No reply. That’s what happens a third of the time if a member of the public contacts a Liberal Democrat local party via the internet according to a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise I carried out earlier this month.
Taking the publicly advertised email addresses for 25 local parties, I tried sending them all a test email from someone asking about joining the party. Just under two-thirds responded within 48 hours, which is a good response time. However, beyond that there were only a couple of further replies and the others have, after more than two weeks, not replied at all.
It is a similarly mixed picture with the quality of the replies. Only a quarter of the replies included a direct web link to the page on which someone can join the party. Moreover, a third of the replies did not include a working web link to join the party at all – not even one that took you to a page where you have to click to go to a page…
Amongst people who spend time trying to make emails as effective as possible and to maximise their response rates, it is very well known that you get the most responses by providing people with a clear, direct link that takes them straight to the page on which they can then directly take the action you want. (Update – such as this page.) Yet that knowledge looks to be missing in large numbers of local parties, which is likely to have an effect not only on their emails to possible members but also their use of email otherwise, both to inform and involve members and with the wider public.
The same point applies to advanced steps to make emails effective, with very few of the replies containing for example any specific event or activity the person could immediately get involved with. Yet, again, the wider lesson is that if you don’t immediately offer someone the chance to get involved in a specific activity they are much less likely to get involved in the future.
In fairness to those who sent the email replies back, many of whom did so very quickly and nearly all of whom wrote friendly, warm message, the amount of training and advice which the party provides, such as sample emails to adapt for local use, is rather limited. Moreover, a good number of local volunteers replied with a prompt personal message that puts many commercial operations who use email for customer support and contact to shame.
There is a new membership development pack coming soon which places particular emphasis on thinking about what someone trying to contact a local party will encounter, such as whether contact details are up to date. That should help to tackle some of the issues this survey has highlighted.
However, overall the party is being far less welcoming to would-be new members than it should be.
Thank you to Martin Tod for helping in the preparation of the exercise and also thank you for their time to everyone who responded to the mystery shopper survey.