Permission to send

Make no mistake about it, I do not consider employee communications sent by email SPAM. My definition of SPAM would include the words ‘bulk’, ‘unwanted’, ‘unsolicited’ and ‘indiscriminate’.

Even the most cynical and jaded employee could never accuse employee communications as being indiscriminate. By definition ‘bulk’ would apply as any broadcast employee communications are likely to be sent one-to-many. On the ‘unsolicited’ side, as an employee it would be pretty hard to argue that the company does not have a right and perhaps even a legal obligation to inform you of certain things relating to the work they are paying you for.

That leaves us with ‘unwanted’, which is where I think this discussion needs to focus. This is the basis of permission marketing. Why waste time sending messages to an unreceptive audience? A loyal and enthusiastic customer is likely to elect to receive marketing messages from their favourite brands providing they don’t overdo it. Similarly, a highly engaged employee is more likely to read an email from their CEO than one who has switched off from the company they work for.

So it is a constant challenge for Internal Communicators is to assess the penetration of their company’s broadcast emails.

My experience suggests that very few companies use email management systems/providers such as Vertical Response or dotMailer for their internal audiences. If they did this would be a pointless debate as all the metrics you’d need would be at your fingertips. Come to think of it, why not use these products for Internal Communications? Let’s leave that question for another day!

Most companies use enterprise email clients like Outlook. Yes you can see how many of your emails are never opened if you wish to deploy the read/unread request for every message you send out, but this doesn’t prove much and it annoys the hell out of email recipients. Yes you can survey staff or seek feedback through focus groups – but you can’t do that too often, so the granularity in detail you need will more than likely be missing.

There are many reasons why staff may chose not to read a broadcast email. Not seen as relevant, too long and wordy, annoying frequency, too busy, lost in all the noise, bad past experience etc. Without good feedback mechanisms we’ll never really know.

So why not stick an unsubscribe button on every Internal Communications broadcast email? On a message by message basis you will get instant feedback on the readers’ reaction to the email, measured by the number of unsubscribe requests.

You could then use this data to go back to the requestor on a one-to-one basis and seek feedback which could contribute to you changing the timing, frequency, content, and tone of future emails to improve their effectiveness. You could also use it as an opportunity to seek to change their mind about unsubscribing.

Ideally someone who has actually tried this could share their experience here. Is this something you have already considered and may try out in the future? Do you think your staff would be brave enough to hit the unsubscribe button?

6 thoughts on “Permission to send

  1. Interesting idea. We do get employees responding to ours asking to be unsubscribed. Ironically, given this post, our usual response is to laugh to ourselves – because they can’t unsubscribe to broadcast emails.

    I don’t know what I think of this. I can absolutely see the benefit of asking for feedback that allows you to develop emails that are more likely to be read. And maybe by the simple act of asking for input and responding to it you’d be more likely to get people to read it, because they’d feel heard and engaged. But you’d also, essentially, be acknowledging that it’s okay not to read those emails, and I’m not sure that’s a message we want to send.

    • Acknowledging that it’s OK not to read corporate emails is fine. Suggesting that it is OK to opt out from receiving the information at all is probably not. You could position the unsubscribe option as a choice on how you wish to receive employee communications.

      If the same content is available via other channels such as the intranet news feed, RSS, weekly newsletter etc. people could elect not to receive the emails on the explicit understanding that they need to take personal responsibility for finding it elsewhere.

      Some people don’t mind wearing a belt and braces. Others can get irritated by encountering the same messages on multiple channels.

      I think one of my motivations for raising this issue is an underlying fear that too many people take comfort in the act of hitting the send button. They believe that they can tick the ‘communicate’ box on their to do list having sent an email.

      Thanks for your comments Robin!

  2. Hi Jon, very interesting post. It does seem a bit ludicrous in this day and age to still be blanket broadcasting whether the audience likes it or not eh?!

    Obviously, messages need to get out but I reckon it’s much more about choice now ie. how the audience prefer to receive/look for news. So, for me, the better solution is to have a multitude of channels to choose from along with an unsubscribe option on email.

    There’s probably always going to be a case of ‘must send’ emails – but, I’m betting these are pretty much few and far between these days – or should be.

    • The problem with multiple channels is the overhead in publishing to and maintaining them. Enterprise apps need to learn from SM style integration and linking. Hashtags in Twitter that auto update linked Facebook and LinkedIn accounts for example are the way to go. F2F has also a massive role to play. Who cares if staff don’t get their compulsory broadcast emails if their line manager has accepted the challenge of covering off the content F2F on a regular basis. Thanks for your contribution Abi!

  3. Brilliant blog Jon, I’ve proposed doing this to my manager and we’re looking at doing something similar with our weekly bulletin.

    We have issues with colleagues bein fully engaged with the bulletin and the chance to get immediate feedback around content, layout, frequency would be something we’d find really useful.

    I agree that we can’t let colleagues unsubscribe from some mails, but by giving them the chance to choose whether they recieve it or not, means we can give our colleagues more opportunities to feel enagaged and be part of the communication process.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Steve! In a previous job I introduced a dedicated push channel (desktop pop-ups) for social news with an unsubscribe option and the feedback indicated that people appreciated the feeling that they could unsubscribe if they chose and in fact very few ever used it. Alternatively users could configure the alerts to avoid certain times of day and not intrude when certain applications were being used (such as PowerPoint). It was a very good tool, but not cheap.

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