Judging your online file

We’ve gone over email, Web, and constituent metrics so far — now we need to look at how your online file stacks up.

imageThe easy, and lazy, metric is file size.  There is a certain type of person — and I’m not going to name any names or get political here — that always thinks that bigger is better.  And that yuge…  I mean huge… is better than bigger.

I would be lying if I had not seen this used as a case for investment at some points.  There is no small amount of power in standing up in front of a board (which is, sadly, more older white men than we should probably have as a society at this point) and saying “your X is too small.”  That X stands for “email file size” is not entirely relevant at that point.

These people, whoever they may be, because I have too much class to single out any one particular person, are wrong.  File size is a vanity metric.  It makes you feel good (or bad) but doesn’t impact performance.

Deliverable file size is a skosh better.  Here, you subtract out people who have unsubscribed, hard bounces, people who haven’t opened an email in a significant amount of time, and other malcontents.  At least this can’t be gamed (in the long term) by going on fiverr.com and paying five bucks for thousands of email subscribers, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc.

But ideally, you want to take your file size and overlay your value per constituents.  If your advocacy constituents are worth $1 and your information-requesters are worth ten cents, a file that is 90,000 advocacy folks and 10,000 requesters will be worth a lot more than vice versa.  So, deliverable file size by actionable segment is probably the thing to shoot for.

But more than that, you need to look at those segments by how you get there and where you are going.  This means looking at the positive side (growth) and negative side (churn).

I’ve professed my love of the M+R metrics report here, but there’s one thing I don’t 100% agree with.  They say:

Our job is not to block the exits; our job is to throw the doors open and welcome people in.

They put this in the proper context in the next line: “You should be paying more attention to growth than churn.”  But this doesn’t mean you should be paying no attention to churn.  You want to make sure that people aren’t leaving in droves, especially if they implicate one of your acquisition strategies.  For example, if 90 percent of the people who sign a petition aren’t on your file in six months, you are either doing a bad job of retaining them or you likely didn’t want them anyway.

But, as M+R says, don’t lose a lot of sleep over churn.  The two recommendations I have are:

1) Customize your exit plans.  Many of the people who unsubscribe from you don’t want to unsubscribe as much as they want a different email relationship with you.  That may be something you are able to provide with segmented emails, fewer emails, etc.

2) Do electronic change-of-address maintenance of your file so you can recapture all of the people you want to get back.

I also like to look at online list by origin.  Sometimes, increasing online subscribers from one means of acquisition (e.g., e-append) can mask weaknesses in others (e.g., organic conversion).  There is no ideal here, but it’s good to see some diversity in origin.

Finally, make sure you are measuring the share of online revenue you get from email. You want to stay in a Goldilocks zone here.  Too little from email and your emails aren’t effective in driving people to take the most important action on your site.  Too much from email and you aren’t attracting new people to the organization.

Judging your online file

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