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Best practices: Using polls in e-mail marketing

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Several times each month, the 6,500 people on ProofreadNOW.com’s opt-in subscriber list have a chance to share their opinions. That’s when the company, which provides proofreading services to marketers, includes fun, topical polls along with its usual editorial content. The polls are designed to increase readership and stickiness, said Phil Jamieson, president of the Topsfield, Mass.-based company. Jamieson and Jordan Ayan, the founder of SubscriberMail, provide these tips to help you add polling to your e-mail newsletter or get the most out of your existing polling content.

1) Don’t mistake polls for research. “One of the key things is simplicity,” Ayan said. “We call this feature a ‘quick poll.’ It’s not a marketing research tool; it’s designed to be, in essence, an engagement device.” This means results aren’t statistically significant and shouldn’t be used to make marketing or strategy decisions, he said.

2) Tell, don’t sell. There’s a reason that Jamieson’s polls never stray into product-related territory: He doesn’t want to turn readers off or get them to tune out. He wants them to feel an emotional attachment to his brand, which is why his polls are always fun.

“Our first poll was, ‘Should the word Internet be capped or not?’ The second poll was would the Red Sox beat the Yankees. Both generated a lot of interest,” he said.

From the beginning, the polls were never about directly increasing conversion rates, but he’s sure that they have to some extent. “We just don’t look at our newsletter or the polls as a hard sell tool,” he said.

3) Keep results under wraps. You might be tempted to give in to your readers’ desire for instant gratification and provide results at the time of polling, but Ayan said delaying the results can result in increased future open and click-through rates. “Delaying encourages people to read the next issue for the results,” he said. “You can also put the results up on your Web site as a way to engage your prospects.”

4) Avoid controversy. Jamieson’s team avoids polarizing subjects that could alienate prospects, such as religion and politics. While you might want to ask about the latest scandal in your industry, avoid anything that could offend. “We don’t do anything provocative,” Jamieson said. “The polls should be interesting to a large number of people. They are about building relationships.”

5) Plan around RSS delivery. If you’re like the more than 30% of companies, according to JupiterResearch, that are adding RSS feeds to their marketing program, don’t forget that polls don’t translate to the RSS world. “You can add a link to the feed, but you must somehow plan around how that survey is going to operate,” Ayan said.

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