Social media is the hot thing right now, and lots of unions are rushing to put time and money into it. But in terms of engaging union members, your email list may be worth a larger investment.
Union members tend to skew to an older demographic, who still use email a great deal more than social media. Email remains the most efficient method of contacting anyone: open rates in the 30-40% range generally compared to 5% or less open rates for social media posts. Doing email right, especially as a union, is crucial.
We checked out the websites of over 20 different unions and labour organizations to sign up for their newsletters. What we found is that fewer than 30% of unions and locals have a newsletter signup readily available via their websites. Over two months, we found that out of those which had newsletters, only 20% of these sent their newsletter regularly. While there is a lot of room to grow when it comes to newsletters in labour, we’d like to highlight the successes to illustrate the 4 principles of writing a good newsletter that you can apply to your organization today.
If you find this article helpful, consider contacting us to arrange an interactive workshop on how to build a strong email list with our President, Ethan Clarke.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We like to get our coffee the same way, take the same path to work, and follow a nighttime routine. That's why your newsletter must land in your members’ inbox at the same time as much as possible.
Pick a cadence that you can sustain. A bi-weekly email that is sent regularly is better than a weekly email that is sent on random days of the week. As little as monthly will do, but weekly or bi-weekly newsletters are best. The key is to make sure you are sending often enough that your content stays fresh but at a pace that you can sustain regularly.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers does a great job of being consistent. Every week, the union is on point in sending their newsletter on the same day every week (Friday).
Things would be even better if they would send it at the same time, like Toronto-based newsletter Twelve Thirty Six. They send their messages every day at 12:36PM. This creates an expectation and, if your newsletter is good, anticipation for your email newsletter.
One way that being consistent doesn’t help as much is with the subject line. CUPW’s subject line choice may be holding back the potential its newsletters have to be opened. Because they are so consistent and unremarkable, CUPW’s emails are easy to miss in a sea of competing email messages.
Instead, try to vary your subject lines and make them an enticing click. There are many ways to do so. The best way is to give readers a little preview of what your newsletter is about like Twelve Thirty Six does:
There are plenty of email subject line formulas to choose from. If the “preview” formula isn’t working, test others.
It’s easy for a union newsletter to become caught-up in the happenings and goings of the union exclusively. This is to be expected: the union is your primary concern. But this may not be the case for the members receiving the newsletters. Your goal should be to meet readers where they are at - trying to link their current interests with what the union is up to.
We recommend tying in news from beyond this union into your newsletter. This can help members get a sense of the importance of the union, not just in their lives but in society at large.
AMAPCEO is a union which does this in their newsletter. Their newsletters draw from current events and connect these with the work that the union is doing. This is a great way of opening up the possibilities of what your union does for members and society at large, increase the chances that your newsletter is talked about and sent to other people.
It may be sometimes difficult for members to understand why certain demands are fought for at the bargaining table. But contextualizing the union's activity within a broader societal context allows people to see that the union cares about things that matter to them in their everyday life and is taking action.
We suggest that your newsletter try and comment on topical stories. For instance, the results of a municipal, provincial or federal election are a great opportunity. The union could comment on what this government means for members, and what members can do to either support or push back against the new member of parliament or council.
We aren’t seeing a ton of union newsletters doing the above, and so we think that this is a great opening for labour communications specialists to explore.
Many email marketing products have a myriad of colourful templates on offer. It’s tempting to be sucked in by the rainbow and go overboard with graphics.
A few images are good, but keep it simple and streamlined. For instance, we love how the Ontario Federation of Labour has a strong header image, followed by smaller images next to each piece of the newsletter.
Even having a single visual focal-point for your newsletter can be effective, such as how the PolicyJobsTO newsletter does:
Images and graphics should have a purpose in newsletters: either to communicate information or to break up text to make it easier for the person to read. Having extra frills and whistles can be distracting and counterproductive. They can also increase the odds that your newsletter will end up in the recipients' promotions tab or even worse, the spam folder. Less is more when it comes to formatting in a newsletter.
You should also create a newsletter that has a consistent format and look every time you send it. For instance, your newsletter should highlight a similar number of stories, should contain a similar number of images, similar prose, etc. This ties into the earlier point on habit and creating expectations amongst your readers.
Make your newsletter worth opening by writing clearly about relevant issues. To get the maximum amount read, newsletters should be kept as short as possible. Think hard about the information you are putting into your newsletter and put yourself into the place of your member, who is busy and may not be as plugged into the union. Is what you are writing really worth sending? Be critical and empathetic when deciding what to include.
Second, you should try to make your newsletter fun and enjoyable to read. You can improve your prose by making sentences shorter and drawing from vocabulary from popular parlance. If you’re daring, why not try inserting a pun or emoji?
While being funny is a difficult skill to master, everyone can be lighthearted. All you have to do is not take everything so seriously. Studies have shown that the vast majority of the public never hear from unions except during conflicts with the employer. Your email list is your chance to counter this. Keep in mind your audience and write to their perspective not the perspective of the most engaged members. With this attitude, it becomes easier to craft an email that is more pleasurable to read.
If you’re going to be improving your email newsletter with the above suggestions, you need to understand whether or not your efforts are bearing fruit. To understand the success of your newsletter, you need to keep in mind two indicators. You can easily get this data if you use an email sending program such as MailChimp:
Your open rate is the percent of people that open your email. If your open rate is poor (regularly below 30%), it is either that you are not crafting good email subject lines, or that you are being inconsistent with when and how often your newsletter is being sent. Focus on consistency and improving your email subject line to improve this indicator.
Clickthrough rates help show if your email is being read. If readers are clicking through the links you’ve placed inside your email, it not only shows that they are reading the email, but that people are following your prescriptions to either learn more, sign a petition, or answer a survey. If you do not have links inside of your newsletter to click, it may be a good idea to try to drop 1-3 to see how engaging your newsletter content is.
If your clickthrough rate is low (regularly below 4%), this means that you need to improve the content of your email. This could be about making the information more relevant for readers, improving the clarity of your writing, shortening your newsletter, or changing your writing style. There are more variables when it comes to improving clickthrough rates. We recommend changing only one thing at a time and improving iteratively. This might also be a great time to engage the members: send out an email asking people to respond with what they want to see in the newsletter.
Newsletters provide a golden opportunity to generate positive emotions for the union, educating people on the union’s broader impact and just making someone’s day a bit better. All they need is consistent effort and a willingness to be empathetic to readers on the otherwise. When you write a newsletter for the reader, and not for the union, you’ll find that your open and click-through rates will drastically increase.