5: Using autoresponders in online communities


(Sarah Hawk) #1


Marketers have known for a while now that behavioural email marketing is a powerful technique that can help increase conversion at a very low cost. At its most base level, community growth and acquisition is marketing so it stands to reason that we should be leveraging the power of email automation to optimise our own conversions.

It’s not JUST about conversions though. Email series’ are a good way of priming the behaviour of your audience – you can take a gradual approach to demonstrating the kind of participation that will help them to maximise the value they get from being an engaged member of your community.

Automated emails (or autoresponders) can be used for many things.
Here are some useful ways that they can be used in community building:

  • Onboarding (a Welcome series – triggered on registration)
  • Engagement (to stimulate activity – e.g. our Growth Club series)
  • Re-engagement (triggered when a member has been inactive for x days)
  • Referral/acquisition (e.g when a member hits x posts get them to invite a friend)

Autoresponders are effective because they are triggered by a certain action, making them timely. Here are some benefits:

  • People are automatically inducted into your way of thinking with little to no overhead
  • You can deliver high quality content immediately, priming them to open your future emails
  • The automated nature frees up your time for more important tasks, while keeping your member’s engaged

One of the simplest and easiest ways to use autoresponders is for onboarding.

Autoresponders for onboarding

We use a series of autoresponders as part of our on-boarding process. When a new member signs up, they are automatically inducted into the campaign (more on how to do that soon).

Email 1: Resources
First up we send new members some free resources. This encourages them to open our e-mails in future by only providing useful information (not marketing speak).

Email 2: Culture
Next we explain what makes our community unique and describe the type of discussions we want to encourage. We demonstrate how people can interact to get the most value.

Email 3: Value reinforcement
We demonstrate practical steps that members can take to improve their communities (i.e. we reinforce our value) and guide people to a targeted discussion in the community.

Email 4: Purpose
The final email explains clearly (and humorously) why we created the community and what we hope to get from it. We want people to be as passionate about our goals as we are. This also highlights other value we can offer.

How to set up a campaign

Automated campaigns work using a list and triggers – new members are added to the list, and then some kind of behaviour triggers the sends.

1. Add members to your list

Ideally you want to automate this. Some community platforms have built in functionality to handle this for you (e.g. Higher Logic and Salesforce), some integrate seamlessly with mail handlers (e.g. Standing on Giants), and others utilise plugins or APIs (e.g. WordPress + Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor).

We use the Mailchimp plugin for WordPress. Every time a new member signs up here, their name, email and membership level are automatically added to a dedicated list.

If it’s not feasible to automate the process, make sure that you get a personal notification (ideally an email) of new registrations so that you can manually add them to a list.

2. Create your Automation Workflow
I’ll demonstrate the steps to create automation workflows using Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor, which are two of the most popular tools out there.

In Mailchimp, select Automation --> Create Automation Workflow (Create a new workflow in CM)

Next, select your list and the type of workflow that you want to create. Both platforms offer a range of templated options:

Name your campaign, and choose the appropriate personalisation and tracking settings (these will differ based on your setup) and then configure your trigger.

Tip: The trigger options will differ depending on the automation template that you chose. The ones above are for a custom automation workflow.

For a welcome or on-boarding series, trigger the workflow when a subscriber joins the list.

Now you can add and design your emails. There are some tips for designing successful emails below.

The last step is to lock in your scheduling (it’s fairly self explanatory), and then you’re good to go.

Tips for effective campaigns

  • Write captivating subject lines
    Even though your email was triggered by an action, it still has to compete for attention. Campaign Monitor have some handy tips for writing great subject lines.

  • Write persuasively
    Make sure that your content is benefit-focused. Rather than writing about features, write about how you are going to make the reader’s life better/easier

  • Design for people that scan
    Respected UX researchers Nielson Norman Group conducted a study into the way that people read email. (The study was done back in 2006 but the results are widely recognised as still relevant today.) The rather stunning upshot is that “participants fully read only 19% of [emails].” Make sure you break up your content, using headings and bulleted lists to divide it into sections that are easy to skim.

  • Effective CTAs
    Campaign Monitor conducted research which showed that a Call to Action button was 26% more effective than a text alternative. There are a number of other things that should be taken into account when designing email CTAs. This article discusses them in detail.

  • Analyzing the results
    There is no point in making changes if you don’t monitor your statistics and analyse the results to see what works and what doesn’t. Campaign Monitor have created a free Google Analytics dashboard (with instructions) which makes that easy.

How do you use autoresponders?

I’d love to hear how you use autoresponders in your community, and how much success you’ve had with them.
I’m especially interested in how different community platforms handle email. My only experience in this regard is with WordPress.

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