Don’t Let Bad Email Subject Lines Hurt Online Community Engagement


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If your branded online community is like most others out there, the majority of your members probably don’t check it every day. Unlike their public social network accounts that they check multiple times a day, your branded online customer or member community is more likely to be a place they visit with intention. They sign in to ask a question in the discussion forum, read a new blog post from your CEO, check out a new how-to video, or follow up on an offer. That’s where the importance of email comes in.

The Role of Email in Private Online Community Engagement

Email is a big part of creating an online community that consistently keeps customers or members engaged. Your target audience is full of very busy people. By sending both manual campaigns and automated emails with updated information, newsletters, and invitations for specific actions, you can stay top-of-mind and encourage community members to come back to the community to get value

Email is a vital part of your community management plan. That is why you’ll find sophisticated email marketing systems built-in most business-class online community software platforms.

Better Customer Engagement With Online Community Email Subject Lines

Unfortunately, not just any old email will do. Your members likely get dozens of emails a day, so your email communication needs to stand out from the pack. You put a lot of effort into creating value for your target audience in your online community, so you don’t want to leave “conversion opportunities” on the table.

Better Subject Lines Leads to Higher Online Community Engagement

The emails you send only have value to your members if they actually get opened and subject lines are the primary driver behind which emails get opened. Emailing for the sake of emailing from your online community isn’t going to get you the results you seek—you still have to follow best practices just like you would for any other email marketing campaign.

Subject lines are a crucial element for getting recipients to open emails and click through. A well-crafted subject line can make a big difference in online community engagement, whether it’s coming from a manually sent message or an automated notification.

By following these best practices for creating great subject lines, you can increase engagement within your community by sending emails from your online community software platform.

6 Best Practices for Creating Great Email Subject Lines

Tip #1) Keep It Short

Your subject lines should be brief and to the point so they can instantly catch your community members’ attention without overburdening them with information. Email software provider, MailChimp, found that the ideal length for an email subject line was less than 50 characters. While you don’t necessarily need to count every apostrophe and space in your subject line, you should take care to keep it brief, but informative.

Tip #2) Avoid Certain Words

Depending on the wording of your subject lines, your members might have an adverse reaction that makes them less likely to open your email. According to the same MailChimp study, three seemingly innocent words correlated with lower open rates: “Help,” “Percent Off,” and “Reminder.” Of course, then there are the age-old trouble words like “Free” that tend to alert spam filters.

Tip #3) Balance Consistency With Changing It Up

This is especially important when it comes to the subject lines of newsletters. While, on one hand, you want the subject lines of your newsletters to be recognizable when they arrive in your members’ inboxes, you still want to engage their interest.

Try combining the established branding of your newsletter with varying subject lines that include enticing information about what the newsletter contains. For instance, if there’s a feature article or upcoming event, include that in the subject line after the name of your newsletter. This keeps your customers or members from eventually not opening your emails as a result of getting desensitized to the same old newsletter emails.

Tip #4) Balance Promotional With Educational

As a hard and fast rule, your members are not going to be as interested in promotional emails as they are in emails that are useful to them. Do your best to limit the number of promotional subject lines and instead draw your members into your community with timely subject lines that speak to their needs.

If you do need to send a few promotional emails, tone down the splashy language typically used in promotional subject lines and just keep it straightforward and to the point. People can smell a sales/marketing email from a mile away!

Tip #5) Make Value Specific and Concrete

Along with being very busy, your members aren’t mind readers. Being deliberately vague about the value behind your email offer will only cause them to lose trust and interest. Instead, reference what they’ll get specifically in your subject line so they’ll know that it’s something relevant to them that they want to open.

Each email’s subject line is a promise to the recipient as to the value they will find when the open it. If your subject line is unclear, your members are more likely to ignore or delete the email altogether than click for clarity.

Tip #6) Use Targeted Subject Lines When Possible

MailChimp found that personalized subject lines with users’ names didn’t significantly affect open rates, but targeting by location did. This isn’t too surprising considering most recipients are probably used to spam emails targeting them by name, leading to that level of personalization losing its effect. However, narrowing by location targets your members in a specific way that won’t leave them suspicious.

Keep in mind that location is only one of many options for anchoring an email subject line to something that is familiar to your target audience. Other options include member/customer type, company size, product usage, event attendance, and role in the organization.

Bonus Tip:

Consider what goes in the “from” line of your emails. Having an actual name—rather than a company or business—in the sender spot leads to more opens. Your members are more likely to initial trust the name of a specific person as an email worth opening because it seems more personalized.

Emails From Your Online Community Software: Subject Lines Takeaway

Keep in mind that these tips aren’t hard and fast for every audience. Test and use what works best for your branded online community based on the results you see. Send enough emails to be able to collect data on your open rates and leverage that data to define the choices you make.

You might find that your particular audience responds really well to longer, more informative subject lines—but you won’t know for sure unless you test and analyze the data to inform that choice. While these best practices are certainly a good place to start, don’t be afraid to break the mold if you find out your community members respond in a different way.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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