Everyone has email. Well, everyone who’s online or who uses a smartphone, at least. You need it to sign up for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If the Internet were a human body, email would be its veins and arteries.
This is why mailing lists continue to be an effective marketing tool for companies and websites. Yes, marketing on social media sites are quite popular (and I recommend you do that too), your reach is entirely dependent on their terms. For instance, Facebook alone decides whether or not a person sees your company page updates on their feed. So even if you have tens of thousands of likes on your page, only a fraction of them will actually see your posts. It didn’t use to be that way, but when Facebook decided that was how they were going to do things, there was nothing their users could do about it. And what happens when a social media site goes out of business? Remember Friendster?
And let’s not forget, even the most popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter rely on mailing list updates to keep their users coming back to their sites. (You know those emails Facebook and Twitter keep sending you? Yeah, I’m talking about that.)
What is a mailing list?
Simply put, a mailing list is a list of subscribers’ email addresses. Whenever you want to promote a product, service, event or news, you simply write a nice email and send it off to all those email addresses. I say “subscribers” and not “random people whose email addresses you picked up from various sites online” because it means they signed up to receive emails from you or your company. They know they will be getting emails from you on specific topics. This is what separates your mailing list emails from spam.
While you can definitely run your mailing list off your email account, I recommend that you use a mailing list service. For a good many reasons:
- It will provide pages and forms that make it easy for your customers (or blog readers) to subscribe and unsubscribe to the list.
- It makes it easier for you to manage your mailing list when it’s grown to more than twenty subscribers.
- Most mailing list services have ready-to-use templates so even if you have zero layout/design skills, you can send still send out your emails in style.
- Most services have analytics — a way of tracking user statistics, like how many of your subscribers actually read your emails and how many click on the links in those emails. You can use them to test how effective your emails are.
My go-to mailing list service is MailChimp, which gives you access to basic features for free, but there are others out there, and a lot of them are free. For instance, you can set up a group on Yahoo Groups as a mailing list — make it so only you are able to email the group. If your blog runs on WordPress, the Jetpack plugin has a Subscription feature which lets your readers subscribe to get updates on new content on your site.
What else do you need? Well, it helps to have a great intro to or spiel for your invitation to subscribe. This must include
- a clear idea of what subscribers are signing up for, whether it be updates on new products, notification of new content, a free product, or whatever it is you are offering via email. Be sure to stay within the boundaries of what you’re offering. This means you don’t say your mailing list is for blog updates, and then send your subscribers an email selling them a house.
- the declaration that you won’t sell or give away subscribers’ information. This is a promise you must definitely uphold. No one wants spam, and when someone gives their email address to a company or website, they want to know that it won’t end up in a spammer’s list.
How to get people to sign up
Of course, some people may need to be convinced to sign up to your mailing list. If your great product or awesome blog content isn’t enough you could offer something else:
- A free product, one related to your company’s product or your website’s topic. A popular freebie used by blogs is ebooks, usually written by the same person writing for the blog. For example, if you run a cooking blog, you could put together a bunch of your unpublished recipes in a PDF file and offer that to your subscribers. You could also offer a physical prize, and give subscribers a chance to win it.
- First peek at an offering. If you are about to release a new product, offer your subscribers the opportunity to get an advance look at this product. Book authors can give their mailing list subscribers the first three or five chapters free.
- Invitation to a party or a web seminar or a live video chat. The party could be an event you’ve already set up. With free services like Google Hangouts and Skype, web seminar and live video chat are activities that may not cost you anything at all, except for an hour of your time. And they will give you a chance to connect to your customers or readers.
Rock your mailing list
It’s important to remember that while the offer of free stuff will get people to sign up to your mailing list, great content is what will keep them on that list, eagerly awaiting new updates.
- Stay relevant. Don’t do a bait-and-switch by promising updates on a certain topic and then sending them emails on unrelated topics.
- Don’t try to sell your subscriber products that have nothing to do with what they signed up for.
- Be topical! Is Valentine’s Day coming up in a couple of weeks? If you have a romance or v-day-related product, service or blog post, why tell your subscribers about it? Mark out special days/seasons in the calendar and plan your updates around them: Christmas, summer, first day of school, Women’s Month, etc.
You can run a mailing list without spending a cent, but it could be the one thing that enables you to market your products or your blog effectively. Take advantage of the wealth of free resources online, learn as you go, and grow your captive audience. Why not start today?