Using Email to Launch an Online Community

Alex Mastrianni

Informz Success Story

The Society of Marketing Professional Services used email as a key component in the launch of their member-only online community.

With a member base of 6,000 marketing and business development professionals that rely heavily on networking opportunities as a member benefit, the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) needed a way to increase networking and collaboration services for their members. SMPS was already providing benefits for members such as webinars and in-person networking and educational events, as well as public social networking pages such as Facebook and LinkedIn. However, they required a more robust networking and collaboration resource that was exclusive to members. As a result, the SMPS staff began the process of implementing a private online community, MYSMPS, just for members.

Having never developed a large-scale product launch before, a main concern for the staff was that their members wouldn’t understand how to best use the new community. They realized their biggest hurdles would be gaining broad adoption by members and maintaining momentum and usage of the site. To overcome this, the staff knew the first step would be to develop a comprehensive marketing and launch plan to ensure they properly positioned the value of the community to its members.

The Launch Strategy

SMPS developed a three-stage launch strategy. They started by identifying who their early adopters would be – those members most active on the public social sites – to participate in a beta test. During this beta-test period they would collect feedback on usability and positioning, as well as generate user-created content in preparation for their general launch to the entire member base. After the initial beta-test period they would launch the community to the Chapter Presidents at their annual event, knowing that buy-in from this group would help to spread adoption of MYSMPS throughout the chapters. Finally, the last stage would be communicating the official launch of MYSMPS to the entire member base.

SMPS knew that email would be the natural choice as the key communication channel in their launch plan for many reasons. They already had a vigorous email program in place, and email had become the primary medium for sharing information with their members. They also knew it would be an effective vehicle because members would have the ability to link directly to the community from the launch announcement email. By using email, the SMPS staff also would be able to use the reporting in their Informz account to track statistics like opens and clicks as a component in their analysis of the community and launch.

A month prior to the official launch, SMPS began to generate excitement about the community, including a teaser article about MYSMPS in their popular monthly enewsletter. In addition to generating buzz, they also used the article to help position the community as a valuable new member benefi t and explain how the site should be used. This article also gave members the option to log in for a sneak peek at the community, which would allow to use the click-thru tracking to gauge the initial interest of members.

The Official Launch

In May 2010 SMPS was ready for the official launch of MYSMPS to their members. Their launch email announced to members that the community was now live and included detailed instructions on how to access and use the site. The staff used the real-time email analytics available to them to monitor the initial success with email open rates and click-thrus to the site. The email garnered a 31.5% open rate, a 14% click-thru rate, and generated over 250 first-time visits to MYSMPS. SMPS Director of Online Services and IT, Molly Dall’Erta notes that, “Being able to view real-time statistics from our email communications was an important tool for us to create reports on the status of the launch. We could combine our email reports with those from the community to determine the reach of our message and track progress.”

Two weeks after the initial launch, SMPS sent a follow-up email describing the personal and professional benefits of MYSMPS. They featured a subject line of “7 Ways to Grow your Professional Network” to entice members and detailed the many resources the community offered, including blogs, directories, and communities. On that day they combined their email click-thru tracking and reports from the community to see that they had an additional 73 first-time visits to the community.

Approximately 6 weeks since the launch email, MYSMPS now has 716 active profiles. To help maintain momentum, SMPS plans to continue using email as a key tool to compliment the community and drive members back to it. To compliment their email campaigns, they also plan continued promotion through their other channels like the public social media pages, a postcard, and an advertisement in their annual magazine, as well as a series of articles in their SMPS Connections enewsletter to cross-promote the community.

“Email has become a chief component in our member marketing and communications and was a key strategy for our MYSMPS launch plan. Email enables us to send timely, targeted, and cost-effective communication to members while providing reports and tracking that are crucial to our marketing analysis,” said Michele Santiago, Marketing Manager at SMPS.

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About the Author
Alex Mastrianni

As the Marketing Manager at Informz, Alex drives the development and implementation of our content marketing plan and marketing campaigns. Outside of work, Alex is a pop culture junkie, ice cream fanatic, and semi-pro vacation planner.