Campaigns and other political organizations, like most organizations of every type these days, have made use of the Internet integral to their operations. But they don’t always do a good job of it. I’ve been known to make some mistakes of my own, of course, but there are certain principles of how I think Web sites and email campaigns ought to be run that I’d like to explain in this space from time to time.
A very basic thing that I often see done poorly is email communication between a campaign and its constituents or a political organization and its members. In particular, one error can make your email a failure before it’s ever read – failing to identify yourself and your message in the email Subject line and From address. If you can’t do that, your email is likely to blend in with the background noise of spam clogging everyone’s inbox and either be deleted unread or just be ignored (possibly until after the date of the fundraiser or election or other event you were trying to alert recipients to).
The worst case would be something like this:
Subject: about tomorrow
Definitely looks like spam, doesn’t it, even though firstname.lastname@example.org might be someone important writing from a personal email address. To make it just a little worse, this person could also leave the subject line blank, a bad habit I see from a lot of folks.
But consider even something like this:
From: John Bowden <email@example.com>
Subject: Our Meeting Tomorrow
This is a made-up example, but I’ve seen things just like this from campaigns (including some I worked on) and Democratic clubs and other groups whose messages I care about. The problem with this message is that if I don’t instantly recognize the name on the “From” line, I might think it was spam. One of the insidious things spammers have done in recent years is craft the subject lines of their messages in the form of routine communications you might receive from a friend or associate, such as “follow up” or “Our Meeting Tomorrow.”
Maybe this is an important message. It might be the secretary of my local Democratic club announcing that a speaker I’d really like to see will be at tomorrow’s meeting. It might be the volunteer coordinator for the campaign saying that tomorrow’s meeting will be at the library instead of the coffee shop, a last-minute change. But if I’m having one of those days where there are hundreds of messages in my email inbox, and this person hasn’t achieved instant name recognition with me, this would not be one of the first messages I’d read, if I’d read it at all.
Some people can get away with this. When I get one of those messages that has “John Kerry” on the From line, yeah, I know who that is (I still might not read it, but that’s another issue — a little late for you to be campaigning hard, isn’t it, JK?).
But unless you’ve run in a national presidential campaign, you probably shouldn’t assume that every recipient of your broadcast email is going to instantly recognize your name. I don’t think the state party chair should be making that assumption, for example, and I definitely don’t think the local Democratic club secretary should be.
Now, if you’re the candidate, obviously you’re trying to build name recognition. But still it would be better to have the From line be
From: John Bowden for Mayor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: John Bowden for Mayor <email@example.com>
The point is that somehow you’ve got to set the context, whether for a campaign or a meeting of your organization or whatever, just from those two pieces of information — From and Subject.
In addition to / instead of putting the info in the From line, you can get it into the Subject line, as in:
Subject: Tamarac Democratic Club Meeting Tomorrow
Subject: John Bowden Campaign Meeting Tomorrow
Some mailing list software will automatically insert an identifier, often between brackets, at the start of the message. For example, I used the Web site domain as sort of a short hand identifier for one of the campaigns I worked on:
Subject: [electscottjbrook.com] Saturday March 19 Meet and Greet
There are other things you can do in the body of the message to identify your candidate or cause more thoroughly. But if you don’t do it with the From and Subject lines, recipients may never get that far.