Friday, October 19, 2007

Campaign e-mails (again)

I have greater and greater misgivings about the e-mails that Barack Obama's campaign is sending to supporters. The problems that I see in these messages suggest the difficulty of using a relatively new means of communication effectively. From October 18, a case in point:


I'm leaving the Tonight Show studio and I wanted to share something.
Am I expected to believe that as Barack Obama is leaving a television studio, he has stopped to fire up a laptop and e-mail me? At 3:35 AM? Yes, this message was sent at 3:35 AM, when I suspect everyone involved in the taping had long since left the studio, Senator Obama included.

A first name followed by a comma is an at least semi-plausible greeting. Sometimes the beginning is a bit too brusque:
Michael --

Last night each of the presidential campaigns reported their third-quarter fundraising numbers.
Worse still, the Obama campaign continues to use "Hey" as a greeting. If anyone from Obama '08 is reading: "Hey" is a terrible way to address someone in an e-mail. "Hey" is what college students are told not to write when they e-mail their professors. What makes campaign strategists imagine that voters and potential contributors want to be addressed in this way?

The sign-offs can be brusque as well:
I need you to make a donation to close the gap:

Not even a "Thanks"?

A stranger development is the use of supporters' names in follow-up messages. Thus I found a message in my inbox from Earnest Primous, "RE: Hillary's money." Earnest Primous, it turns out, is a retired postalworker who's contributed to the Obama campaign and is encouraging me to do likewise. If my son had not tipped me off, I would've deleted this message unopened as spam. The last thing most e-mail users want to do is open messages from unrecognized senders.

A further problem: the Obama campaign's use of follow-up e-mails creates some awkward complications. Consider this excerpt:
Obama is relying on you and me to make this happen. If I can give again, you can give too. Help Obama close the gap with Hillary so we can change politics:

Thank you,

Retired from Postal Service

----------Original message----------

From: Barack Obama
Subject: Hillary's money

Hey --

Last night each of the presidential campaigns reported their third-quarter fundraising numbers.
See what's happened? Mr. Primous, it would appear, is replying to the e-mail that I quoted at the beginning of this post. But that message addressed the recipient by name. Here it begins with "Hey." Mr. Primous' message is, of course, not a reply (in the e-mail sense) at all; it's an e-mail that quotes and makes generic some of the text of the previous Obama e-mail, with "Hey" replacing the previously personalized greeting.

I've telephoned the Obama campaign to voice three suggestions about e-mail strategy:
1. Use a consistent, recognizable sender name. "Obama '08" would be a good one.

2. Use a consistent, non-cryptic subject line. "A message from Obama '08" would be a good one.

3. Use a serious tone, neither falsely informal nor brusque.
The person I spoke with asked whether I realized that Earnest Primous is a real person (of course I did) and explained that the campaign was trying something new. But novelty in e-mailing is not a good strategy, not if one wants the recipient to open, read, and act. And the false informality of these e-mails is sadly at odds with the honest eloquence that draws people to the Obama campaign.
Related post
Campaign e-mail etiquette
Obama e-mail improvement

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