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Do You Think Auto-Responders Suck?

While reading a discussion on using auto-responders for visitors to church congregation websites, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

The ideas apply not only in email relationship building, but also in all online relationship building. The core is building trust.

As was stated, the concept of auto-responder email is good. It has been proven effective repeatedly in the for-profit world, because it can build trust. However, most implementation in secular and non-secular of auto-responders is terrible.  Just as a greeter at a store can totally change the experience for the better or sink the relationship with the whole chain, so can poorly written email generic auto-responders. A poorly written email auto-responder can seem like a chain letter or worse.

There is a reason why communications professionals will write 50 drafts. They are working  to get the best chance to communicate the intended tone and message to their audience. Just like a minister will often spend all day or all week writing a sermon to get it ‘correct’, and it still evolves through multiple services on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday).   Even the Bible has gone through a few revisions of the centuries to make sure its message and tone is unmistakable (perhaps it may not be done being revised to tell its story based on the number of interpretations of its messages in different denominations across the country and world).

More Recent Data – Direct Marketing

I would recommend that we look at what has a longer history then email auto-responders for how to most effectively communicate with new relationships. While still much newer then the Bible, direct marketing or direct mail has a much longer history then email. Direct marketing studies performed decades ago realized that it took seven (from letters, TV spots, Radio or in-store visits) ‘touches’ to get the optimum amount of interaction with a perspective person to solidify the relationship (relative to invested cost of each piece). New studies increase that to 9 or 11 touches with the increased onslaught of communications and greater sensitivity to building trust.

That is much of what is at issue here – trust. Does the new guest trust that you understand them? And do they trust they understand the ‘real’ congregation you represent? It becomes hard to trust that you understand someone who may not understand themselves (as may often be the case of shoppers/searchers). It becomes hard to trust, if they only meet a few people in a congregation. It becomes hard to trust if they don’t have a solid referral from someone they trust (especially if they are coming from a place that did have solid referrals and it did not work out). A congregation is where many people put more trust then most any other relationship they have (including family or spouses). Visitors may not know they are looking for a place to put that much trust, but often they are.

Trust must often be earned, over multiple interactions

Have you earned that trust?

Look at how would you build trust with a new relationship in an off-line manner and consider how to translate it to written form. That may include some disclosure yourself and the congregation (when the annual meeting is, how the board is elected), but often not on the 1st touch. It may include offers to be inclusive, but just as you would not propose on the 1st date, you may not invite someone to lead a group in the 2nd email. The building of trust is based on a mutual exchange of signals that show commitment on both sides. If you don’t properly respond to a visitors signals you are being as rude as kissing someone who shows no interest in a physical relationship.

Of course in the age of digital tools like Constant Contact, iContact, HubSpot, InfusionSoft and many others, the best practice is to consider not creating a single one size fits all approach. Again the lessons and proof go back to the early days of direct marketing and have shown a segmented approach is best.  Send a different series of letters to parents then young adults (possibly both if they are indeed young adult parents). The relationship of an empty nester will be different then many 30 year old divorcee’s.

Consider an Email Service Provider for your auto responder needs

If they overlap, consider staggering your send times. Don’t send them all on Mondays, send the parent letters/auto-responders on Wednesday, Young adults on Friday, etc.

Look at the rules of etiquette in similar online venues (online dating is probably the most clearly documented) and use them to create an appropriate method to build trust with new visitors and you will create many new relationships.

Auto-responders (multiple with proper spacing) can be a great tool in developing mutual trust in a new congregant, especially if it is integrated with personal touches along the way. Especially if it is show ing of the care you would take for a new parishioner. This is your chance to show you care. Does that not deserve a little more effort then 10 minutes for a one size fits all generic letter.

How much time and effort do you typically spend on your auto responder emails? How many do you use? Join the conversation below and share your wisdom.

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May 1, 2012 Posted by | copywriting, local marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Facebook Edits Your World

This is an interesting article that is key for those marketing on Facebook. Is is in the Atlantic Magazine

How the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Shapes Your Friendships

I find it interesting to see how Facebook’s evolving editing becomes significant so quickly. On the other hand Google has been shifting our perspectives for a decade and newspapers and TV Networks have been skewing our view of the world for hundreds of years (and clergy before that). What has changed though is how covertly it can happen, and how close to our world it happens. It is one thing to shade what the president did or did not do. But helping to edit (by showing or not showing) what friends and family do and say is a different level of ‘control’. Of course it is not all Facebooks fault, but it is something to keep in mind as we look at how we communicate both as individuals as well as how we communicate as businesses.

The full story from the Daily Beast has the breakdown of more specifics:

Cracking the Facebook Code

Here are the top discoveries:

The Daily Beast’s one-month experiment into Facebook’s news feed yielded the following discoveries:

  •  A bias against newcomers
  •  “Most Recent” doesn’t tell the whole story.
  •  Links are favored over status updates, and photos and videos trump links.
  •  “Stalking” your friends won’t get you noticed.
  •  Raise your visibility by getting people to comment.
  •  It’s hard to get the attention of “popular kids.”

Looking over these 10 ‘discoveries’ starts to create ideas as to how to capitalize on them for your social media strategy. Notice I did not say Facebook strategy, for a couple of reasons. First, what Facebook does, others are sure to follow as they have become the 800 pound gorilla on the web. Second, look to align with Facebook both on and off their site. They are not just simple posts, but a whole universe on and off the site. Third, don’t look to go very black hat or even grey hat. The web means anyone can change what is happening or even what is shared about what has happened with a few changes to code. There is no need to recall the history books anymore. Play honest, if for no other reason then it will be easier in the future.

As you can see there is a need to start as soon as possible and start to build your network actively. We are past the point of the Field of Dreams ‘Build it and they will come’.  But as a tradeoff, you can see what has and has not worked for others before you. So getting traction will be easier in some ways if you can build a community and work in partnership with them. As usual it is about looking at your audience from their perspective. Think about what they want to hear, not what you want to share first.

How will you change your Facebook Marketing Strategy now that you know how Facebook edits the world? Share your experiences below.

October 24, 2010 Posted by | local marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Google The Only Universe or Just the Center?

I was talking with an SEO expert recently who was commenting on how the whole Internet marketing industry is so Google centered, and the extreme power they have on the industry.

While I agree that the economic engine that Google engenders for anyone marketing on the web is huge, I had to kindly disagree that it was all Google and their relative power was growing.  Pointing out that numbers in DM News about the amount of traffic internal (self generated rather than search engine generated) on Facebook and LinkedIn has become so substantial that it is shifting the PPC (Pay Per Click) price models. This creation of ‘internal’ traffic is a continuing movement toward user generated content (UGC). UGC is a major component of web2.0 or web3.0 (depending on whose definitions you use). But looking at the statistics of how many HOURS people spend on Facebook per day and week clearly shows that the power of people writing what interests them is very impactful on the overall web.  It is no longer just what the professionals write and what Google feels we want.

The retailer Amazon recognized this shift of power from the corporation as well.  Look at their Amazon.com site these days and you will quickly see 3 main sources of content:

  • Publisher provided – title, price, ISBN number and editors review.  The facts are seldom disputed, but the ratings on the editors review show that everyone understands the publishers editor always loves it’s own book.
  • Mined content – pulled from the content of the book – Top phrases in the book, key words in the book, number of pages.  This is content that reflects Amazon’s ability to use computers to infer real information just by counting and running programs against the data of the book.  The actual information and wisdom comes from a visitor to take these snippets of information and see answers that are useful.
  • User Generated Content – even the rating of the editor’s review is user generated. But the other reviews and the ratings of the reviews is where gold mine of content and traffic to Amazon trumps most other retailers.  More and more Amazon becomes the Wikipedia of a card catalog – UGC. It provides more information than professional abstracts and paid professional summaries found in the old dusty paper based card catalogs or their digital equivalents these days. The reviews can be biased, but the ratings and openness of them allow their value to be taken in context.

That last source – UGC is such a gold mine that Amazon went and bought a collection of it for future use – it was all the UGC about movies and TV shows – IMDB.com (Internet Movie Data Base) that was predominantly UGC (what was not was almost, as the staff generating the content were mostly paid low wages for a labor of love according to rumors).

This is all a long way of saying that UGC is one of the forces that has the potential to knock the powerhouse of Google off its throne and leave space for all of us to consider different sources of ‘truth’ and wisdom of crowds. This will affect how we optimize our sites.  More and more it will be the UGC that is key.  UGC are Forces beyond our control, but well within our influence.  One of the many areas I have seen the models change – managing volunteers compared to professional staff.  There are commonalities, but there are differences.

How have you experimented with User Generated Content and what were the results?

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Community, SEM Industry, SEO tools | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment