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Postcards and laundromat visits: The Texas Tribune audience team experiments with IRL distribution
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Feb. 15, 2018, 1:45 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   February 15, 2018

Want to connect with and update audience. Spend time perfecting email newsletter. Ask subscribers for responses. Receive zero responses. Sound familiar?

This is the trap into which GroundSource, a platform known for its messaging-based engagement tools (now also offered to newsrooms as part of the Community Listening and Engagement Fund), recently fell with its email newsletter (GroundSourced). So they launched an SMS newsletter instead.

Their prompts within the email newsletter had been pleasant: “This newsletter is all about helping you better engage your community. Each week, we’ll share news, tips, and answers to questions you ask. Let us know your engagement questions by replying to this email. We’ll find a solution and share it with you and 1,500+ GroundSourced subscribers.” But nobody was taking them up on the offer.

“It’s been a thing on the to-do list to restart the email newsletter, and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just another marketing ploy,” Simon Galperin, an engagement advocate at GroundSource, told me. “We thought ‘how can we be useful to folks, let’s take what we do and put it in email form’…. We talked with some folks and sensed it was the right approach, but we weren’t getting the right feedback to maintain.” He outlined the situation in a subsequent email to subscribers:

The Problem:
How can we the increase response rates for GroundSourced?

What’s our goal?
To serve as engagement problem-solvers for subscribers to GroundSourced.

What have we asked of our community?
To submit their engagement challenges for us to solve.

What’s our metric for success?
Response rates to GroundSourced call outs.

Are we succeeding?
No. We have received zero responses over 21 days.

The Resolution:
We have a classic email newsletter problem.

They tested the subject line, schedule, and format over a few weeks to no avail. So texting it was.

On Tuesday evening, they sent out the first message to 444 phone numbers, some of whom had demoed GroundSource at a conference with GroundSource founder Andrew Haeg, others (like me) who had heard about it through the GroundSourced email newsletter announcing the text version. Of that total, 26 opted out, 64 responded to at least the first prompt (out of four; two were substantial questions of “What’s one way you’d like to improve community & audience engagement at your org?” and “What’s getting in the way?”, and the others were for navigating in the messaging), and a dozen specific questions about engagement were sent in. “We’ve got momentum!” Galperin wrote in an email newsletter on Wednesday debriefing the experiment.

Here they asked the aforementioned more substantial questions — I’ll spare you the read.

Average media email newsletter open rates can vary, depending on the type of editorial content, from around 50 percent to 20 percent, but Galperin and Haeg said messaging open rates are in the high 90s. (Think about it: Do you have any unopened text messages? Anyway, there are other sources out there that support this claim, though many of them are from texting marketing companies.) But texting, unlike the filterable email inbox, can be a sacred space for family and friends. What business do companies or news organizations have inserting themselves in there?

Haeg said a few news organizations have already been trying out an ongoing texting relationship, like WAMU’s 1A podcast: “If you want to know what we’re planning, our shows page is updated daily, or you can text 1A to 63735 to get about one message a day on what we’re planning (standard message rates may apply, and you can text STOP any time to end the messages),” their contact page says. 1A sends out messages to 4,500 signed-up phone numbers and receives 400 to 600 responses when they send a prompt. The details on frequency, content, and option to leave help, Haeg says.

“There’s a fair amount of thought that needs to go into these before you start one,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with building that relationship with your audience and being genuine about it, not about distributing all the great stuff you’ve been doing.”

GroundSource will continue its email newsletter, but they’ll be building out the texting newsletter as well.

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