The Clash were known as a band who loved their audience. They also demanded control over their music. They learned that corporations control communication between band and audience. This was the 1970s, long before social media. But their experience offers insights into how organizations control (or don’t) their communications.
What do you control, really?
The story goes that the Clash wrote their 1977 punk anthem Complete Control in response to their label, CBS Records, releasing the earlier song Remote Control as a single without the band’s permission. Complete Control pokes CBS Records, and capitalist culture, in the eye for mucking up the art and content that makes it rich.
We won’t know but I suspect Joe, Mick and the gang wouldn’t have been keen on corporate social media (or Substack for that matter), an enterprise that doesn’t just rely on your content but controls the ways in which it’s formatted, distributed and archived.
Last time out I shared some ways organizations should be thinking about community engagement as Twitter falls apart. Other social networks face challenges that may not be (or could be) existential but should have us questioning their future and our use of them.
This isn’t a cry to get off social media, a suggestion to double down on LinkedIn or a plea to build an audience on Mastodon, Post or other social networks.
But I do want to make the case for knowing the difference between communications and community channels you control versus those that control your organization and its assets.
- Do you know when, where, and why your content will be seen by your followers?
- Is your content removed or otherwise censored?
- Are your photos, videos and even words in your control?
- Do you have complete access to the data you’re generating?
- Do you control design and content functionality?
You organization can control its email channel. Sure, companies like Mailchimp or EveryAction or Engaging Networks host your content, manage your data and can be bought, sold or shut down. But you have a contract with them. You own the data. You can see the metrics. The company’s product road map should be transparent.
Using email like the Clash
Here are a few ideas for maximizing and testing email lists. With inspiration a certain late-70s English punk band. I mean, if the Clash had an email list I’d subscribe.
Complete Control speaks to welcoming and appreciating your community:
On the last tour my mates they couldn’t get inCOmplete COntrol, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
I’d open up the back door but they’d get run out again
And at every hotel we was a’met by the law
Come for the party, come to make sure
The Clash were known for giving away tickets, opening venue windows to let people into the show and bringing large groups of friends and fans on tour with them.
The welcome message is the first step to building community and long lasting relationships. It begins to turn content into experience.
Optimize for welcome message engagement. This means:
- Be ruthless about getting welcome messages into the inbox.
- Track and optimize welcome message deliverability rates.
- Test welcome message subject lines. Again and again.
- You want everyone to click inside the welcome message. Test actions, donations, forms, anything that tells email providers that your welcome message isn’t spam and, better yet, should get into the primary inbox.
- Encourage people to reply. Ask questions. Solicit feedback and ideas. Email replies increase the odds your email address will be added to contacts and avoid promotions or updates folders.
- Test simply formatted or even plain text welcome messages. HTML emails with photos, fonts and colors may not cause deliverability problems but poorly formatted HTML emails can almost guarantee a trip to the spam folder.
The goal of the welcome message isn’t branding. It’s not even fundraising. It’s about getting new subscribers to engage so that future emails are more likely to be opened, read and clicked on. Raising your welcome message click rates can improve deliverability, actions, fundraising and more.
Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to bring people into the community.
Simple can be powerful
The Clash proved that you don’t have to be pretty or even a trained musician to be (arguably) the biggest band in the world.
It’s possible that logos, photos and big headings are getting in the way of your story. Test simple layouts and plainer text. A simple structure may help the calls to action stand out.
Big logos, branding and headlines can also push a call to action “below the fold” of an email. You’ll lose a reader if they can’t get into the story or discern what you want.
A band can practice but the payoff happens when followers listen. You can’t excited the crowd and build community if you don’t show up.
Deliverability is the email equivalent of a memorable live event. Prioritize deliverability.
- Hire, train and support a deliverability role on your team. Give that person power to influence segmentation, testing and product decisions. You can outsource deliverability skills, too, but be sure deliverability guidance and rules have a way to seep into your communications culture.
- Use segmentation to improve deliverability. If your newsletter goes to a million plus folks send it first to the most engaged. Check the deliverability rate. Then send to the next engaged segment and so on. You’ll learn when/where deliverability issues arise and can improve deliverability rates and domain reputation.
- Clean the list of unengaged subscribers using re-engagement campaigns for people who haven’t responded in 4, 6, or 9 months. Also monitor cadence and frequency. It’s possible to send too often, too little or too inconsistently.
People support people, not organizations. Share stories about doing the, people involved and communities affected, and how activism, fundraising and support changes lives.
- Introduce a staff member, a supporter, a person/family impacted by your work.
- People’s presence in a story should help them tell their story, not just the organization’s story.
- Send emails from people, not just the organization.
Mother Jones found success with longer fundraising emails. You may not. But you may want to give it a shot with at least a segment of your audience.
Think about telling full stories with context and connection to theories of change. Look at the email as a landing page with multiple multiple calls to action and hooks. Draw people in, don’t just scare them to action. Connect on values. Share a story. Make a pitch. Deepen the story. Make another pitch.
On the other hand, a one paragraph or two line email can sometimes say everything that needs to be said. Especially when the need is obvious.
Give people something they can use
Almost every group has a newsletter. Every group sends action alerts and fundraising appeals to every subscriber or various segments built on factors like interest, location, and engagement frequency.
This typical approach can fall short in a few ways:
- It doesn’t leave much space to deliver content that’s actually useful (or interesting, to be honest) to your supporters.
- You’re mostly asking for things – money, action, time – not offering support to people.
- It doesn’t view email and its content as a way to engage and reach new people.
Think about short-term emails that train people on skills needed to be activists, volunteers, successful donors or something else connected to your mission. Are you protecting wildlands? Do an email series on plant identification. Talk about how tree species and how to recognize healthy trees versus those weakened by climate change.
Alternate forms of email can deepen knowledge, give supporters content to share, and offer ways in for new people.
You’re sitting on mountains of knowledge – share it
Every band needs guest artists and greatest hits albums.
Your website is full of articles, blog posts, case studies and reports that, to be honest, probably aren’t doing much good once they’re more than a couple months old. You can post links to these on social media forever, of course. But consider integrating them into a new limited series email that dives deep on a particular subject.
Your staff and other supporters can also share their experience in an email series. They could host/send the series described above or even offer content for a new series. Consider having a comms person or freelancer interview the staffer and write content for the series.
This kind of content can also help generate podcasts, video series, photo essays and more. Really, you have so much great content to share the limitation is not social platforms, it’s managing a strategy for producing it.