Inappropriate power frames

List member Lee said some nice things about an email I wrote last week and then asked this question:


At some point could you write a post or email about your philosophy on asking for a reply with each/most/many of the emails that you send?

I ask because I see the “Hit Reply and let me know…” technique being used and promoted more and more, so much so that I wonder if it’s becoming just another tactic for many people with a list. Personally, I’ve started replying to many of these requests just to see if the sender actually takes the time to respond to my reply – it’s my way of gauging the trustability of the sender and their intentions towards their list.

Happy to oblige, Lee. Get ready for a bit of a rant. 🙂

I see this “hit REPLY and let me know” thing being used in 4 ways.

1) Legitimate method of “engaging” with your list

In my email last week about email marketing, I said “engaged email list” several times. I certainly understand if anyone got the impression that having an engaged email list is some kind of ultimate business goal.

It shouldn’t be, though. It’s a means to an end, but not the end itself.

For me, the end is my mission of helping self-employed software developers successfully make the transition from generalist to highly-paid, in-demand specialist.

In other words, that’s why I want to “engage” with my list, and why I consider it important to have an “engaged email list”.

My mission is furthered if I understand more about the people on my email list and build meaningful relationships with them.

Asking for people to hit REPLY sometimes and continue the conversation that I’ve started is one way to learn more and build those relationships.

People hitting REPLY even if I don’t ask them to but they have a question or a reaction to something I’ve said also furthers my mission, and I’m always humbled and delighted when it happens.

So that’s reason #1 people use this technique, and I’m 100% in support of this motivation.

2) Training SPAM filters

When an email list member replies to a list email, they train their email software’s SPAM filter to consider the sender’s email “safe” and not SPAM.

I don’t know a lot about exactly how this works because I’ve been fortunate to not have to learn. 🙂 So I don’t know how many replies it takes to accomplish this training, etc. I just know the “hit REPLY and _______” technique is promoted as a way for email marketers to have fewer deliverability problems and it probably does actually work as advertised.

3) List segmentation

Asking for a REPLY can also be used for list segmentation purposes.

Drip has a reply tracking feature that can identify (and tag and take automated action) when a list member replies to an email, and I’d bet other sophisticated email marketing platforms have similar features.

So some marketers might use the “hit REPLY and ______” technique to identify the most active and engaged segment of their list for some purpose (probably to sell to you 🙂 ). I’ve seen one marketer talk up an upcoming webinar and then say “if you don’t have the link for this hit REPLY and I’ll send it to you”. I’m 90% sure he’s doing this for list segmentation purposes and to train SPAM filters and not because it’s an effective way to give people a link to a webinar. He could just include the link in the email if that was his goal. 🙂 Getting a REPLY from warmer prospects is almost certainly his real goal.

I don’t currently use replies to segment my list. I do have Drip’s reply tracking enabled, but I don’t segment based on that information. I have a somewhat more casual approach to email marketing in general and I’m not currently looking for the kind of optimizations that micro-segmentation can deliver.

4) Inappropriate power frame

I have read more than one book on email marketing that advises marketers to “bounce around” new subscribers in your first email to the new subscriber (often called a “welcome email”). That means asking them to do a bunch of crap like follow you on social media, make sure your email is moved out of the Gmail promotions tab, maybe setting up a special folder for your emails, and hitting REPLY to answer some question, etc.

This is an inappropriate usage of what Oren Klaff calls a “power frame”, which is a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) way of establishing dominance in a conversation or relationship.

Sure… done artfully in a high-bandwidth, realtime conversation, power frames can be useful to advance your mission.

If this power frame thing is done only to establish some kind of dominance over the new subscriber or to get them in a compliant sate of mind, I believe it is inappropriate because it is needy.

It betrays a subtle belief that the email marketer can’t rely on the strength of their mission or the value of their message, and instead needs little optimization “hacks” to get good results from their email marketing.

I reject that belief. If your mission is clear and relevant to the kind of people you are attracting to your email list and your message to them is valuable, interesting, or simply entertaining, then you’ll get the engagement you want without trying to dominate people (which would only interfere with your mission in the end).

When folks join my list I do ask for a reply at the end of my welcome email, but I do it for reason #1 above, not as a sad ploy to establish some kind of power frame.

So there ya go, Lee! Hope this was helpful and interesting.


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