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Diving into the data: How covid-19 is reshaping our emails
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Diving into the data: How covid-19 is reshaping our emails

Covid-19 has reshaped the digital landscape and put a heavier focus on online communications. We’re taking a closer look at data-driven insights from these changes.

The global pandemic has reshaped most everything these last few months, and community organizing is no exception. With the focus shifted to digital activations and campaigns, email has been key in keeping important conversations going. We were curious how this shift played out for organizations using NationBuilder⁠—here are the results of that research.

Battling inbox overload

You may have noticed your inbox seems busier than usual⁠—and you’re not wrong. In an aggregate, anonymized study of our own customer base, we saw email sends increase by 33% in March 2020 as compared to March 2019With inboxes seeing an influx of messaging, it’s even more important to ensure your message stands out from the crowd by targeting the specific audience you want to reach. 

In the chart below, we broke down email open rates by the following email blast sizes: less than 10 recipients, 10-100 recipients, 100-1,000 recipients, and so on. As the blast size increases, you can see the open rate drop.. When looking at the data for 2020, the difference becomes even more stark.

Drafting small, targeted emails takes effort and thought. One way to easily create targeted emails is to use NationBuilder’s new automated email series. This feature takes a lot of the manual work out of your day by giving you the option to segment and automatically send your communications when supporters take action with your organization. This way, you’re messaging your supporters based on their unique relationship with your work⁠—increasing the likelihood that they’ll open your email and follow up on your ask.

Reaching people at the right time

“When is the best time to send my email?” is a question people have been asking since the dawn of email marketing. While the answer usually depends on the individual organization, here’s what we’re seeing in the aggregate data.

Most organizations work 9am-5pm, and as you’d expect, share a similar workflow cadence. Our data shows a spike in email volume at 10am, then slowly decreases at lunchtime, followed by a spike in send volume toward the end of the day. 

But why send emails based on what’s most convenient for you? Instead, think about it from the perspective of your recipients. When do they actually have time to check their emails? Meet them where they are and they’ll be more responsive. And while there are many more people working from home, the data shows that they still open their emails around the same time.

So, when are people opening their emails? The most active times are before starting the day and towards the end of the day (with a dip around dinner time at 6-7 PM). In fact, the best time to send an email, if you’re only looking at open rate data, is from 9 PM to midnight. Parents know too well that work doesn’t really start until after the kids go to bed. 

Also note the spike in open rates from 1am to 4am in the 2020 data. With the pandemic forcing parents into roles as teachers, babysitters, and more⁠—it’s possible that they’re catching up on work at odd hours when they’ve had a chance to take care of other tasks. And, since remote work leads to more flexible hours, this spike may also be related to the night owls who are finally able to work (and read emails) at their preferred times.

A similar concept applies to email volume by weekday.

Monday is often seen as off-limits for email sends based on the assumption that people have a lot going on. While a lot of organizations delay email sends until later in the week⁠—you can take this as an opportunity to try something completely different with a Sunday email send. Our data shows Sunday emails had the highest open rate in both 2019 and 2020. 

A word about subject line word choice

Outside of optimizing your email send time, a good practice is to always use NationBuilder’s email A/B test feature to experiment with subject line variations. Looking at the March 2020 data, it’s clear people were hungry for information on all that was unraveling around them. Emails with “COVID” or “corona” in the subject line improved email open rates across the board.

NationBuilder customers also experimented with other hooks to communicate information without explicitly calling out COVID. While new information is helpful, there’s often an ostrich effect when it comes to learning bad or scary information. In trying out other words in the subject line, it became clear that using  “info” without the words “COVID” or “corona,” can result in higher open rates.

But there’s more to subject lines from March and April of this year than just the words “info” and “covid”⁠—the graph below includes the top trending words overall, to give you a closer look at what topics seemed most popular with our customers’ audiences in those months.The bigger the size of the word, the more commonly it was used. The darker the word, the higher the open rate.

New in 2020, we’re seeing words such as “zoom,” “virtual,” “online” and “webinar” showing up with high frequency and solid open rates.

As countries and regions begin the process of reopening, will these words maintain their place in our daily email vocabulary? Will more people start sending and checking emails on the weekends and during odd hours of the day? We plan to check back in the coming months and share what we find.

Until then, stay safe and stay connected.

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