4 Reasons Why Email Marketing Still Works for Local Governments

Feeling pressured to start Twitter and Facebook accounts for your environmental program, or to put in constant effort to keep them updated? Know this: Even in the age of social media, email marketing – regular e-newsletters or an occasional email promoting a new program or initiative – is still an effective tool to reach community members. Here are four reasons why:

1. Email is versatile

Emails work across a variety of platforms. A Gmail user can forward a message to Yahoo Mail and vice-versa. On the other hand, it’s more common for social media content to remain siloed in the channel in which it originated.

Regular social media users are also more likely to frequently check their email than individuals who abstain from social media, marketing agency Merkle found. In its 2010 study, 42 percent of regular social media users checked their personal email accounts four times a day or more, compared to only 26 percent of non-social media users who did the same. So even if you’re not reaching the exact same audiences across the board, it’s likely that your email campaign will successfully reach many social media users.

2. Email is mobile-friendly

According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of cell phone owners used their phones to send or receive email in 2013, and that number is likely to grow. Email marketing works on other mobile devices, too, such as tablets, which only increases your campaign’s reach.

3. Email is inexpensive

If you’re trying to reach community members on their smartphones, email is a much cheaper marketing tool than text messages. Emails are free for your constituents to receive, while texts may be hit with a fee. Emails can also accommodate more content than text messages, giving you more bang for your outreach buck. Even if you pay for an email marketing service like Constant Contact or MailChimp to send your emails, you’ll still be sending emails to a large group of constituents at a rate of pennies per message, whereas sending texts to that same group can be prohibitively expensive. Email marketing is also less costly than purchasing online or print ads.

4. Email is effective

The statistics don’t lie: For every dollar a small business spends on email marketing, its average return on investment is $44.25, the Direct Marketing Association found. Email marketing is also nearly 40 times more effective at helping small businesses acquire customers than Facebook and Twitter, according to McKinsey and Company. And Gigaom Research notes in this PDF report that marketers consistently ranked email as the single-most effective tactic for businesses to build awareness and attract, convert and retain customers.

Sure, those are impressive figures for small businesses, but how does this translate to government agencies? Of the 75 percent of Americans who are online, an impressive 82 percent of them say they interact with government online, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. Yes, the mission of local governments is very different from that of a small business that is looking to woo and maintain a loyal customer base. But, at the end of the day, your goal is to communicate your message effectively, encourage participation and elicit engagement from your community. So even if you’re publicizing an e-waste collection event or promoting a new food waste program, these goals mirror the aims of a business looking to promote a service or product.

That’s why email marketing isn’t just a valuable outreach tool for businesses – it’s effective for cities and counties, too.

On Writing Environmental Content for Governments

Recently, a potential customer asked us to provide an explicit editorial policy — our editorial ethos, if you will. As a B2G company, we contract with government agencies, but we are not a government agency ourselves. That got us thinking — what is our ethos, exactly, and how can we let customers know what type of content to expect from us?

First off, as a B2G that provides content for municipalities, we never engage in political promotions of any kind, such as endorsing one party or candidate over another, or asking people to call their elected officials or sign a petition. Not only would that be unethical, it’s simply not our focus as a company.

Similarly, we don’t promote the sale of specific products or services. We provide educational — not promotional — content. We don’t run ads, advertorials or sponsored content. Whenever we advise certain actions, such as opting for reusable bags over plastic or paper bags, we direct readers to multiple paths they could take. There is no right way to get ahold of a reusable bag, and there is no small number of ways, either, so we simply provide a few of the obvious options.

Generally speaking, we believe that our society can evolve into a zero waste society, and we work — and write — in support of that goal. We promote recycling, but we also know that recycling should be a last resort. First and foremost, we should be reducing what we consume, and reusing every material we can. Additionally, we aspire to zero waste principles because they minimize the following: resource extraction; pollution caused by extraction, production, shipping, consumption and end-of-life disposal; littering; and leaching of chemicals and debris from landfills and recycling facilities into water supplies.

We view our audience — the communities that our customers serve — as split into three segments based on behavioral research data. Approximately ten percent of people are truly dedicated to preserving the environment, doing whatever they can to make a difference, all the time. We hope and expect that our content makes it that much easier for these people to keep doing what they’re doing. Then there’s another ten percent at the other end of the spectrum who are unlikely to take action to preserve the environment, regardless of what they hear or know. We honestly don’t see our content as a great solution for converting these people into committed recyclers or sustainable practitioners. This is a challenge that we are intrigued by and are actively thinking about solutions for, but one that we suspect has an entirely different solution than the one we are currently offering. Our main target audience is the vast middle 80 percent of the population in between these two groups. These are the people who are willing to act, but need better direction and a little motivation first. We target this group because the greatest return on investment in education and outreach will come from the largest numbers of people who can be swayed into positive action with the right information.

That is why, when we create content for our customers’ recycling guides, blog posts, social media posts or newsletters, we prioritize visually compelling content that is clearly written and easily actionable. We want any resident or business owner to be able to look for a topic, and see tips they can carry out easily, even if they just scan the page (which is what studies show the majority of people do). Easy, actionable tips are important for the persuadable 80 percent. These people aren’t determined to try to change the world today, but they are willing to do a little something from time to time, and that is how, over time, we can move towards a culture that values reducing waste and reusing valuable materials.

We steer clear of controversial issues such as waste-to-energy incineration or clean coal. Not only would addressing these issues be complicated, it’s not even relevant to our editorial mission, which is to inform and educate residents and businesses about everyday steps they can take in their own communities. Moreover, the controversial environmental issues tend to be political in nature, and as stated above, we do not engage in political topics of any kind.

As for the quality of our content, we carefully check our sources. We don’t publish information that says electronic cigarettes are better for the environment than traditional cigarettes when that information is being propagated by companies who sell e-cigarettes. We never fall for promoting greenwashed consumerism. We find unbiased scientific information from organizations and outlets such as the National Resources Defense Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nature or Scientific American. We also put careful consideration into the information and actions we’re advocating. For example, if a product is being touted as eco-friendly just because it’s made from a certain material, we don’t take that statement at face value. For something to be termed eco-friendly also requires consideration of the likelihood of it being reused, composted or recycled successfully; how much energy it took to produce the product and how much energy it will take to recycle or dispose of it; and the environmental damage and pollution it creates throughout its lifecycle, from extraction to end-of-life.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in the nuts and bolts of our editorial process, we follow AP style and license royalty-free images. Every piece of content we publish receives at least one line edit and a copyedit after it’s been written. We run link checkers daily to ensure that our customers’ sites never have broken links. Because we publish digitally, we can always change something that is inaccurate or becomes outdated, and we are dedicated to staying on the cutting edge of our industry’s knowledge. We are committed to providing our clients with the highest quality product, which means we have to maintain up-to-date content at all times.

In thinking through these editorial standards and ethics, we thought that sharing them on our blog might be useful for others in similar positions of creating green content from a government perspective. We’ve been following an unwritten set of rules for some time, but now that we have actual guidelines written up, we are already appreciating that they are helpful doing exactly that — guiding our content creation process. We invite you to check out our Stockton Recycles to see the guidelines in action. The recycling guide has zillions of examples of the clear, actionable tips referenced above. And the blog posts take a deeper dive while still focusing on simple steps that anyone can take towards moving us to a zero waste society.

Market-Tested Language to Inspire Environmental Action

It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that the environment isn’t doing so well. From animal extinctions and dying rainforests to extreme, unpredictable weather, few bother to deny that something is amiss with Mother Nature. However, despite the fact that we know people should do things like drive less and consume less plastic, not many are motivated to pitch in and make a difference.

But actions do matter. So how do we inspire people to act? Change the way we talk about it. “Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans” is a 2015 report by ecoAmerica, a think tank committed to improving communication around climate change in order to increase activism. They partnered with several other organizations, including the NRDC, to put together this PDF guide to market-tested language that will inspire action that’s better for the planet. Here are five key recommendations from what they found:

1. Don’t be gloomy. Jump quickly to solutions.

Knowing what’s wrong is fine, but it gets depressing — in order to avoid feeling helpless and overwhelmed, we need to know what we can do about it. Having a solution in sight, especially one that is clearly actionable, is motivating for citizens. Americans are also motivated by use of the word “we” (as opposed to “you” or “I”) because it generates a communal, can-do attitude. Think of statements such as “we can” or “we need,” and shift your message’s focus to possibilities for action and what can be achieved through that action. Similarly, avoid discussion of blame or villainous opponents. Instead, talk about the benefits that come from taking action on environmental issues, such as the freedom of choice that’s involved: “The choice is ours…for a clean energy future.”

2. Sell personal benefits, such as health, local issues and cost savings.

It’s easier for people to become actively invested in issues that will affect them personally than it is for them to become invested in large-scale or global issues. Even if citizens do care, such issues are more complicated and less tangible. So instead of talking about jobs lost, talk about savings gained, or costs that have been cut. Instead of talking about global repercussions of climate damage, talk about local repercussions. And remember to sell how it will affect citizens’ health — nothing is more personal than a person’s own body. Facts from non-partisan, third party sources, such as the American Lung Association, are most effective in this arena.

3. Family and children matter.

Make a connection between climate action and the moral responsibility we carry for future generations. Americans care about their families and providing a future for their children, and even those who are childless care about children and community.

4. Describe the “damage to the climate.”

Americans care about facts and actions they can take to prevent them from becoming reality. Also, the phrase “damage to the climate” receives better response rates than the phrases “climate change,” “climate crisis” and “global warming,” because it is less political and sounds like something you could prevent.

5. Use language to depict experiences your citizens can easily identify with.

For many, visual, descriptive language is easier to understand than abstract language or statistical data — people are good at seeing themselves in common scenarios and relating to them. For example, the highest rated message in ecoAmerica’s study begins: “Imagine driving a car that never requires paying at the pump. Imagine tastier fruits and vegetables from a local farmer you know. Imagine biking or walking on paths to shortcut through traffic and easy access to plentiful public transit. This is the clean energy future. And it’s within our grasp.”


For more language tips, view the full PDF report here.

It turns out that the way you say something does make a difference. So when you want people to take action, don’t just communicate more — follow these tips to communicate more effectively.

Study: What Residents Know and Don’t Know About Recycling, and Why It Matters

In the ideal world, we all would have the resources to commission research studies that tell us what’s keeping our recycling rates down. In the real world, for most of us that’s not going to happen. But we can learn a lot from others who have put in the time and effort to find out what’s going on in their communities.

In 2014, environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and and waste management company SITA UK teamed up to conduct a study to get to the bottom of what was causing dwindling recycling rates in highly-urbanized communities in the UK. They polled a wide range of participants about recycling knowledge and habits, and then conducted a mini-class to see how learning about recycling affected attitudes towards recycling. Here’s what they discovered.

Most people know when to put out their trash and curbside recycling. That’s a decent start. But when it comes to knowing what their local haulers actually accept, more than 30 percent of people are unsure. About the same number of people don’t feel confident about the reasons to recycle or benefits of recycling. That’s a large slice of folks who are readily dissuaded from recycling, or likely sources of high contamination rates, all due to lack of basic information.

Further, where recycling knowledge really breaks down is when it comes to understanding what happens to recyclables after they’re tossed in the bin, and what products can be made from the items you recycle. About 80 percent of people claim cluelessness in these areas.

The good news? After the mini-class, study participants said greater awareness of the recycling process increased their commitment to recycling and ability to do it appropriately. A majority of people said that if they were informed of various concrete benefits to recycling, whether local or global, they would be more likely to recycle. And many claimed that they simply needed basic education about what items they can recycle and hauler service options.

So what does this mean for your recycling outreach?
Here are some key points from the study’s recommended Action Plan:

Continue to invest in communication

“Communication should continue to be at the heart of increasing recycling, utilizing the expertise and research developed over time. Not only do we need to continue to invest in communication, but we also need to be better at getting messages across to the public, exploring new techniques via social media alongside more traditional and targeted local campaigns.”

Emphasize the value of recycling

“Stakeholders … need to come together to communicate a more consistent message on recycling and to rebuild the connection between the public, natural resources and our waste … At a local and global level, people need to understand both the personal and societal benefits.”

Don’t forget the big picture

“Government should support the repositioning of the waste and resource sector, not just as another service, but one that is good for the environment. We have to demonstrate the additional strengths of recycling and the circular economy for future investment, job creation, skill development, and for the positive contribution they make to a sustainable economy.”

A tall order? Yes. Doable? Also, we believe, yes. At Recyclist, we obsess over how to do all of the above and do it really well, on behalf of our customers. However, even if you are doing all your outreach yourself, if nothing else this study can serve as a source of encouragement and motivation that it’s most certainly worth your time and effort. And as a reminder that while you’re letting people know the do’s and don’ts of what goes where, it’s equally important to weave in broader messaging around values and benefits. Of all the things that can stand in the way between where your recycling program is and where you want it to be, don’t let lack of knowledge be one of them. Knowledge is empowerment, and empowerment is the beginning of change.

3 Social Media Tips for Your Environmental Campaign

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more important than ever to your environmental campaign.

A 2014 report by public relations and marketing firm Cone Communications found that when individuals educate themselves about social or environmental issues through social media, they are more likely to take action. According to the 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study, nearly two-thirds of Americans say that after “liking” or “following” a nonprofit or corporate social responsibility program online, they are more inclined to support the cause by volunteering, donating and sharing information.

Here are the top three lessons from this report that local governments, haulers and other organizations carrying out environmental campaigns need to know:

1. Choose your social media outlet based on your target audience

Facebook is far and away Americans’ preferred social media platform, Cone Communications found, so you shouldn’t plan a digital campaign without it. But beyond Facebook, different segments of the population prefer their own digital channels.

Looking to launch a campaign that targets men? Don’t bother with Pinterest, as women are more likely to use this visual bookmarking tool than men (27 percent vs. 9 percent).

If you’re planning to create an anti-littering initiative aimed at Millennials, for example, go ahead and make use of Tumblr. Millennials are twice as likely as the average American to use Tumblr (14 percent vs. 7 percent).

If you’re aiming to reach Baby Boomers—perhaps to publicize a syringe or medication collection program—your best bet is to stick to Facebook. More than half of Boomers say they use Facebook to engage around social or political issues, but their participation on other platforms is minimal.

2. Inspire real action

The study also revealed a gap between intent and action—what people say they do and what they actually do. For example, while 70 percent of survey respondents said they are likely to learn online about changes they can make in their everyday lives to reduce their environmental impact, only 25 percent reported doing so in the last year.

Rather than view this discrepancy as an indictment of social media activism (derogatorily referred to as slacktivism), Cone Communications calls it a “prime opportunity” for organizations to motivate individuals to take meaningful action.

So don’t just offer passive online actions such as “liking” or “sharing” content to your current and prospective followers. Instead, give your followers action-oriented activities they can do to make an impact—perhaps giving you feedback on your hazardous waste collection program or signing a commitment to change their behavior (pledging to compost or recycle batteries, for instance).

3. Make the message meaningful and urgent

Americans are bombarded by social and environmental causes on social media, so how can you make your campaign stand out?

According to Cone Communications’ study, survey respondents are more likely to be motivated to take action on a cause they learned about online if they believe their participation will make an impact (79 percent), there is an urgent need for immediate support (79 percent), it is easy to participate (77 percent) and the issue is personally relevant (74 percent).

So, offer your followers actions they can take that will make a real difference (example: sign up for the litter pickup event), just like we discussed in the last tip. And be sure to tell them how the action will benefit their community and the environment. Rather than leading with a guilty prod, such as “Litter and pollution is destroying our community,” boast about how much litter the cleanup event collected last year and how it protected the local environment.