Checked your spam folder lately? Probably not. Most people trust in their email software or webmail provider to keep away messages from annoying advertisers or organizations you’d rather not hear from. However, as filtering algorithms grow more efficient and effective and providers pursue the cleanest, most appealing interface for readers, it’s possible that direct marketing campaigns and other online outreach from nonprofits could end up diverted away from those who might be responsive to them.
The latest modification from Google to its email service is the tabbed inbox, which breaks down all incoming messages into four subcategories, each with its own tab window: Primary (direct contacts and those frequently emailed), Social (social media groups, forums, and mailings lists), Promotions (advertisements and mass messages), and Updates (receipts, app notifications, ticket confirmations, and the like).
The worry of some nonprofits is that by shuttling their direct email marketing efforts into the same tab as offers for discount clothes and cheap pizza, their attempts to raise funds or call people to action will end up what may become an advertising wasteland. Avaaz, for example, sent an appeal to its subscribers on Monday morning that called this new format one of the “biggest threats” it has ever faced.
There are a number of potential ways being suggested to keep your emails out of the Promotional tab; Avaaz asked its subscribers to reply to the email call to action, while others say all you need the reader to do is drag one positively-received piece of mail into the Primary tab for it to stick.
Is there anything to this worry? As stated in the article, an internal study from MailChimp in July showed that “since the new inbox was rolled out, the company has seen three consecutive weeks of declines in response rates, from 13 percent to down near 12 percent.” Constant Contact Inc., found similar results, reporting small decreases in click-through rates for Gmail users between May and June. But both companies stress that it’s still too early to know if the decreases will last.
Julie Niehoff, who’s both Constant Contact’s director of field education and development and vice chair of the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations, has “acknowledged that there is a sense of genuine concern among Constant Contact users who depend on email campaigns to communicate with their customers, members, and volunteers.” However, she believes that “the best approach for the time being is to wait, measure, and see.”
“Don’t overreact to a change like this,” Niehoff said. “This is not the time to change your marketing strategy. It’s too early to tell.”—Jason Schneiderman