Reply by email vs. reply through the platform

(Colleen Young) #1

During a webinar last week, the attendees had a side conversation about the pros and cons of being able to reply to a discussion thread directly from the email notification and bypassing the need to go to the community. Here are some of the comments.

  • I prefer to be in the community, roaming, exploring, discovering, searching, interacting, and not limiting my vision to what comes in via email. So I don't reply via email. 
  • I much prefer replying via email. Much faster. 
  • I often prefer to respond through the app instead of email, especially if I want to find a specific discussion. It can be difficult sifting through emails and finding the right thread. 
  • I like to see exactly where my message is being posted. I don't particularly feel engaged with the community via email. I do agree with ease of use however.
  • Our members were confused by the email reply option, so we disabled it.
  • Reply by email is used more than reply on the community platform.

Can your members reply via email? If yes, is the functionality used and liked? Preferred? 

As a community builder, I would think getting people back to the platform is useful so members can reply to the message they became aware of via the email notification, but also to encourage discovery of other conversations and activity on the platform/site.

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of reply by email?

Does ‘reply via email’ increase engagement?
(Richard Millington) #2

I'd guess this is one of those where you can track the data rather than what members say.

From a practical standpoint, I can't see the harm in leaving it on. The big plus is that it's well connected with the habits of members. The community goes to the members instead of the members to the community. That can be really powerful. I'm hoping we have it in our new discourse platform. 

(Sarah Hawk) #3

I'm hoping we have it in our new discourse platform. 

We do.

(Susan Burton) #4

If your platform supports reply by email then I would definitely use it. More likely to encourage user generated content. Our platform doesn't support this and it is the one thing I would change. Our users also had to login each time to reply which was another hurdle to encouraging participation. We now keep users logged in, although I am not sure if that many are aware of this, as we have to balance this against security. I think facebook did a u-turn, previously allowing people to reply via email but now pull everyone back to the main site. For advertiser based sites this is a necessity in many ways.

(Colleen Young) #5

Thanks all.

Yes, Susan it was Facebook reversal that made me question the email reply functionality. In one of the communities I'm working on now, the data shows that the email reply is used more than the email notification sending people to the platform, but I feel that is in part due to the words used in the email notification - Reply by email vs. View this post. The reply instruction is clear and this is the obvious action to take if the member wishes to reply. View this post takes the member to the thread, where they can reply of course, but they were motivated by the instruction "view".

We will keep both options, but change the words (which will gives us more comparable data should we want it):

Reply on SMHN | Reply by email | Bookmark | Like

Thus leaving the preference to the user (btw, SMHN is the name of the community.) Any thoughts on this wording? 

(Ben) #6

In my experience, the #1 barrier to engagement is logging in. Reply-by-email eliminates this barrier in the majority of cases, and keeps users in their email application, whether on desktop or mobile. From the user's perspective, that's "frictionless engagement".

A small number of platforms also offer a link-tokening or gatekeeper feature that basically embeds the user's login and password into every link in the email notification. When a user clicks the "Reply" link, they're automatically logged into the community and they can compose their reply online. There's a small risk that if the user forwards the email notification to someone else, their account could be used by whoever the email was forwarded to. Some safeguards to prevent this have been developed, such as making the token expire after one click or after a few days. We've always felt that this is a community, not a bank account, so we encourage clients to consider platforms that have the feature. And we've never heard of an account being hijacked from a link-tokening feature.

(Sarah Hawk) #7

Now that we have this up and running I’d be keen to get your feedback on the process.

(Sarah Hawk) #8

I spoke a bit soon because I had some settings wrong here. It’s sorted now and reply by email is working. I’ll be interested to see what the stats are in a month or so.

(Richard Millington) #9

Congrats Hawk. Seems to be working really well. Really happy to have this best practice on our own platform today.

(Gear Buzz) #10

Good to know it’s available here but for forums counting on page views for ad monetization reply by email is unsuitable IMHO

(Karen Shue) #11

I can only share that I belonged to a super-active, super-engaged community some years ago that used email as its primary mode of communication. Replies to posts were almost immediate and from anyone and everyone.

The moderater changed it to an on-line platform where replies came by email if you were already part of the discussion, but there were no notifications for new topics and threads were separated by topic areas, so one had to choose what topics were of interest.

That community lasted no more than 6 months after the change – it was striking. The cross-fertilization was lost, people didn’t check for new threads, and didn’t fire off the quick replies that build the camaraderie in the initial structure.

Just as a reflection on the importance of the accessibility –

(Darren McKay) #12

Two months on - how are the stats looking?

(mark david mcCreary) #13

Well, let me try a reply from email and see if this feature works.

Dr. Karen, thank you for your story, and I’m a big believer in Push, so I don’t need convincing :slight_smile:

What I would like to know, is what point does too much Push become counter productive.

For instance, I think @SamHouston said he had a community of 19,000 security professionals. I think that is too big for email, and as you pointed out, if you start segmenting things into topic, you can lose the cross-fertilization that is so important.

On the other hand, I’m sure a significant percentage of those 19,000 people don’t log in every week.

We have a couple of listserves with 2,000 professionals - (community of practice), but that is the largest mailing list we happen to run. We have groups of 1,000 or so professionals that consistently pump out 25 messages a day. And the biggest reason for people unsubscribing from those lists is too many emails. We have digests available, but getting one email with the same number of messages seems to be equally intimidating.

And most of our Communities of Practice have volunteer community managers, or none at all, as the smaller size precludes a full time professional. So I understand that most professional community managers are on web forums, because that is where the action is.

But if anybody would like to share their insights into what the sweet spots of size are for Push vs Pull, I’m all ears.


mark david mcCreary

(mark david mcCreary) #14

Ok, Reply by email works.

You just hit Reply, put your message at the top, and Discourse removes all of the previous message.

So from my point of view, Richard and Hawk have converted this online community to a listserve :slight_smile:

And I’m getting a lot more value from it, as the volume has increased, and I always had trouble remembering to log in anyway.

mark david mcCreary

(Sarah Hawk) #15

Annoyingly I can’t see what percentage of replies here are by email, so I don’t have those numbers specifically, but engagement across the board is up.

(Sarah Hawk) #16

Well that is excellent new on all counts. :smile:

(Richard Millington) #17

Interestingly enough, I pushed hard for this feature - now I don’t use it much myself. But I suspect it’s because it’s our own community and I’m in the habit of visiting it every morning. If it was somebody else’s, i’d probably find it a useful prompt.

(Bo McGuffee) #18

I prefer to log into a site to interact. That being said, I’m part of a dog training group that uses Yahoo Groups. The leader has noted that a few people recommended using forums, but she hates them. She would rather just reply to the e-mail. I get the impression that’s how everyone in the group does it. It is an incredibly active community.

(rhogroupee) #19

I’ve found that people who are used to the “listserv” format typically love the reply by email feature. I personally prefer to visit the actual site unless I’m in a super hurry.

(Sarah Hawk) #20

I’m the same. I belong to the e-mint Yahoo group and I actually just delete the emails without engaging at all now. It was a slow progression from responding, to reading, to just deleting, because the experience was so bad (clicking a link forced me to log in).

I think the key here is to allow the flexibility for people to make their own choice. Make as many options as possible available and easy, and you’ll appeal to the widest audience possible.