A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Best Practices for Mass Emailing

Here at The Bivings Group, we’ve dealt with a myriad of requests for mass emailing services, tools and strategies to help our clients make the most of what is the most powerful weapon in online advocacy. Based on our research and testing, here are some best practice tips for making your email campaigns as effective as possible. Most of these items fit a general theme of narrowing the focus and increasing the personalization in email messaging.

Smaller targets

The smaller the target, the more successful the email open and click-through rate. Emails sent to specific states or even determined areas around specific cities get much more attention than those sent to the whole country. People are generally inclined to get personally involved in local issues rather than national campaigns.

Specific goals

Ask people to do one single, specific thing. Example: “Sign the petition to protect America’s indigenous forests.” When these requests are linked to a form where users could do exactly that, success rates are very high. General requests such as “Support the Environment” with a link to a main homepage result in less clicks and less direct action by email subscribers. Emails that link to multiple items or actions are less successful than those focused on promoting a single action.

Getting to the point

Keep it short and simple. Getting a subscriber to open an email is just the first step. You want them to read and understand your message. Put your message in plain, direct words at the very top. Use short, single sentence paragraphs whenever possible to make the email as easy as possible to get through.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Once your simple, direct message is at the very top of your email, repeat it throughout the body of the text. Two or three repetitions of the same call to action and link is not too much. Repetition is the best way to drive home a particular point. Repetition is the best way to drive home a particular point.

The visuals

To keep messages from looking like advertisements, it’s best to keep graphics and imaging to a minimum in general. Messages should not look dramatically different from the messages people receive from their friends and family. Some light branding images should be used in the header of the email and to emphasize the actions the email asks people to take. Keep in mind a large percentage of subscribers will only see a text version of the email or will choose not to enable graphics, so make sure all pertinent information in graphics is repeated in email body text.

Special requests

Timing is everything, even email. Give subscribers something to do, the reason to do it, the tools to get it done, but don’t forget to let them know they need to do it NOW. Emails sent surrounding current legislation or events in the news, letting subscribers know about upcoming events, or asking people to help celebrate important milestones, convey more urgency than emails unrelated to a timeline. Time-sensitive emails should be used sparingly, however, because the more you send, the less important they’ll seem.

.. add variation to an even tempo

A successful email effort has to find the right balance between being a consistent, reliable source of campaign news and flooding subscribers’ inboxes. Never let more than a few weeks pass between emails, and we should avoid sending more than two to three emails in a week unless we are in a period of intense activity. Keep in touch with subscribers without overloading them.

Twitter Suggestions for Your Company

THING While getting my much needed cup of coffee this morning, I overheard a lady behind me say something along the lines of, "What about this Twitter thing… how can we use it to market us?"

I didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation, as my focus was on coffee and waking up.  However, what was said struck a chord. Those of you who have been on twitter awhile, have noticed the influx of companies jumping on the bandwagon.  On my twitter profile the number of business accounts following me are starting to surpass actual people.

There are some fantastic examples of companies using Twitter to it’s full benefit.  However, many are not using it effectively. To be fair, they may not know how.

So, if your company is thinking about trying Twitter, here are some quick suggestions.

  • Don’t use Twitter as simply just another billboard to sell or promote you or your services.
  • Twitter is a digital handshake. The same principals and ethics the govern our offline relationships apply.
  • Do research. If you you are thinking of setting up a profile for your restaurant, what other restaurants are using Twitter? How are they using it? What are they doing that works? What isn’t working?
  • Target demographics do exist on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you should treat your followers as such. Treat people as people, not demographics.
  • Before you start "tweeting" consider searching keywords using tools like Twitter Search, and listen to what people in your target demographic are talking about.
  • Step out from behind the curtain. Do your best to be personable. Respond and talk with your followers.
  • If at all possible, avoid the auto Direct Message. Taking the time to say hello pays off.
  • Build your content bubble. There is a wealth of information available on just about every niche. If your business is about photography, share what others are saying. Talk about the history of photography. Highlight local photographers. The point is, just don’t talk about you.
  • Ultimately the goal of your twitter profile should be to help people.
  • I repeat – help. Don’t sell or market. Help. Doing this will build trust and value which in turn can lead to customers.

Hopefully this helps and get’s you started in a good direction.

What did I miss? What advice would you add to this list?

Manu Ginobili vs. Zappos.com

I was checking out my Facebook news feed today at lunch, and noticed two very different levels of reaction to status updates from two of the pages I am fans of.  One of the pages belongs to San Antonio Spurs basketball hero Manu Ginobili and the other is for online retailer Zappos.com.  As you can see below, Ginobili’s update quickly generated 61 likes and 39 comments, while the Zappos update only got two likes and comments.

Many Ginobili


















This despite the fact that Zappos has 16,745 fans as compared to Ginobili’s 11,663, and the fact that Ginobili’s update is in Spanish and probably can’t be read by many of his fans.  If you go through the fan pages of Ginobili and Zappos, you’ll see that Manu’s updates consistently produce significantly more activity than Zappos updates.  Why?

Manu is a living, breathing person, so his updates fit in seamlessly with the news feed items produced by my friends and family.  It is written in the first person, and publicizes an upcoming charity event he is putting on.  It is actually the kind of update I’ve seen my actual friends write.

Even though I have chosen to be a fan of Zappos, its updates feel a bit like advertising when I see them in my Facebook feed.  They seem out of place and I tune them out.  In Zappos’ case, I tune them out despite the fact the company is doing a great job of making their updates compelling and providing a behind the scenes look at their brand. 

As I’ve written before, Facebook is still primarily about friends.  In this example, Ginobili’s fan page looks and act a lot more like my friends do than Zappos does.  So it drives more activity, and Ginobili’s fans are more engaged with his page than fans of Zappos.  It will be interesting to see if this changes as Facebook continues to grow. 

Energy Advocates Voice Internet Mobilization Strategies in DC Roundtable

Energy advocates and online mobilization experts gathered at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington, DC, to talk about successes and challenges in gathering activists both on and offline.

Heather Lauer, director of online strategy for the Pickens Plan, talked about the process of gathering the Plan’s 1.5 million-plus participants and building a social network to connect members. (As the technical partner of the Pickens Plan, The Bivings Group has provided ongoing development and support on the Plan’s web communications network, including its primary site and its Ning-based social action network, Push.)

Other organizations, such as the Energy Action Coalition, built supporter bases through focusing on the goals of a particular voting group. The EAC spread its message among young people throughout college campuses and focused empowering the under-30 vote.

No matter the strategy, all members of the panel agreed on the importance of coming together in a combined effort to face energy challenges and the need to reach out to a growing base of supporters.

"We have a tremendous amount of education that needs to be done and we also have no time. This is not something that the good guys are going to win on the inside," said Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress.org.

In order to reach a broader base, Michael Silberman of 1sky.org emphasized 1Sky’s tactic of organizing community events around key issues, which can be effective both online and off. Silberman and his team worked with Greenpeace to organize rallies and push constituents to contact legislators during Congressional recesses.

While enticing audiences to participate in specific events can be a highly productive way of gaining new members, participants on the panel said it is not as effective as maintaining a long-term, sustained strategy of support.

“We’re relying on dedicated Moveon.org members to motivate other members,” said Michael Sherrard, who works on Moveon.org’s recent Power Up America campaign. “To make real progress is going to require a building crescendo of organizing.”

On top of organizational strategy, the panel discussed effective messaging methods of both within their supporter bases and with the public. Panel moderator and Associate Director for Online Advocacy Alan Rosenblatt recommended using a closed-audience SMS communicator to share messages within your group, and “leveraging Twitter makes that dynamic more public” if you are aiming for a broader audience.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund promotes regular InternetAdvocacy Roundtable discussions as part of its Wired for Progress program. Online attendees can watch live streams of discussions and submit questions online. A listing of past and upcoming Internet Advocacy Roundtables is available here.

Hospitals and the Social Web

While doing some research for a talk I gave a few weeks ago, I came across a fantastic blog called “Found in the Cache” that examines how hospitals are using the social web.  The blog’s author, Ed Bennett, is tracking which hospitals maintain their are own blogs and have launched presences on Twitter, YouTube and FacebookBelow are the pure numbers:

  • 206 unique hospitals total have some sort of social web presences (one of the items below)
  • 124 have YouTube channels
  • 117 have Twitter Accounts
  • 82  have Facebook pages
  • 22 maintain official Blogs

While Bennett does not claim to have searched for presences for every single hospital (or hospital system) in the United States, to put this number in context there are an estimated 5,000 community hospitals in the U.S.  You can view the raw data of Bennett’s findings here.

Interestingly, Bennett has found that Twitter use by hospitals is growing rapidly, and that it will soon be the most popular social tool for hospitals.  The chart below shows the Twitter growth trend as compared to YouTube.


You can view a list of the most popular hospitals on Twitter here.

In reviewing the actual presences the hospitals created, I found the quality of the accounts to be all over the place.  Some truly great work is being done, such as the Twitter account of Henry Ford Health System, which recently got some press for live tweeting during a brain operation.  Other accounts were clearly experiments, with little activity and interaction.   We’re at the beginning of a trend here, with the hospitals using these tools blazing the trail and establishing best practices for others to follow in the years ahead.

I’m going to keep reading Bennett’s blog, as I think the social web has great potential to help hospitals deepen their relationships with the community’s they serve.