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Five Things the Labour Party Can Learn From Subscription Businesses


Like a lot of people (at least 99,999 others apparently) I recently joined the Labour Party. It's something I've toyed with for a long time and (gasp) I didn't just do it so that I could vote for my preferred candidate in the leadership election (which is lucky...)

I think the Labour party is a good (if troubled) organisation. Unfortunately Its digital communications are pretty much a master class in how not to do things. What I've learned from working on a subscription business (this one) is that these kind of communications really matter. So here's my advice to the Labour Party. I offer it not as a criticism (everyone's busy, things fall by the wayside -- I get it) but as an opportunity to increase member engagement.

By the way, it's likely a lot of this stuff is covered in the membership pack that's sent out in the post. I wouldn't know because almost one month on I still haven't received it (see point 3). Regardless, I think email makes most sense for most people -- it's always going to be faster (see point 1) than sending something physical in the post.

1. Strike while the iron's hot

I signed up on 28 June, got a confirmation email with a single call to action to share my new membership on Facebook and then... nothing. No follow ups, no next steps. The point at which I sign up is the point at which I'm most engaged with a cause, organisation or product so it's essential to take that opportunity and run with it. Give me a tangible next step beyond sharing. What can I actually do now that I'm a member?

The welcome email sent by the Labour Party

2. Onboard new members

Subscription businesses think a lot about onboarding, the process of taking a new customer and introducing them to your service with a view to keeping them engaged. It's all about decreasing churn (the process of losing customers over time) and increasing lifetime value (or LTV -- the value of a subscriber over the lifetime of their subscription). The Labour Party may not think about members as 'customers' or as a 'revenue stream'. That's fine (and humane) but the principle of engagement is important -- if I don't know what I can do as a member then how can I engage with the party? There is some suggestion that newer members are less engaged with volunteering, leaflet drops, phone calls etc than longer-serving members. Maybe it's because they don't even know this stuff exists?

You can onboard customers quickly, easily and cheaply with scheduled emails. Here's a suggestion about what they could contain:

Day 1 | Welcome

What does being a member mean and what happens next? What communications should I expect and when? Can I sign up to anything now or do I need to wait for my membership number?

Day 7 | How do I get active at the local level?

Explain the complex series of committees and branches that make up the party and how the local level fits in. Understanding how the local level element works is important because it should be one of the easiest ways for members to engage.

Day 14 | How do I get active on a national level?

What can I do on a big scale? What if I want to stand for election or attend Conference? How can I feed in to policy making?

Day 30 | Check in

How are you finding things? Is there anything we can help with? Provide links to useful content or a FAQ page as well as contact details.

3. Explain delays

The Labour Party has been inundated with new membership applications so it's no surprise that I haven't received my membership pack yet. That's fine but what's not fine is to receive no communication about the delay. It's trivial to send an email to everyone likely to be affected by the delay that explains what happens next. If the Labour Party were a subscription product it would be unacceptable for customers to pay for 12 month's access but lose 1 month to administration. Yes, delays happen, but as any commuter will tell you what's more frustrating than the delay is not being kept informed.

4. Keep members informed

Labour are about to elect a new leader but the rules about who can vote are pretty confusing. Some new members won't get a vote (myself included). There has been no end of media coverage about this but no official email communication (that I have received) from Labour. This kind of substantial change to what are, in effect, the terms and conditions of membership needs to be clearly and honestly communicated. Again, it's trivial to send an explanatory email about the changes to anyone who is affected.

5. Send a receipt!

When someone has paid for a service, even if it's a membership of a political party, you really should send a receipt. In my experience sending receipts manages expectations about what will happen with future payments and reduces disputes about payments later down the line. This is partly about reducing your 'customer service' overheads and partly just common sense.

Those are my suggestions. I want to see the Labour Party succeed but it has to support its members to make this happen. And if anyone from the Labour Party is reading this please let me know -- I'll happily help you get this stuff working.

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