It has been a transformative few months for Urban Alliance and its more than 400 email subscribers.

A Constant Contact customer since April 2011, this faith-based non-profit professional services firm located in Hartford, Connecticut has undergone a complete overhaul of its email marketing strategy since the end of July.

“I joined the team here in July and one of my first areas of focus was to find a more effective way to reach our audience using email,” explains Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications, Urban Alliance which mobilizes a network of churches and Christian organizations to help people in their local community. “We were doing a lot of great work already—I wanted to build on what we were already doing.”

Sarah’s plan was simple: deliver more relevant content by dividing her growing list into two different bi-monthly emails—The UA Current, which goes out to a wider audience that includes people seeking to learn more about Urban Alliance and stay informed about the work being done throughout the Urban Alliance network, and The Network Plug, which is designed specifically for churches and organizations that are participants in the Urban Alliance network to receive exclusive updates and information.

Taking the next step

While her strategy was sound, Sarah still had some challenges she wanted to overcome.

“I was familiar with email marketing but wanted to see if there were ways to enhance what we were doing,” Sarah explains. “I wanted to make sure we were getting the most out of the tool.”

That’s when Sarah heard about a unique workshop that was being held in her area. It was an all-day marketing training session offering hands-on attention and a curriculum that she expected would fit the needs of her organization.

The workshop was called the Successful Email Marketing Boot Camp and it was taught by Constant Contact Customer Training Specialist Matt Montoya.

“It was fantastic. Matt did a great job at addressing everyone in the room—regardless of their knowledge-base,” Sarah recalls. “I appreciated that because it allowed everyone to have their questions answered and gain information and strategies that could be applied to their specific needs.”

What Sarah took away from the event wasn’t a completely new email marketing playbook—that wasn’t what she needed. What she needed was advice that was relevant to her needs and hands-on training that would enable her to implement that advice right away.

That’s exactly what she got.

Harnessing the power of email marketing + social media

Like most nonprofits (and small businesses for that matter), Sarah knew her organization needed to do more with its social media marketing. But while they had already started ramping up their social media efforts on sites like Facebook and Twitter, Urban Alliance had yet to combine those efforts with either of its two email newsletters.

“We understand the importance of keeping up with the changing social media outlets, but weren’t doing a lot with social when it came to our emails.”

After the Boot Camp, Sarah was able to apply two simple improvements to help bridge that social gap—adding a Social Media Sharebar to the top of each email and importing links to connect the organization’s newsletter with its Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

“We have found that even some of the smallest changes have had a significant impact,” Sarah explains. “We’ve been able to increase exposure to our newsletter and open our organization up to a much wider audience.”

With the first email Sarah sent with links to the sites Facebook and Twitter pages, Urban Alliance saw forty new people click through to check out its tweets and follow the Urban Alliance Twitter page. It was a small first step that had a meaningful impact on starting to build their social presence.

Driving email engagement with rich media

Using photo and videos in their emails had been a long-time challenge for Urban Alliance.

They had already been snapping pictures and shooting videos at community events and workshops, but hadn’t yet capitalized on the engagement potential of those two mediums.

“Matt helped us with sharing strategic tools when embedding videos into our e-news, which was something we had done, but with these new tools, we were able to increase response and reader engagement,” Sarah recalls. “Our YouTube views have significantly increased as a direct result of readers clicking on a video link within our e-news and our Facebook traffic has increased as a result from direct links to photos within our e-news.”

The UA Current became immediately more engaging when Sarah began to integrate social media and rich media into her email marketing strategy.

Sarah also learned how to get the most from the organization’s photos.

“Matt confirmed the importance of using strong images that fit into a clear layout,” Sarah recalls. “Now, we’ve been able to use photos to better tell our story.”

For Sarah, using photos and videos in her emails isn’t just about creating emails that look better, it’s about designing emails that will catch the reader’s attention and get them to spend the time to read and engage with its content.

That’s the real power of rich media.

Generating action by rethinking links

Sarah knew both the UA Current and the Network Plug needed to do a better job at generating real action.

They had already seen some results at connecting with volunteers and educating their partnering churches and organizations, but when it came to driving web traffic and getting people to take the next step, their emails had fallen short.

“Since the Boot Camp, we really have been able to rethink the way we use links and keep track of the traffic our emails are bringing to our website,” Sarah explains. “We’re using more links within our emails and making better decisions about how we use them.

In the month that followed, the site saw some of its highest traffic—most of it directly coinciding with the mailing dates of either the UA Current or the Network Plug.”

By implementing a better use of its links within the body of the email, in the newsletter sidebar, and with photos and videos, Urban Alliance has been able to turn two useful emails into a new gateway for the organization and its website.

Urban Alliance is finally seeing real action, by rethinking the way in which they use links.

What improvements can you make?

Today, Urban Alliance is seeing more social activity, better engagement rates—and most importantly— more people taking that meaningful next step than ever before.

Maybe you’ve bridged the social gap, and are already tapping into the engagement potential of rich media, or have cracked the code on actionable emails. That’s great!

But whether you’re an email marketing expert or someone that’s just getting started, there’s probably still plenty of challenges you could tackle today.

The good news is … you don’t have to tackle them alone. Find out if there’s a Boot Camp in your neck of the woods and get the type of hands-on training that will let you make meaningful improvements to your next email.

Constant Contact’s Boot Camps are offered throughout the country—bringing hands-on training from our specialists right to your neighborhood. Find out if there are upcoming sessions in your area or request that we bring our training to you!