Create a Citizen Email Notification Strategy that is Relevant, Actionable, and Valuable

Written by Jessica Marabella

From subject lines to analytics, nine ways to make your citizen emails impactful
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Does email deserve a position in your citizen communication strategy? Absolutely. You may be worried that municipal email notifications about upcoming road construction projects, board meetings, and local events would be out of place in a citizen’s inbox filled with retail promotions, Amazon shipping notifications, and personal correspondence. In reality, your citizens want a central location for proactive updates and news from all the entities that impact their lives, and that includes their local government.

To make it worthwhile for citizens to subscribe to your email communications, however, you need to develop a strategy that is executable, repeatable, actionable, and that delivers the kind of local news and information your citizens want and need. To help, we’ve outlined nine critical email strategies that any communication team, of any size, can start incorporating into their plans today.

1. Write an Informative or Intriguing Subject Line.

Think of your email subject line like a movie trailer. When was the last time you watched a movie without first watching the trailer to preview what it was about and if you might like it? If you’re like most people, your answer is rarely, or never. Similarly, your email subject line needs to summarize the email’s contents, and make the recipient want to read it.

If your email is delivering critical news that your citizens need to know, summarize it in your subject line and include the details in the body of the email. For example, “Main Street to Close Thursday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.” If you are trying to encourage citizen participation in an event or engage in a discussion, consider a subject line that captures their interest and makes them want to open up the email to learn more or take action such as, “We Need Your Feedback | What Should We Do with Market Square?”

Additional data-informed subject line best practices include:

  • Incorporating the recipient’s name if your email marketing software allows
  • Staying within 30 to 50 characters
  • Using action verbs
  • Incorporating a simple value proposition that corresponds to your email’s content
  • Using a consistent format or subject line messaging strategy for routine communications, such as monthly newsletters

Also, when the tone is appropriate, consider adding an emoji to your subject line. According to Experian, 56 percent of brands using emojis in their email subject lines had a higher open rate.

2. Send a Test

You can proofread your email content within your email creation tool, but when you see your digital letter, notification, or newsletter arrive in your inbox, suddenly, you view it with more discerning eyes. Before you send your email to your subscription list, send a test to yourself. If possible, don’t proofread it directly after writing it. Wait a day, or if that’s not possible, at least an hour. When you review your email, look at it on both a desktop computer and a mobile device. Check that all the images load and are formatted as intended and test all your links.

Ensuring your content is accurate, professional, and error-free will build confidence among your recipients and will encourage them to stay opted in and pay attention to future communications.

3. Send at Ideal Times

Marketers have conducted extensive research about the best times to send emails to capture peoples’ attention based on when they are likely to have access to their inbox and read incoming emails. Unless you are sending an unexpected, time-sensitive message, consider scheduling planned emails for when your citizens are most likely to engage. Based on ten different email marketing studies, Tuesday at 10 a.m. is the best time to send your communication.

4. Ensure Your Emails are Mobile Optimized

About 62 percent of email opens happen on a mobile device. With more than half of your viewers engaging from a smartphone or tablet, you need to ensure your emails are comfortable to read on the small screen. A reputable email marketing tool will enable mobile-optimized content creation and distribution.

5. Communicate Consistently

Understanding that you are likely understaffed and have a wide variety of communication requirements, plan a realistic communication cadence for general news, information, and citizen engagement outreach, whether it be weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, or even quarterly. Your goal should be to select a frequency that you can commit to achieving and stick with it. When citizens begin to experience consistency in communications from their local leaders, they will pay attention to what they receive. Also, if you do need to issue an emergency communication outside of your regular schedule, that will catch citizens’ attention too.

6. Comply with the CAN-SPAM Act

Your public safety or utility departments may have access to a large database of citizen email addresses, but unless citizens have specifically opted-in to communications of a marketing nature, you are not permitted to outreach to them. You also need to give all recipients the ability to opt-out of future email communications. The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 states rules for commercial email usage, establishes requirements for commercial messages and provides recipients with the right to opt out.

Specific to opt-out requirements under CAN-SPAM, you must tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails and honor the opt-out request promptly. Even though you are communicating with citizens about news and information that affects your community, as long as the communications are not of an emergent, life-threatening nature, you cannot outreach to non-subscribers. For more information on similar rules that impact phone and text message outreach, read this information about the TRACED Act.

7. Learn from Your Data

Be prepared to adjust your email marketing strategy based on the performance of future communications. With each email, assess open rates, click-throughs, and opt-outs. What trends do you see?

  • If you are creating a newsletter with several different articles, which topics do citizens click on most frequently?
  • What subject lines result in the most opens?
  • If you test sending emails on different days or times, or with a different frequency, how do those changes impact engagement?

Use what you learn to refine further your strategy to ensure you are giving citizens the information they want, as frequently as they want it, and using messaging best practices to keep them engaged.

8. Follow ADA Best Practices

To ensure that all citizens can consume your content, ensure it complies with digital design best practices as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Download this checklist for detailed ADA design guidance.

9. Encourage Sharing

If your email articles link to your blog, include the ability for citizens to share your stories on social media to help amplify the reach of your message. Also, as highly engaged members of your community, encourage email shares from your recipients to their friends, family, and neighbors to help grow your opt-in list. According to QuickSprout, email subscribers are three times more likely to share content on social media than those who reach content from other channels.

For more information on creating impactful marketing and promotion communications to your citizens, click here to download our marketing eBook for local government.