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No more unread emails

CHURCH IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Communicating more effectively

by Richard Hong | Presbyterians Today

Mail icon on a mobile phone

Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Communicating with the congregation is one of the most important things we do. Doing it effectively increases awareness and engagement. For most organizations, email remains a primary vehicle for communicating en masse. It is gradually being supplanted by text messaging; but judging by the number of emails I receive, it remains the medium of choice. The problem, though, is that most emails are ignored without ever being opened. I will discuss a couple of the most important factors that will determine whether a recipient decides to open your email.

Subject line — Research has indicated that short, descriptive subject lines work best. Short subject lines work because people are often checking email on their phones, where only the first few words of the subject line might be visible. Also, conveying value — “Learn more about …” — is better than something pushy like “Come to church this Sunday.”

We know from experience that the subject line matters. With my congregation, the normal “open rate” is typically about 40% to 45%. But if the subject line reads “In Memoriam,” notifying members of a death within the faith family, the open rate soars to 70%.

Time of day — While some people check their personal email all day, many people do not check their personal email while at work. So you will want your email to be near the top of their inbox when they check their email. This means sending it just before they check their email. When do people check their personal email? We have found that in our community, this is often before they leave for work and after dinner. We send our emails at either 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. The exact time(s) that work best for you are worth experimenting with.

Finding the optimal time to send email has been studied extensively. Research has even found a very targeted time for sending email to a specific audience. If you want to reach parents of school-age children, send your email at about 2 p.m. Parents are often waiting for their child between 2 and 3 p.m., and what do they do while waiting? They read emails on their phones.

Many providers now have the function to “schedule” your emails, so don’t just send the email when it’s written. Be deliberate about the most effective time to send it.

Tracking open rates — How do we know how many people are opening our emails? Email services can track this. Our church uses MailChimp. Other popular email services include Constant Contact and Vertical Response. All of these services allow for beautifully designed emails that can have the open rate tracked. Of the three, MailChimp currently offers a free level. However, the free level does not allow you to schedule emails for a later time. Paid levels vary in features, but you can expect to pay $10 to $20 per month.

In addition to seeing our open rates, and knowing exactly who opened the emails, MailChimp allows us to do one more very important thing: We can resend an email only to those who did not open the original email. We find that on our initial send we get an open rate of between 30% to 35%. We get an extra 10% by resending the next day to the 65% to 70% who didn’t open the original email.

Remember, though, don’t resend to people who opened your email; if they open a duplicate email, they will feel put upon and the chances of them unsubscribing from your list increases.

By paying attention to your subject line, the time of day you send the email, and resending to people who don’t open your original email, you may increase the number of people who read your email by anywhere from 10% to 20% of your email list. Communication leads to engagement, and engagement is our goal.

The Rev. Richard Hong is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. Email him with questions or requests for future columns at rich@englewoodpres.org.

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