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Does Email Equal Engagement?

Written by Andy Steggles | on April 4, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Does email equal engagement in your online community?

Can old fashioned email spur your community’s engagement? With new technologies, community platforms and collaborative tools, some people say email is going by the wayside. Why use email when we have so many new, fancy tools? But when you look at email activity, this isn’t actually the case -- people still love email. In fact, we’re in a golden age where email is beginning to take off again, especially with the rise of curated newsletters.

What’s so great about newsletters? Rather than searching for specific information, if you sign up for a newsletter or digest (or several), you receive the information you want, directly in your inbox, to look at whenever it’s most convenient. Of course your community has many awesome discussions, but members don’t necessarily remember, or have the time, to login every day and comb through information. Daily digests with collaboration -- the ability to reply to a discussion thread through email -- could be the key to success and higher engagement rates.

The Link Between Email and Collaboration

In our 2015 Community Benchmarking Report, we set out to discover if there’s a connection between email and collaboration and, if so, what exactly it is. We hypothesized that members who received “daily digest” emails with collaborative features would have a higher engagement rate.

And we were right.

When we dug into the data, we found organizations that allowed community members to collaborate through email had a 78 percent increase in replies to threads, over communities that didn’t have an email collaboration feature. Needless to say, 78 percent is a number worth considering.

Email Increases Activity and Changes Preferences

Not only does collaboration through email significantly increase engagement, but we also found it changes how people like to collaborate. If given the choice to collaborate through email or traditionally, by logging in to the site, members are three times more likely to respond with email. This trend makes sense -- if replies increase by such a significant amount, it’s easy to assume members enjoy taking advantage of that feature.

True, there are definitely reasons to log into the community -- to upload documents, look through the resource library, read certain blog posts -- but in terms of pure engagement, logging in can be a roadblock for many members. By removing the added hassle of switching to a browser or an app if they’re mobile, engagement is easier and frictionless -- which makes a big difference. We found this member preference towards email created a 32 percent year-over-year increase in discussion contributions.

Why is Email so Effective?

There are two strong cases for why email is so effective for increasing community engagement.

First, it’s just easier. Easier to follow conversations members subscribe to. Easier to participate. Easier to obtain valuable information and keep a pulse on what the community is talking about.

The second reason is it makes your community more accessible for all members. Every member has specific needs, and some need to use assistive technology, like readers, magnifiers and other specialized tools. It’s important to make sure your community is as accessible as possible, but it will never be 100 percent accessible for everyone.

Email is a great tool for people with different accessibility needs, since they can choose which email provider or platform works best for them. Being able to participate in discussions through email essentially allows members to take the community’s content and place it in the environment that works best for them.

Why Collaboration and Engagement Are So Important

Collaboration and engagement are key building blocks for a community, but at the end of the day, they’re vague phrases. Does increasing engagement by 78 percent actually help your organization?

Yes, it does.

The equation for member renewal and retention is to combine engagement with member satisfaction. The more engagement -- and the higher quality the engagement, discussions and value are -- the happier members will be. Then they’ll be more likely to stick around (hyperlink to “A recipe for renewal”) and to refer like minded peers to the community.

As the community grows and matures, engagement will deepen and you can begin measuring -- and proving -- ROI and other values. It’s a win-win for everyone -- members, organization and community managers.

Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement

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