everyone thinks their job is boring and no interest to anyone else. It always fascinates other people. Find the routine and share that.

Realtime is interesting. One of the strengths of Twitter is the realtime aspect of things whether they be football results or road closures. Tell people as you do it.

Pictures work and video works better. Words of text don’t leap off the screen like an image or footage. You have a smartphone in your pocket. Use it.

Share the sweets. Let other people from across the organisation tell their stories in realtime.

Tell stories. The boiler being installed in Brown Street, Oxdown is great. The boiler being installed for Jessie Timmins who has two children aged five and nine is greater.

Get people to do something. Stories of what librarians are doing are fine. Asking people to sign-up to join the library or to take out a book is better.

Shout wider… the world is not on Twitter. So embed the content on your website, use something like storify to capture your tweets  and embed it on the relevant webpage.

Shout wider… and use other platforms. There’s this amazing website called Facebook that’s doing quite well. Whats App or Snapchat too. Experiment. Don’t stand still.

Shout wider… internally. By screenshot, email, poster or telephone call. The telling of the story shouldn’t be limited to just online. Take it offline too.

Best content comes from outside the office. Encourage those people who are out and about to use social media and in places where they don’t or wouldn’t shadow them for a while. If the street cleaner clears up rubbish in an empty street at 6.12am… does she?

Use the main account as Match of the Day highlights… and use others. This is where the wider network of linked social accounts works. Let the library talk on the library, the repairs team on theirs. Use the central one to collate and share.

Build a community from it. Update your A-Z list of council accounts.  Bring the people connected to them together. What worked well? What didn’t work well? Meet in a café at 4pm where they serve coffee and cake. Do it regularly.

VR: Virtual Reality Video: Has a Powerful New Film Just Pushed Into the Mainstream?

18634310535_db6056ce14It’s difficult to talk about virtual reality without sounding like I did when I was a kid the first time I watched a colour telly during the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

It was round at a friend’s house during a birthday party and athletes from Europe and Africa in multi-coloured vests were sprinting around a burnt red track.

“It looked so colourful,” I remember telling my Mum later. “Can we have one?”

We had been without a telly for two years and the images soaked into my television-starved mind. It would be another two before we did.

So, to virtual reality – or VR. The technology isn’t new. It’s been around for several years but it’s starting to cut through to the mainstream. Steven Davies, who I’ve worked with in delivering video workshops gave me a spare pair of Google cardboard in the summer. This is a cardboard self-assembly kit that you fit your smartphone into before watching specially-shot 360 degree footage you can download from Google Play. He’s been experimenting with immersive video for years. I’m starting to think he’s onto something.

There are VR downloads out there on Google Play. There are some amazing downloads to watch. But the download this week that really stopped me in my tracks has been the New York Times footage of three different children caught up in three different wars with the same unsettling outcome. I recommend you download it. The are talking of it as a new form of storytelling. I think they are right. You can pick-up Google cardboard online to watch the film in its full glory. But you can also watch it in smartphone setting.

Sending people to a warzone

Foreign news used to be a journalist being sent off to war zones to file a story through a distant telex machine. Photographers would try to capture an iconic image. Several days later you’d glance at it while eating your cornflakes. You may even read it. Then rolling news CNN-style pushed the boundary again bringing war zones into your living room. The New York Times VR download has changed that. It has taken you into the warzone itself.

Sending you to the warzone

The New York Times download is an ambitious 10-minute film that cuts between three stories of two boys and a girl. There is no commentary. There is no editorial. There is just you. There is the child, their words and there is a bed of music.

With VR you can look up, look down and look all around you. The film starts with you standing in a shattered room. You look down. You see shattered furniture, mess and torn books. Your eyes and your mind compute to tell you that you are in the room. You hear the scratching of chalk on a blackboard behind you. You turn around look up and you see a small boy with his back to you reaching up to write on the blackboard. You can’t believe a boy is standing in such a damaged room. It is eerily wrong.

This is Oleg from the Ukraine.

His words as a voiceover tell you his story. You read isolated sentences of his story that float in the air. He tells you he used to dream with his friends of planting a bomb in his school but he doesn’t now. When the war started he fled with his family, says. He tells you he returned to find his grandfather dead in the garden. He had died several months before and had lain unburied.

Then you are in a canoe with a boy on his own.  This is Chuol. You are in South Sudan. He had fled for the swamps with his grandmother but had lost his mother. He stands in front of you his eyes burning with pain and you look away. You look back and he is still there before you. You see a boy who life is kicking whose joy has gone.

You hear the story of Syrian girl Hana too. She gets up with her family at 4am to pick cucumbers.

VR: the verdict from my family

You’ve heard stories like these before many times. But it’s unsettling to see them through VR with them standing in front of you.

I showed the film to my own seven-year-old daughter and watched carefully. She looked filled with concern for the children she saw in front of her and she watched quietly. Afterwards, we talked about how lucky we are to live in a country where we didn’t have war.

I showed the film to my wife. It didn’t have the immediacy of livestreaming, she said. It felt like a film too. She didn’t move around to explore the 360-degree nature. She just focussed on the child. But it reached out in a way that other journalism doesn’t, she said.

VR as mainstream?

“We hope people see this as the moment when VR went mainstream,” New York Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein told Neiman Lab. “Not when the early adopters, gamers and people who already know got it but when those without exposure to it realised what this new medium can do.”

You can download ‘The Displaced’ here.

Picture credit:

SOCIAL CHRISTMAS: Failing to Avoid the New John Lewis TV Advert… And What It Means for Comms

jlewisWell, I wasn’t going to. And I didn’t seek it out but the new John Lewis TV ad gives a perfect lesson for where comms is right now.

You may know it. It’s a two minute film of a little girl spotting the man on the moon looking sad and sending him a present to cheer him up at Christmas time. An old Oasis b-side has been re-recorded for the music.

Not watching much television I wasn’t aware of it. But of course, I remember the penguin TV ad from last year. But I didn’t have to watch TV to find out about the new TV ad. It was being discussed on BBC Radio 5 on the way home and all over Twitter.

But the thing is you don’t have to wait until the ad break of Coronation Street to see it. It’s on John Lewis’ Facebook (4.3 million views in 24-hours), John Lewis’ YouTube (6.1 million views in 24-hours) as well as the 743 entries on Google News . Twitter, as this Topsy 30-day search shows went wild.


Of course, there was also whole sub-genre of stories like the one about Oasis fans being angry at the song being re-recorded and the one about the Twitter user called John Lewis whose worst time of year has just started. Apparently, a bloke in America @johnlewis gets flooded with tweets and patiently tries to reply to them all.

But what does this mean for communications?

Video has never been more powerful. The two minute TV-ad moves the toughest cynic to tears. A little girl has reached out and melted the heart of a lonely old man. If you don’t cry tears watching it there’s genuinely something wrong with you.

But that power doesn’t have to be on TV anymore. It’s notable that the TV-ad was launched on YouTube first rather than on the television. That’s quite post-modern.

Social media fanning the flames is the vehicle for getting it seen. All the buzz, all the sharing and all the think pieces is driving the traffic relentlessly. Why pay for expensive TV slots when people can watch it in their Facebook stream? There were 81,000 shares in 24-hours.

It was uploaded to Facebook direct AND YouTube. There’s an epic battle going on for the future of the web between Google and Mark Zuckerberg. As tech improves and allows people to have phones that can stream video content like John Lewis’ ad can reach people.

Traditional media still plays a role. It may be online as well as in print but the news media retain a footprint in where and how we are consuming content.

Dan Slee is director and co-creator of comms2point0. He co-delivers an Essential Video Skills for Comms workshop in London on November 26. More here.

MIXED COMMS: Comms Teams Need Generalists and Specialist-Generalists

14194628730_1b983ee393_bThere was a great Twitter chat about the ideal comms team and what it looks like via comms2point0.

Almost 80 people took part and props to Ben Capper and Darren Caveney for navigating the discussion.

There was some really good points and you can find a storify here and some conclusions from Ben too.

One post from Simon Hope really caught my eye. Is the comms specialist dead? he asks. Do we need to be generalists? You can read it here.

He makes the point that most people join a team with a specialism whether that’s marketing, media relations or social media. However, thinning teams means that people have to turn their hands at a whole range of different things.

But what skills does a comms team need? I’ve blogged about the 40 skills I think comms teams will need. I won’t repeat them here but they range from everything from writing a press release to using data.  Just looking at the broad spread of the list it’s apparent that not everyone is going to have all of them. You just can’t.

So, does that mean we should have specialists? Not really. I’ve long argued that we should share the digital sweets.

The aim to have generalists is a good one. But the reality is that some people will still specialise and actually, it’s right that there should be some space so flair should be encouraged.

Looking back, I worked in a team some of whose members in 2008 did not want to learn about social media at all. So, I was defacto spec ialist. I know of one comms person who was sidelined from making videos, crazily, because they were too good at them. The head of comms wanted to forcibly share the sweets. His colleagues didn’t want to learn new skills and the officer in frustration left.

You can aim to have generalists. But there needs to be some allowance to specialise because it’s going to happen anyway. So, a kind of generalist and specialist-generalist. What that will look like in your team is going to be different from another.

But what I believe you must have is a team that has set of core skills and attitudes:

  • you need to know traditional and digital and know when to best deploy them.
  • you need to know where the answers are if you don’t.
  • you need to know how networks work.
  • you need to embrace change.
  • you need to be able to experiment.
  • you need to collaborate.
  • you need to know what comms you are doing will change things for the better
  • you need to know how to measure the change for the better.
  • you need to ask ‘why?’ a lot, say ‘no’ too and be supported in that.

Sound straightforward? In theory it is. In practice, not so. Teams that find a way to do all that prosper and are valued. Teams that don’t wither on the vine.

VIDEO SKILLS: For video, is it Facebook or YouTube or both?

12965332783_46d685a137_zSo, where do you stand? Are you in the blue corner or the red?

There’s a punch-up going on between Facebook and YouTube and the winner gets the crown of King of Video.

When you consider that almost 70 per cent of the web is going to be video by 2017 that’s actually some crown to be fighting over.

If you are even half way interested in digital communications then it is something you need to know about. Why? Because making the right decision can make or break your video.

Technology has improved and smartphones have got more powerful. You can now watch – and shoot – video on an iphone or an android device. Facebook has encouraged people, brands and organisations to upload direct to it with the carrot of its audience.

Ofcom stats reveal that in the UK 66 per cent of adults have a smartphone in their pocket. Of these, 42 per cent watch short clips over 21 per cent TV shows. So, in short, we’re rather keen on snacking on video content.

The game significantly changed when Facebook as the world’s largest social media site has thrown its clout behind video. Inspired by a Harry Potter film they invented auto-opening videos as you scroll through your timeline. It’s also a path that Twitter have gone down with videos uploaded through

YouTube and those who have developed channels there have not reacted well to the challenge. One vlogger Hank Green accused Facebook of ‘lies, cheating and theft’ claiming it of being slow to take down pirated content and counting a view at just five seconds as opposed to 30 seconds on YouTube. As with anything with the social web, it’s hard to piece together exact stats.

Be the blue corner and the red corner 

For me, it’s less Facebook or YouTube but rather the both of them.

YouTube remains huge. It’s the second largest search engine in the world with three billion searches a month. So it makes sense to upload content there. But Facebook is also huge. In the UK more than 30 million people have accounts and globally, it’s now running at four billion video views a month.

Erin Griffith in her ‘Fortune’ piece ‘How Facebook’s Video Traffic Explosion is Shaking Up the advertising world’ runs through the scientific arguments. You should read it. Facebook has become a place where its worth uploading video directly, she says. In February 2015, 70 per cent of uploads were direct to Facebook – almost three times the number within 12-months.

Why? Griffin says that video is a way to breathe life into your Facebook page. The secretive Facebook algorithm, she says, will show around four per cent of followers your text update, 14 per cent your picture and up to 35 per cent your video. So, video it is.

A thousand different versions of the same video

But armed with Facebook’s pile of user data is where it can get really interesting. The story of car maker Lexus making1,000 different versions of the same content and used Facebook’s demographics to distribute them is mind-blowing. So a male tech-loving car enthusiast saw a different version to the female from Chicago who loves travel.

Anecdotally, Facebook video outscores YouTube for views. In my own stream, a highlights video released when England cricketer Jimmy Anderson became leading wicket taker nets 47,000 on YouTube and 177,000 on Facebook, for example. Elsewhere, that broad trend is being talked about.

Facebook also does better than YouTube in keeping and holding the viewers’ attention. Almost 60 per cent will ‘complete’ a video. This is almost twice that of YouTube. However, videos posted to Facebook tend to be shorter at 44 seconds.

Facebook for trending and YouTube for the long haul 

If it’s trending then Facebook video stats do well. But as that fades the only place to find it and where search engines send you is YouTube. So for my  money, do both.

Brian Shin CEO Visible Measures describes it:

“If something is hot and of the moment, such as a newly released campaign, the Super Bowl, or even a cultural phenomenon like Fifty Shades of Grey, Facebook and similar social media sites are incredibly effective for driving the spread of timely content due to the trending nature of the newsfeed. But the strength of Facebook to promote trending content also highlights how powerful YouTube remains as a platform for continued viewership.

“If social media platforms like Facebook want to be longer term video alternatives to YouTube, they will need to amp up video discovery and search options within their sites. Because, at this point, the more removed something is from being ‘hot’ the more often YouTube is the only way to find the video.”

The clear trend is for video to be around and growing. Many comms teams have been caught out and are flat-footed by the gear shift. But video represents a brilliant way to engage with an audience via a Facebook page and via people who are happy to consume content on a smartphone.

Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.

Picture credit.

  • By public demand we’re running a new round of Essential Video Skills for Comms workshops with Steven Davies. We are in Cardiff on November 12, London on November 26 and Birmingham on January 28. For more information and to book click here. 


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