Build Trust and Loyalty With Personalized E-Mail

We’ve been hearing a lot about online networking sites like LinkedIn.com, Ryze, ItsNotWhatYouKnow, Tribe, ZeroDegrees, Spoke, and Friendster.com for awhile. They represent one of the fastest-growing categories of sites and are capturing the imagination of the press, venture capitalists, and millions of people looking for the latest way to connect with others. (There have been other ClickZ columns on the topic.)

We all agree personal referrals are the best way in business to find a consulting gig, new employee, or trusted advisor. We weren’t so sure how well that would translate to the Web. When a respected colleague invited Joanna to join the LinkedIn network recently, we decided to join out of curiosity.

We haven’t made up our minds about the value yet, but we are impressed by how LinkedIn used email to communicate with us. These email best practices can be applied to most business-to-business (B2B) marketers.

A bit of background. The basic concept behind these sites is they provide a way to connect with strangers without actually going to any of those awful networking parties. So far, so good.

LinkedIn is positioned as a legitimate networking tool for experienced professionals to connect with each other effectively, whether they’re hunting for jobs, seeking a speaker at an upcoming conference, looking to partner with a consultant, or trying to fill a position. The site was designed to attract serious business users. As Konstantin Guericke, vice president of marketing and one of five cofounders, says:

There’s no ’fun factor’ or photos that can lead to dating under the guise of business. The site allows users to meet business contacts through referrals from coworkers and friends they already know and trust.

The approach is conservative because relationships are at stake. In fact, Guericke says that the firm’s long-term vision is to be “the holder of professional reputation.”

The marketing challenge is to keep LinkedIn top of mind without alienating users by bombarding them with messages too frequently. When users sign up, they agree to accept five introductory email messages. That’s not a lot of opportunity to cut through the clutter.

Via extensive testing, Guericke found the more personalized and useful the message, the better the response. Rather then send general e-newsletters, email is highly targeted by stage of relationship, mode, and user activity:

  • Stage of relationship. E-mail prompts users to move quickly through predictable, pre-identified usage stages. New users are prompted to search for people they already know who are on LinkedIn. Then, they’re asked to add those pre-existing contacts to their connections in the network. Later, they’re invited to conduct searches, then make requests. Finally, once they have some positive experiences, they’re asked to invite colleagues to join. The approach is to start with a very low-risk activity, proceeding to “riskier” activities as trust is built over time.

  • Modes. E-mail is customized to reflect whether one is a passive or an active user. Passive users are nudged to complete their online profiles so they will be available for opportunities. Active users are informed about search and request techniques.
  • Interests. E-mail introduces new features that are useful and relevant only to specific user categories: hiring managers (25 percent); job seekers (25 percent); business partnerships (30 percent); expertise seekers (10 percent); and those seeking to reconnect with people (10 percent).

    Job seekers recently received email describing a new job listings feature rather than getting a whole laundry list of new features. Members who make a lot of requests were told about a feature that allows them to pick and choose within their connections to forward their request.

Additionally, LinkedIn is developing an email template:

  • Short. After testing 5-7 different lengths, it was discovered new users respond well to messages of 10-20 lines; intermediate users prefer 8-10 lines; and power users react best to messages only 4-5 lines long.

  • Simple. At most, the email has a color logo or is a text message with a simple graphic. That makes email fast and easy to scan.
  • Statistics. Each email includes an interesting snippet of personalized information, such as, “x number of professionals in your industry have joined since your last visit.”
  • Tone. LinkedIn is also testing what tone works best: formal, informal, professional, or casual.
  • Subject line. Although the sender line is “LinkedIn Updates,” response increased when “LinkedIn” was included in the subject line, too.
  • Frequency. E-mail is sent only once a month.
  • Opt-out. While users agree to receive five emails, they can opt out at any time.

These highly targeted email messages demonstrate usefulness and prompt usage by building trust and loyalty. Result? Pleased users invite their colleagues and the network grows rapidly via word of mouth. There’s a lesson there for us all.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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