Relationships, Conversations, Listening, and Email Marketing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships, conversations, listening, and email marketing.

Quality conversations are the key to building and maintaining relationships; this is true whether the relationships are offline or online, business or personal, between two people, or between a person and a brand.

With the rise of social media, it’s easier than ever for customers to communicate with brands. And there’s now an expectation that brands will not only listen but respond.

One of the great things about email, especially email newsletters, which are a content marketing tactic, is its ability to help you cost-effectively build and maintain relationships with customers and prospects. But it’s not enough to just talk at your subscriber base via email; you also have to give them opportunities to respond and you, as a brand, need to listen. Now, even more so than in the past, the email relationship needs to be a conversation.

But how do you do that?

Here are a few ideas for building active conversations with your email subscriber base. I’ll be using my own email newsletter as a petri dish to further explore and hone my thoughts on this; feel free to sign up and join the adventure .

1. Leverage Social Media

As I mentioned, most successful brands are already engaged in social media conversations with customers; if your company is already doing this, pull these into your email program.

Identify an interesting or controversial quote from your corporate blog, your LinkedIn group, or your Facebook page and include it as an item in your email newsletter. Present it in context and invite your email readers to click-through and join the discussion.

2. Collect Opinions on Industry Issues

The key to being a good conversationalist is to ask questions, listen to the answers, and build a connection based on what you learn. Poll your readers on topics of interest and use the findings in future content.

Multiple choice questions are the easiest to tabulate, but I also like to get some open-ended comments from respondents, which can be used as the jumping-off point for an article. Often you can even just string together the open-ended responses to create a narrative around the results. It still takes some thought and editing, but it’s typically easier than writing a new article from scratch.

3. Invite Readers to Contribute

This is more one-to-one reader interaction, but it shows your interest in hearing from your audience. Obviously it’s great if you have readers that are willing to contribute an entire article (assuming they are good writers). You can also just ask people for a sentence or two on something (sort of the like the open-ended answers to the poll as mentioned above, but without the poll part) on then turn that into a piece.

The old “ask an expert” is another way to let readers enter into a conversation with you. Even better – put the questions out to your audience and then publish not only the experts thoughts but also those of other subscribers.

4. Quiz Your Readers

Similar to a poll, but a quiz tends to have a right and a wrong answer. The idea here isn’t to shame readers who are wrong, it’s to award those who are right. Bragging rights are a good start; even better is awarding one person who got it right a prize of some kind.

The prizes don’t need to be high-value. Some of the best giveaways are closely tied to the newsletter content. Perhaps a recently published business book (even better – signed by the author).

5. Video

This isn’t really a new category, it’s just a different medium that can be used by readers to communicate with you. Thanks to an industry friend who’s big on social I’ve been experimenting with video.

In the age of smartphones, anyone can make one. Why not ask your readers to record a brief video to share? It could be their thoughts on an item in your newsletter, a question for you, or an expert to answer in a future email newsletter (perhaps also via video) or really anything.

Bonus: Videos have been shown to increase click-through rates, time spent with an email, and share rates, according to a special report, Embedded Video in Email, from The Relevancy Group.

Email newsletters with only passive content can be successful, but when you expand your strategy to include interactive content you move to having a conversation with your readers. And that’s the basis of any great relationship.

Until next time,
Jeanne

Quick Note: Nominate yourself or someone you know for the Email Experience Council’s 2014 Email Marketer of the Year Awards. One past winner calls them the “Oscars” of the industry – learn more here. Nominations close November 21, 2014.

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