From Chapter 8 - Effective Mailing List Promotion: Internet mailing lists are quick and easy ways to distribute information to a large number of people. There are thousands of publicly available online lists. You can also create your own Internet mailing lists to keep your clients and prospects informed of company events, product announcements, and press releases. In this chapter we cover:
- How to identify appropriate publicly accessible mailing lists (discussion lists)
- Subscribing to the mailing list
- Writing messages that will be read
- Mailing list netiquette
- Creating your own mailing list
Connecting with Your Target Audience
Discussion mailing lists are publicly available and focused on a particular subject matter. Participating in a discussion list relevant to your line of business can help you attract new customers. Discussion lists are organized hierarchically by subject matter in a way similar to Usenet newsgroups. And, likewise, the membership rate of each discussion mailing list varies. People subscribe to particular lists to participate in that list and receive all of the postings that are sent to the group, generally because they have an interest in the topic. When you post a message to a mailing list, the message is sent out to everyone who has subscribed to the list by e-mail.
Discussion mailing lists are quick and easy ways to distribute information to a large number of people interested in a particular topic. The difference between discussion mailing lists and newsgroups is that anyone on the Internet can visit newsgroups at any time and read any articles of interest, whereas a discussion list delivers all messages posted directly to the subscribers' e-mail.
Note: Only discussion list subscribers can receive these messages. Newsgroups can be viewed by anyone with access to a news server. All they have to do is log onto the news server, enter the name of the newsgroup they wish to peruse, and they can view all postings made to that group. In order to subscribe to a discussion list, you have to send a subscription message to the list administrator and request permission to join the mailing list. Thus, newsgroup postings can be viewed anonymously while permission is required to view postings to mailing lists.
Types of Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists
Publicly accessible mailing lists can be one of several types, each with varying degrees of control. Following is a discussion of the major types of lists.
Moderated Discussion Lists: This type of list is maintained by a "gatekeeper" who filters out unwanted or inappropriate messages. If you try to post an advertisement where they are not permitted, your message will never make it out to the list of subscribers. Similarly, flames (i.e. - publicly chastising another list member) are screened out. The gatekeeper will also keep the topic of discussion on track if a few members get off-topic.
Unmoderated Discussion Lists: An unmoderated list is operated without any centralized control or censorship. Most lists are of this type. All messages are automatically forwarded to subscribers. Unmoderated lists tend to have more blatant advertisements and flame wars since there is no gatekeeper to guide the discussion. It is then the responsibility of the list members to police their own actions. Otherwise, the list could end up being a landfill for spammers, or a lot of members will simply leave the list if a few individuals choose to ridicule them.
Targeting Appropriate Discussion Mailing Lists
There are thousands of publicly available lists online. There are a number of sites that provide lists of mailing lists. Three of the most popular and comprehensive are:
*The Liszt at http://www.liszt.com
*The List of Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists at http://www.neosoft.com/internet/paml
*Tile.net at http://tile.net/lists
There are also companies online that specialize in providing targeted e-mail lists. One such company is Post Master Direct Response at www.postmasterdirect.com. This Company rents e-mail lists of people who have requested information on a particular topic. However, these are different from the discussion mailing lists that we described earlier in this chapter. E-mail lists are simply that-lists of e-mail addresses. If you subscribe to one of these lists, you are not entering into a discussion. You are placing yourself on a mailing list that will receive e-mail advertisements. However, from a marketing perspective, e-mail lists can be useful tools if they are targeted.
Another option is to develop your own mailing list. This concept will be discussed in the next chapter.
Still another option is to purchase bulk e-mail lists. This is a questionable practice because it involves spam. Bulk e-mail lists are generally sold without the permission of the addressees, much like junk mailing lists. The recipients did not ask to be put on a mailing list. They are not aware of the fact that they are on a list and often do not appreciate being sent unsolicited e-mail. Another drawback is that usually these lists are not targeted. By using bulk e-mail lists you run the risk of not reaching any of your target market. You also risk annoying that portion of the addressees that under other circumstances may have been interested in what you were trying to sell.
The correct choice depends on the market you are targeting. Some people use the shotgun approach to reach as many people as possible. We've all received those e-mails... "reach 5 million with our mailing list available for $29.95." After all, one of the major benefits of the Internet is reaching large numbers of people quickly. There is no excuse for this kind of "marketing". Even if someone is marketing a product with broad-based appeal, it does not grant them a license to spam the world with their marketing message. If it isn't "opt-in", don't send it. Nobody is going to be too impressed if they receive spam. The message will either be deleted without being read, or some of the recipients of the spam could complain to the sender's ISP and have their Internet access revoked.
However, the best approach is to choose a list whose subscribers fit your target market as closely as possible. For example, if you are selling Geographic Information Systems to municipalities, a shotgun approach is a waste of both your time and resources. By using bulk e-mail you raise the ire of thousands of recipients of your e-mail, destroy your corporate image, and potentially damage your professional credibility. In this case, a much smaller targeted list should be used to get a much higher quality response rate. Less is better.
Finding the Right Mailing List
Whether you join a publicly accessible discussion mailing list or choose to purchase an opt-in e-mail list from one of the many online sources, you want to find a mailing list whose members are your target market. You will have to do your homework here as there are thousands of mail lists to choose from.
There are various meta-indexes of publicly available mailing lists where you can search by title or by subject. Some of these sites provide detailed information on the mail lists, like their content and the commands used to subscribe. We have provided information on a number of these resources in the Internet Resources section at the end of this chapter.
Once you have identified mail lists that have your target market as members you will subscribe to that list. To confirm that the list is appropriate for your marketing purposes, lurk a while to monitor the discussion taking place. Once this has been confirmed, you can begin participating in the list by providing valuable content. If advertising is not allowed, abide by the rules.
Subscribing to Your Target Mailing Lists
Liszt, title.net/lists, and the Internet Publicly Available Discussion Mailing Lists are great resources and will not only provide you with a huge list of accessible mailing lists but also specific instructions for joining the particular lists you are interested in. Most lists are subscribed to by sending an e-mail to the given address with "subscribe" in the subject or the body of the message. There are variations on this theme so you must check the instructions for joining each specific mailing list. After you subscribe you generally will receive an e-mail response with the rules, FAQs, and instructions on how to use the list.
For the most part, all of the rules for posting to newsgroups apply to mailing lists as well. Read the rules carefully and abide by them. A lurking period should be considered before you post a message. This will help you observe what types of messages are posted and the commonly accepted practices for that particular group.
This is a compilation of many individual messages sent to each subscriber as one bulk message. Many digests contain a table of contents. The good thing about a digest is you do not receive as many separate e-mails and your mailbox doesn't become clogged up. Also, the digest administrator chooses all or only the best postings to include in the list digest. Therefore, blatant advertisements, flames and postings containing repetitive subject matter are filtered out. In an unmoderated list, you would receive every single message posted to the list. Most of these postings would not be of interest to you and would be deleted anyway. The digest format simplifies things so that you get the information you need without wasting a lot of time.
Composing Effective Messages
As discussed in the previous chapter, your e-mails must be carefully prepared before you post to a mailing list. Remember to make your subject line relevant, keep your messages short and to the point, and always include your sig.file. If you are unsure whether your posting is appropriate for the group, you can simply send a test message to the moderator asking for advice.
Unlike newsgroups, the members of mailing lists receive all the messages directly into their mailbox every day. Some people prefer to receive the postings in digest form, that is, all the messages for that day are compiled into one e-mail sent to the recipient at the end of the day. The digest provides, at the beginning of the e-mail, a listing of all the messages with the "from" and "subject" identified followed by the complete messages. Just as individuals who visit a newsgroup don't read all the messages, subscribers to publicly accessible discussion lists do not read every posting either. They decide which messages to review based on the subject line. Thus, the content of the "subject" is extremely important.
You must never repeat the same or similar messages to a mailing list as you might do in a newsgroup. Once a member of a mailing list has seen your posted message they will not appreciate seeing it again, whereas a newsgroup has different readers all the time and similar postings are acceptable if they are timed appropriately.
The following tips on mailing list postings will assist you in becoming a respected member of their online community:
*Make sure that your messages are "on the subject." List subscribers don't want to hear announcements unrelated to their topic.
*You should be a regular contributor to your list before making any commercial announcement. If your mailing list does not allow advertising (most do not) use your sig. file. Sig.files are generally accepted. Ensure that you make effective use of your tag line to get your mini-ad into discussion mailing lists where blatant advertising is not permitted. (See Chapter 6 for advertising when advertising is not allowed.)
*Track and record your responses when you use a new mailing list. You should have a "call to action" in your posting, encouraging the readers to visit a specific page on your site or to send e-mail to an e-mail address designated solely for this purpose. Only by employing an appropriate mechanism to track responses will you know with any certainty which mailing lists are successful and which are not. It's amazing how well calls to action work. For some reason, people tend to do what they're told.
*Set reasonable and achievable goals. As a benchmark, in most e-mail marketing campaigns a one percent to three percent response rate is considered a good response. However, if your mailing list is very targeted, and you are offering something of interest or value to a particular group, your response rates should be significantly higher.
Building Your Own Private Mailing Lists
You may want to build your own mailing lists. Generating your own mailing lists is often beneficial because of the many marketing uses the lists have. They can be used to maintain an ongoing dialog with existing customers regarding updates, support, specials, etc. They can also be used to communicate with current and prospective customers through distribution of corporate newsletters, price lists, new catalogues, product updates, new product announcements, and upcoming events.
You can use a number of methods for soliciting and collecting e-mail addresses, including an online guestbook or other type of registration form to be filled out on your web site. However, you must provide people with an incentive to leave their e-mail address with you.
Place a form with a "subscribe here" button on your site where visitors can sign up for the mailing list. Terminology such as "sign up now to receive our free newsletter" or "click here to receive our reliable information newsletter" might be useful in convincing people to subscribe. Having people register for your mailing list by offering an informative newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with your target market. If you have valuable information that your customers and potential customers want, they will gladly give you their e-mail address to obtain your newsletter.
A prime example of this would be John Audette who moderates the prestigious Internet-Sales Discussion list, which publishes the I-Sales Digest and is sent daily to more than 7,000 subscribers in over 65 countries. John operates an Internet marketing company and needed to find a way to reach his target market. The I-Sales Digest now boasts a strong online readership and is the perfect environment to learn about Internet marketing. All 7,000+ subscribers gladly divulged their e-mail address to join the I-Sales community. You can accomplish similar feats if you decide to administer your own newsletter.
Others provide freebie incentives such as T-shirts, software, or games. If you sign up for the newsletter at Lobster Direct (www.lobsterdirect.com) your name will be put in the draw for live lobsters.
Encourage customers and potential customers to subscribe to your electronic newsletter through traditional marketing techniques including press releases, offline newsletters, advertising, letters, etc.
If you use hardcopy direct mail, you can design a response system that requests the e-mail addresses through a fax-back, business reply card, 1-800 number or by asking respondents to go to your web site or e-mail you directly.
You can also ask people to sign up for your mailing list through newsgroup and mailing list postings, signature files, and other advertising.
You can boost your response rate by guaranteeing that responders' e-mail addresses will be kept confidential and not sold to anyone else. People are concerned about the privacy of the information the provide you with. If you cannot assure them that your company will use their e-mail address solely for your correspondence with them, they will not feel comfortable giving their e-mail address to you. Provide people with your private policy statement. Make them feel comfortable about divulging their e-mail address to your business.
Don't ever add someone's name to your mailing list without his or her permission. People really resent receiving unsolicited mail even if you give them the option to unsubscribe. However, one method of obtaining more e-mail addresses is to suggest to your subscribers that they recommend your mailing list to a friend (or a few friends). Let your subscribers to spread the word about your mailing list. If your list provides useful information, your subscribers will recommend the list to their friends. Some of these people will then subscribe and tell their friends about your mailing list, and so forth. Word of mouth is a powerful force on the Internet.
See the next Chapter for details on the "how to" of setting up your mail list.
Starting Your Own Publicly Available Mailing List
To create your Internet mailing list, first you must give it a name that reflects the discussion that will take place and is enticing for your target market. Draft a FAQ or charter containing information on what the list is all about. Develop guidelines for participation.
You will need to find a place to host your mail list. There are many ISPs that host mail lists or you can use one of the many online mailing list hosting services. For lists and links of hosting service providers check out Vivian Neou's site at http://www.catalog.com/vivian/mailing-list-providers.html.
You should create a web page for your list to provide information about the list as well as its charter and guidelines. You should provide an opportunity to subscribe from the web site as well. This will add credibility to your mailing list.
Once the list is up and running you will have to advertise it so that people will actually subscribe. You can promote your list by participating in newsgroups that relate to your mail list topic. Remember not to post blatant ads where advertising is not allowed. Contribute to the newsgroup with your postings and use a tag line in your signature file to promote your mail list. You can also trade e-mail sponsorships with other mailing lists for promotion purposes.
There are a number of places to appropriately announce your list. One recommendation is the Internet Scout's New List, which you can find at http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/new-list/index.html
Net Happenings is another announcement resource for new Internet resources. Gleason Sackson, the moderator of this list, has a huge following. To subscribe to Net Happenings, send an e-mail to email@example.com with "subscribe net-happenings" in the message area.
Get your mail list linked from the many lists of lists on the Internet. We have provided some of these in the Internet Resources at the end of this chapter. And make your list worth reading by ensuring that you and others have valuable information on the topic to share.
Escape the Unsolicited Bulk E-mail Trend
Bulk e-mail is any group of identical messages sent to a large number of e-mail addresses at one time. In some cases bulk e-mail lists have been developed from opt-in lists and the names are continually filtered through all of the universal remove lists. These lists are often categorized by subject and provide an acceptable marketing vehicle. If you are using opt-in e-mail lists and removing unsubscribe requests from your database, this is considered a legitimate e-mail marketing campaign.
However, there are many bulk e-mail lists that have been developed by unscrupulous means, and the people on the lists have no interest or desire to receive unsolicited e-mail. Unsolicited bulk e-mail is the single largest form of e-mail abuse we have seen to date.
Over the last couple of years, more and more businesses on the Internet focus on services and software products catering to the bulk e-mail market. Software products have been developed that collect e-mail addresses from Usenet newsgroups, online service members' directories and forums, bots that look for "mailto:" codes in HTML documents online, publicly available mailing list subscribers, or even your site's visitors. Service companies that collect e-mail addresses and perform bulk mailings abound today on the Internet. Be very careful when considering bulk e-mail for online marketing purposes.