Diseases to avoid when crafting your autoresponder

(Reading time: 3 minutes, 38 seconds)

One reason organizations may be reluctant to use a welcome email to survey readers is because they think of a newsletter as a vehicle to communicate a laundry list of options to readers.

When most newsletters look like ads for a used car dealership, the idea of adding a survey into the mix sounds like a bad idea.

I’m not suggesting that the survey in your autoresponder be a part of the newsletter. It is the newsletter.

The most obvious example that you’ll probably be familiar with is a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey that’s delivered in an email. It looks like this:

“How likely are you to recommend …”

I’m not recommending you send an NPS survey to new subscribers. It would be a bad time to send it and NPS poses plenty of problems — just ask Eleanor Roosevelt.

But it is an example of an email that asks a question and maintains a singular focus.

Let’s look more closely at that question and the focus the email will need to maintain to get people to respond.

Humanize your subject matter

You could follow the example above and ask your question in the subject line. Definitely do not use the default “Thanks for joining!” subject line.

Remember that you can test subject lines. Nothing is written in stone. This survey is very limited in scope and it’s ongoing. You’re not going to share the results with funders. It’s meant to help your staff learn from readers. There’s flexibility here — you don’t have to get it “right” the first time.

So, you could try asking your question in the subject itself — Maybe “what one thing made you sign up today?”

Or try a less direct approach: “Could you take two seconds to answer one question for me?”

Not “us” — “me”.

“Me” implies a real human is waiting for an answer. People are more likely to respond if you go a step further and sign off using a real person’s name and title — preferably someone involved with your email communications because the point of the survey is to help them understand readers a bit better. Be sure to set up the email so that any reply actually does go to that person — don’t fake it.

If you go the extra mile to humanize these exchanges, you’ll catch some people off guard, communicate that their experience and priorities really matter to you, and more people will respond.


If you’re currently sending out a default confirmation email to subscribers, and you’ve decided to take your autoresponder up a notch, you will be tempted to include other CTAs.

Try to resist the urge.

Call-to-actionitis is an epidemic. Most newsletters from cultural organizations aren't about just one thing. It’s understandable. They have plenty of things going on at once and sending an email for every event or program would be information overload.

But sending everything all at once all the time can get monotonous. When someone first signs up for your mailing list, you may have more of their attention than at any other time. They haven’t yet become inured to the flood of events and news that will follow.

The more attuned you become to the opportunity, the more you’ll be tempted to add to your initial email. Resist!

The Salvador Dalí Museum is one of the few museums in Florida that sends a welcome email that encourages readers to return to the museum’s site for, well, many reasons:

Salvador Dalí Museum welcome email

So many choices. So few decisions being made for the reader.

Once organizations go beyond the default welcome template, you can imagine the temptation to dump the home page into the welcome email. I’d be interested to see how many people who receive the email above actually go on to shop the store or take the virtual tour.

Call-to-actionitis is inflamed by templatitis, a condition spread by email service providers.

Many of the welcome emails I received after signing up for over 100 museum newsletters were a default Constant Contact template. Swap out the museum’s logo and they would have been indistinguishable from one another.

There’s nothing wrong with using a template; No need to reinvent the wheel.

But if you’ve been using a default welcome template and you wanted to step up your game, you’d likely open up Mailchimp or Constant Contact and see what other templates are available. You’ll find plenty with lots of columns and placeholders for images and text.

Templates with more stuff look more appealing than a simple template with a single call to action.

So, like the Salvador Dalí Museum, you’ll want to pick one that looks visually appealing and start filling in the blanks.

Try to resist the urge.

Remember, in this experiment, you’re trying to learn something from your audience. You’re not trying to get them to shop your online store and become a member and donate and take a survey.

So, look for the most boring template and try using that. A boring template just means that it’s up to the person creating the newsletter to make the content interesting and to make decisions as to how to direct the reader’s response to a single outcome.

But how does it work?

Tomorrow, I'll share some tools I use and ideas as to how you can make the interaction more fluid and relatively painless for users.

After that, I think we'll be on to other topics. If this series on autoresponders has made you think twice about a common interaction with your audience, I'd love to hear it. Hit reply and let me know.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen