One of the most important tasks that a community manager needs to do is to regularly communicate with his members. When I was managing the Catalyze community, I accomplished this by sending out an email newsletter every 2 to 3 weeks. The frequent contact is important from many different angles. It keeps the community in the front of each member’s mind and reminds them that there is value in the community. Your members are generally busy with other tasks and its easy to forget to regularly check the community site. Regular communication also drives members back to the community as shown in the graphic below taken from Google Analytics which depicts daily visits to Catalyze from January to July 2008.
You can definitely see from the spikes in visits (highlighted by the red arrows) when I sent out my bi-weekly community newsletter. The number of visits on the days when I sent out my newsletter were 2 to 3 times higher than the normal daily average. I was also getting fairly decent open and click-thru rates, averaging 30 to 40% open rates and 30-50% click-thru rates.
I used Constant Contact as my email vendor. I found it very easy to use and the price was reasonable. For example, the tiered pricing runs from $15 per month for 0-500 email addresses to $50 per month for 2501 to 5000 addresses. I found it pretty simple to create my email newsletters in Constant Contact and would definitely recommend it to others. (Interestingly, I have been hearing a lot of commercials for Constant Contact on both NPR and during the MLB Playoff games.) Constant Contact also has a survey module, but I never had a chance to use it.
Communicating regularly does take some time and effort. I estimate that I spent from 4 to 6 hours per newsletter. For me, the process started with downloading the latest list of names and emails from my community site and uploading them to my email vendor. Then I had to compose and test the email newsletter. In my case, the first time I set up my email template took some time to get the format and color scheme right. After that, I was able to start with the previous newsletter and make modifications on the fly.
And here are some pretty good practices that I recommend:
- Communicate frequently – every 2 to 3 weeks is a good rule as you don’t want to inundate your community members with too many emails.
- Include links to the latest content – I would generally try to highlight an upcoming webcast along with the 5 or 6 links each from the latest blog posts, library content and forum discussions in every newsletter. I also had a ongoing link to sign up for the LinkedIn and Facebook groups.
- Check and re-check the email – most email programs will let you preview the newsletter or send out a sample email. I would definitely recommend that you are super-meticulous with your newsletter. Since you are blasting out your message to a number of people, you do not want to appear sloppy or have any links that do not work.
- Re-post online link to newsletter – most email programs also let you create an web version of the newsletter. I would use then post this link on Twitter (using the Catalyze Twitter account) and on LinkedIn and Facebook. You never know where your members will find the link and you need to make it easy for them to find it in their favorite social media hang-out.
- Send email out on Tuesdays or Wednesday – I found that my email blasts were more successful if I scheduled them to go out first thing (8am Eastern) on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Most email programs will let you prepare an email and then schedule it for later delivery. This is a great feature if you are going to be traveling or on vacation, but still want to send out a regular communication.
- Review your stats – Your email program should have an analytics package. Make sure to regularly review your bounced, open and click-thru stats to make sure your message is getting through and that it is resonating with your community.
I’d love to hear experiences from other community managers on their experiences with email newsletters.