This is part 6 of my blog series entitled Set Up Your Tools.
Email is the most direct electronic method that you can use to interact with your audience. Email is the one queue that everyone manages on a regular basis. Twitter & Google+ steams, Facebook walls and RSS feed readers can get overwhelming, forcing people to simply start from scratch, thinking that if it’s important, they’ll see the tweet, blog post or news item somewhere else.
But email is different. Inbox Zero is a desired state for many, but the barrier to getting there is simply processing all of the email that comes into our inbox on a daily basis. But this is also its strongest allure: Email is considered more valuable. Email is coveted and each piece is individually read, actioned and curated for later reference. Thus, the ability to deliver your message directly to someone’s inbox is the most direct and the most effective way to catch someone’s attention.
But I am constantly surprised by the number of people that forego collecting email addresses. When you are building a community, it is important to connect with each person as directly as possible. Otherwise, you risk being ignored or unseen in the overwhelming torrent of information that is available on the internet. To remain relevant, you must have the most direct line of contact with your reader. And that direct line is email.
There are many ways of collecting and distributing content to email addresses. You can add people individually. You can get people to sign up using a paper form at an in person event. You can send emails to your mailing list asking people to sign up. These are all okay, but they don’t capitalize on your site visitors. Instead, you need to put your signup right beside your content. That way, when people visit your site and read your messages, they will see a way to get more of the same content. And, you’ll have a system in place that manages their signups, unsubscribes, address changes, etc. And to do that is easier than you think.
There are numerous engines out there for collecting email lists and then sending emails out to your subscribers. Some of the more common systems include:
MailChimp: “More than 3 million people use MailChimp to create, send, and track email newsletters. Whether you’re self-employed, you manage projects for clients, or you work for a Fortune 500 company, MailChimp has features and integrations that will suit your email-marketing needs.” (quote source)
Constant Contact: “Email Marketing just plain works. See how. Your customers check their inbox all day, every day. You’re sure to reach them when you work with Constant Contact. Build relationships, drive revenue, and deliver real results for your business.” (quote source)
And WordPress has this built in as well:
WordPress: “When you follow a blog on WordPress.com, all new posts from that site will appear in your Reader, where you can view all the latest posts published across all the blogs you follow. You’ll also receive notifications of new posts by email.” (quote source)
Now that we know some of the players, let’s break this down into two parts: 1) collection, and 2) distribution.
To collect email addresses, you need a “sign up” form on your site. Something that says, “sign up now!” or some other catchy call to action.
This button will trigger some sort of form that will collect some basic info. Keep it simple: collect email address and maybe name. Don’t ask for a bunch of info – people don’t like answering lots of questions nowadays. If you give them too many things to do, they may bail on the whole exercise.
Most systems have the capability to do this quite easily.
The delivery portion of this is can be quite easy or quite hard and quite pretty and quite plain, depending on the platform. The simplest distribution method is WordPress. People that follow your blog get an email each day with the new blog posts. No customization. No muss. No fuss.
MailChimp and Constant Contact both have the capacity to customize your emails. You can make templates that make your emails look more professional and more polished. But this takes work – and in some cases, some design and/or development skills as well. But, you should be able to get a fairly snazzy looking email out to your followers using one of the custom themes that are available for either platform.
Personally, I think that the polished look of MailChimp or Constant Contact are valuable. But, I also think that simplicity is good. For now, I’m erring on the side of simplicity and using WordPress’ generic emails. This may change over time if I get more time and more followers, which might necessitate a more professional look & feel.
The most important takeaway here is to have a mechanism to connect with your site visitors over email. Without that, you’re missing out on the most direct method of contact you can get on the web.
Hope this helps!