How to solicit feedback from e-newsletter readers

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You can learn a lot about your readers by watching their Web behavior, but there is another option: asking them outright what they think of your e-mail marketing program. Jeanne Jennings, online marketing consultant for, and Tony Quinn, CEO of interactive agency IQ Interactive, weigh in on getting your prospects and clients to weigh in themselves.

1) Ask for direct feedback. You can do this by creating a short survey—keep questions and answers to a two-to-five-minute completion time—and putting it out there for your customers and prospects. You can link to a Web-based survey or provide a survey button directly in your e-mail.

2) Be careful with incentives. Sure, offering an Apple iPod to those who give you feedback will net you advice, but is that the type of advice you really want?

“If you give something like that away, you get your information posted on one of those sites that list freebies,” Jennings said.

She suggested tying your incentives as closely as possible to your business model. For example, offer respondents a free white paper or access to a Webinar. “It’s got to be something of value that wouldn’t be a value to those outside your audience,” she said.

3) Always include an e-mail address for feedback. You already know you need an opt-out link or e-mail address in your e-mail communications, but Quinn said a second address is just as important even if it’s not mandated by the law.

“Basically, you want people to be able to ask you questions or give you feedback when they want to,” he said. “[Companies] are often afraid they will receive too many e-mails, but we see that doesn’t happen very often.”

4) Consider face-to-face opportunities. Trade shows are a perfect opportunity to run an informal focus group. Another option is to assemble a local advisory board comprising customers and prospects. You can bring both groups in for lunch and give them a meeting with a top adviser or the editor of your newsletter as a reward.

“We’ve done this with clients and had people begging to be on the advisory board,” Jennings said. “We’ve got people who put [their participation] on their resumes. Look for someone who isn’t too shy, is willing to speak their feelings and isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings. You want someone to be willing to tell you something stinks and why.”

5) Link your newsletter content to a blog. Blogs let people interact with a company or person in a way that they feel heard and seen. If you post every story on your company’s blog and provide a space for people to respond to and comment on those stories, you will garner opinions, Quinn said. Editing the blog, however, can sometimes create problems.

“You’re getting unvarnished opinions, and if you try and sanitize what is exposed to your customer base, you start opening up yourself for problems,” he said. “A blog is an opportunity for a customer, but it’s also an opportunity for competitors to get in and spread information that isn’t true.”

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