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March 18 2012

Achieving Engagement Goals with Email Automation

Learn some techniques and theory for how to harness email automation to help you achieve your engagement goals.

You know you've heard the rhetoric before: right message, right time. It turns out that it can be a lot of work figuring out when, what and to whom to send the right follow up email after that supporter has taken an engagement action (i.e. donation, contact a representative or even just signing up for your newsletter.) If you've struggled with this before or simply want to take your email messaging to the next level it might be time to think about using automation.

So what is email automation?

Automation covers a wide spectrum of possible activities. Everything from a simple thank you email after a donation all the way up to a multi-step drip campaign for your online action takers and beyond. The idea is that you have a pre-written email message (or messages) ready to deliver to your supporters after they have taken some sort of action. In practice it means leveraging the automation tools available in your mass email platform or in combination with your integrated database. Many vendors offer automation as part of their platform: SalesforceSilverpop, MakesBridge, PredictiveResponse and ExactTarget to name a few.

Why Automate?

Here at Groundwire, we believe in a pyramid of engagement which is a model for ranking the level of engagement you have with different segments of your supporters. Arguably one of the hardest segments to fill is the middle of the pyramid. Most organizations are good at list building and donation solicitation activities (the bottom of the pyramid) and close contact with their most valuable supporters (the top) but the middle is trickier. Read this blog post on Beefing-Up the Middle for more on why this is the case.
One of the main ways organizations struggle with moving supporters into deeper engagement is that they simply fail to contact them in a timely and compelling manner. Building your email list is fundamental but ultimately fruitless if you cannot keep the attention of those people who signed your petition or donated for the first time. Automation can help here. Let's look at some specific examples:
 
  • Your new members get a series of five emails, one per week, telling them about your program work
  • Automatically send a follow up email to those who did and did not open your email
  • Populate the content of your email dynamically based on where your supporters live, or their previous campaign engagement
  • Send a follow up email with more specific information on the action issues to those supporters who used your "contact your legislator" web form
  • Send a higher level call to action (such as asking someone to appear at a legislative hearing and testify) to those who have just moved into a higher engagement level in your pyramid
 
Also, for more information on how to track engagement with your supporters read our latest post on DIY Engagement Benchmarking.

Content Is Still King

It is important to remember in this discussion that it doesn't matter how sophisticated your automation mechanics are if your content is no good. Once you have a rough idea of what sort of automation you'd like to build, start writing the content. In fact it's much better to have fully realized content ready to plug in even before you have your system for delivering it built. Delivery is a technical problem and there are always solutions available to pull it off. However, no amount of time and money can solve a lack of compelling, actionable content for your supporters. Be sure to leave ample time and consider hiring a professional writer if you really want to excel.
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