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November 12, 2019 – San Francisco

Twilio Analysis of Presidential Campaign Email Effectiveness Shows only a Small Number Reach Intended Audience

Lack of basic security precautions puts campaigns and recipients potentially at risk

Absence of best practices inhibits efficacy, wasting precious campaign resources

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 12, 2019 — Twilio (NYSE: TWLO), the leading cloud communications platform, today announced the results of a new study conducted to analyze the efficacy of emails sent by United States presidential campaigns to reach their targeted audiences. The report “How Political Campaigns Can Ensure Their Email Messages Hit Home” studied the patterns, tactics and frequency of emails sent by the presidential campaigns and to what extent they actually reached their recipients. The report also outlined best practice recommendations to reach recipients via email who have consented to receive communications from the campaigns.

Twilio submitted a newly created email address to 26 Democratic presidential campaigns and the incumbent president in July 2019 to subscribe to the campaigns’ communications and analyzed the activity over the course of 30 days. 

Findings included:

  • Less than 4% of all the messages received from all of the campaigns landed in the primary tab of the test account. The primary tab in an email Gmail account is the first thing a recipient sees upon opening Gmail in a web browser.
  • 21% of all the messages our test account received landed in the spam folder, one in five recipients is potentially not receiving messages from candidates which hampers awareness, fundraising and organization efforts of the campaigns. 
  • Nearly 75% of the messages received by Twilio’s test account landed in the promotions folder. The promotions folder is meant to capture and store commercial and promotional content. Gmail’s algorithms determined that most of the political email messages sent by the campaigns should be sorted in the promotional tab. 

Additionally, almost half of the campaigns either lacked a Domain Messaging Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) record or failed a DMARC check by the receiving domains, thus leaving their brands and messages more open to spoofing and phishing attacks. Email authentication is a strong data point in the overall reputation logic used by email platforms. The lack of authentication can impact whether an email gets delivered at all, or whether it gets placed in a spam folder or not. Basic email authentication can make it more difficult for bad actors to spoof the campaign’s domain or email address that it uses to communicate with potential voters. Authentication also protects recipients by decreasing the ability of bad actors to spoof the campaign’s domain and trick recipients into disclosing personally identifiable information (PII) which leads to identity theft and other forms of cyber crime. 

“The majority of emails from presidential candidates do not adhere to the best practices widely known by effective email marketers across a great swath of industries and verticals,” said Len Shneyder, vice president of Industry Relations for Twilio SendGrid and author of the report. “Campaigns present a different set of dynamics given how potentially brief they operate as an organization and how rapidly they have to scale and ramp. Nonetheless, our numbers indicate that for the most part, they could be more successful at reaching their intended audiences if they better understood the nuances of email at scale. The result was a waste of precious resources and time and a lost opportunity to influence and motivate prospective voters.”

Based on the report’s findings, best practices for more effective email practices by presidential campaigns to reach prospective voters who have given their consent include: 

  • Limit the use of “friendly from” address, or aliases, as they can be confusing and misleading. If multiple “friendly from” addresses are necessary, be consistent in both tone and voice. 
  • Don’t flood the recipient’s email boxes all the time. Persuadable and prospective voters will tune out a campaign in a hurry if they feel they are being inundated with emails. Campaigns can easily give recipients a menu to choose from as to how often they want to hear from a campaign and in what format, i.e., daily updates, weekly updates, a newsletter, etc. 
  • Cut down on the screaming subject lines in capital letters. It makes the emails look less genuine. People associate these tactics with unsolicited commercial email (UCE) and are more likely to ignore the emails.
  • Keep the subject lines short, limited to around 40 characters. Most people view their emails on their phones where the space for subject lines is limited. Long subject lines will simply be cut off without delivering the intended message. 
  • Keep email and communications secure, both to protect the campaign and to protect the information of its supporters.
  • Campaigns need to employ appropriate list hygiene mechanisms to decrease the number of bounces and typo traps that can lead to seriously degraded inbox placement. Said mechanisms could include using validation tools to check for malformed addresses, or ferreting out known hard bounces and avoiding delivering email to role accounts and known ‘dead’ domains because they may be trap networks.

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