Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

The most powerful tool you have to reach your community is email.

I know there are some readers who don’t believe me. But here’s a fact that cannot be denied: 90 percent of Americans over the age of 15 use email. In the United Kingdom and Canada, 85 percent of people use email.

That’s a big portion of your community.

The digital divide is real but not as wide as most of us thought. The latest Pew Research Center study released in August 2021 shows:

  • Rural residents have seen a nine percentage point rise in home broadband adoption in the last five years.
  • 72 percent of rural Americans have high-speed internet access.
  • Smartphone ownership also rose nine percentage points among rural residents in the past three years.

For most of my library friends, the percentage of people in your community who can (and should) be receiving email marketing from your library far outpaces the percentage of people who don’t have an email address.

Social media platforms do not care about your library. The press does not care about your library. Google does not care about your library.

Email is the only platform where you have complete control. You build your subscriber list. You create your target audience segments. You get to decide when you send your emails. And you have complete control over the content.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your library is. You have the power in email marketing.

Now, I’ve learned some brand-new information about email marketing. I am not exaggerating when I say this new data has made me re-think the advice I give to my library marketing friends.

This information comes from Michael Barber, who is a brand consultant and marketing strategist. He was the featured speaker of a recent Marketing Profs webinar that frankly blew my mind.

Here are the four big things I learned from his presentation.

Your open rate does not mean what you think it means.

Remember when I said that open rates are a sign of customer loyalty?

My view has changed.

With most email services, the open rate is tracked with the help of a hidden one-pixel image placed in the body of the email message. It used to be that the email counted as being “opened” when the recipient opened the email up.

But now, the email counts as opened when it loads in a recipient’s inbox because that’s when the pixel is now being triggered. Apps like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and any Apple device with iOS 15 will preload images.

That means a human didn’t necessarily open your email.

What does this mean for your library?

Email marketing expert Jay Schwedelson says your email open rate provides direction for your strategy. It can still serve as a benchmark for testing factors like subject lines and send times.

If you work on your library’s email marketing, you’ll need to really focus on the action created by your email.

Use trackable links inside the body to see what people click on. And then measure what they do after they click.

Do they register for a program? Do they put a book on hold? Do they log into a database? Those are human-triggered actions. Those are the true measure of the effectiveness of your email.

The new iOS update isn’t as bad as it seems… for now.

In September 2021, Apple released the iOS 15 update, which includes more user protection from third-party trackers, including mail privacy protection that stops email senders from collecting data on how a person interacts with email.

The new privacy settings keep marketers from seeing who opened their emails, what time they opened them, where they opened them, and what device they used to open the email.

Marketers reacted as you might imagine, with major publications like DigiDay running headlines like “Why email marketers are calling Apple’s iOS 15 update ‘a proverbial nail in the coffin.'”

Michael says it’s not as bad as it seems. First, the privacy protections only apply to people who have actually downloaded the update, and who use Apple Mail.

About 72 percent of Apple users have upgraded to iOS 15. Statistics on the number of people who use Apple Mail vary according to industry and location. But most email providers say they see around 35% of their recipients use Apple Mail.

And so far, according to Michael, not everyone is opting into the privacy protections offered by iOS 15. Only about 48 percent of Apple Mail users are turning on the new privacy settings.

What does this mean for your library?

As always, be watchful of your metrics so you can spot any downward trends in engagement. But don’t panic. Focus on sending great content to your email list.

Your sender reputation is incredibly important

Email sender reputation is a score that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns to an organization that sends email. The higher the score, the more likely an ISP will deliver emails to the inboxes of recipients on their network.

There are three positive signals of engagement that can raise your library’s sender reputation, according to Michael. They are:

  • Replying to your message.
  • Clicking on links inside the email.
  • Adding you to their contacts.

Conversely, there are three negative signals of engagement that can hurt your library’s sender reputation, according to Michael. You want to prevent your library email recipients from:

  • Moving your library’s email to their junk or spam folders.
  • Deleting your email without opening it.
  • Leaving your email unopened and sitting in their inbox. Michael says this is a stronger negative signal than unsubscribing! (WOW, right?)

What does this mean for your library?

Michael says replies are a “super strong signal of engagement.” He encourages email marketers to stop using the “no-reply” return email address in their emails. Use a real email address for replies.

And you’ll want to go a step further by directly asking recipients to reply to your emails. You could ask for their feedback on a service. Or ask recipients to reply with the name of a book they think should be included in your next booklist or book display. This is a chance for you to be creative! You don’t have to respond to every email reply. But this is an opportunity to improve your sender reputation while gathering information that will help you to better serve your community.

You’ll also want to focus on raising your email click rate. Here are five ideas.

Finally, include great content in your email so your recipients will never let it sit in their inbox unopened.

We need to start thinking about how “dark mode” affects design.

Dark Mode inverts the colors on your device to decrease the amount of light on your screen. Dark mode turns the default white background with black text to a black background with white text.

Dark Mode eases the strain on your eyes, especially at night or in dark conditions. It also helps preserve battery power.

What does this mean for your library?

The way our emails are designed will need to change. Michael recommends that, if your email provider has this data, you may want to start tracking how many of your email recipients look at your emails in dark mode.

You’ll also want to test your emails using dark mode to determine if your library’s brand colors work with the darker background.

Finally, make sure your email provider is mobile responsive. This will ensure your emails will be converted properly.

Next week: 6 super-easy tricks to make your library emails stand out in the inbox and get results!


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