Are you sending too few emails?

Laptop, smartphone and notepad CC0 Public Domain

Looking at campaigning lessons from the 2010 general election, I highlighted the question of quantity and quality of direct mail. An old-fashioned, but still very important communication medium (and one which, as Phil Cowley rightly frequently points out, gets far too little research attention).

Having run the Liberal Democrat 2001 and 2005 general election internet campaigns (and having first written HTML code using vi on a VAX mainframe in the early 1990s), the need also to get the latest of campaigning techniques right has also been a passion of mine.

So I was struck by some of the figures published by UNITE about their general election campaigning – and note how in each pair of figures they sent out more emails than letters. As The Guardian has reported:

The union claims it sent over 1.9m letters from the union nationally and 2.5m emails. Over 51,800 phone calls were made through the Unite phone bank operation which is an average of over 1,100 calls per key seat.

“In the top 10 key seats over 219,000 direct mails were sent out and over 307,000 emails. In the most marginal seat of Hampstead and Kilburn, held by Labour with a majority of 42, over 18,000 direct mails were sent out, 19,000 emails and a contact rate of nearly 50% was achieved on the phone bank to the nearly 1300 Unite members in the seat.” Glenda Jackson, let Unite take a bow.

In Islington South 1,853 calls were made to Unite members and 1,585 in Poplar. Both seats saw increased Labour majorities.

In Birmingham Edgbaston, the seat synonymous with the Labour victory in 1997, and thereafter regarded as crucial to Labour’s fortunes, Unite sent out 8 direct mails and 13 emails from October last year representing some 40,000 pieces of communication in total.

Quantity should not dominate discussions to the exclusion of quality, but I think there is a lesson here for many Liberal Democrat campaigns where the number of emails sent out by local campaigns was, from what I’ve seen, significantly less than the number of pieces of direct mail. Given that emails are cheaper and easier to produce and distribute, that suggests an imbalance, and UNITE’s evidence reinforces the thought that this reflects an under-use of email in many campaigns.

Campaigning lessons from May is the topic of one of Liberal Democrat Voice‘s fringe meetings at conference, theĀ details of which are here. If you are coming to conference, I hope you can make this – and our other – events.

One response to “Are you sending too few emails?”

  1. I think that especially with Email, one should be wary to just increase the quantity. Regardless of whether what you’re doing is technically legal, sending lots of emails to people who aren’t quite interested — and spam from a party you dislike is probably received worse than spam promoting a product you don’t need — could get your IP address blacklisted.

    That’s not to say, of course, that the Internet couldn’t have been used better. As an example, I tried to find out what the LibDems stood for in last week’s local elections by visiting the website, responding to an email from a local LibDem and asking on Twitter. I failed to get a proper reply.

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