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Why Aren't Email Lists Extinct in the Age of Social Media? #LBB

Thursday, November 04, 2010

[This is the first article in our List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

So you've started your blog. You're on Facebook and perhaps even have a Twitter account. You're rocking this whole social media thing; why on earth should you bother with email? It's so, well, twentieth-century isn't it? Isn't email extinct, dead and gone?

Why bother offering email subscriptions at all?

Because you can't afford not to.

Here's why:
  • Email subscriptions are WAY more popular than RSS.
  • Email subscribers are your biggest fans.
  • Email is everywhere.
  • Email is accessible.
  • Email is the most effective subscription mechanism available.
  • Adding email subscriptions to your blog is fast and easy.
  • Managing email subscriptions won't take up your time.
You'll grow your readership, build your community and monetize more effectively by combining your blog with email. It's that simple.

Email Subscriptions are Very, VERY Popular

The facts are that email works: people want it. Email subscriptions – i.e. your newsletter or mailing list – are familiar to the vast majority of people online. They're comfortable with the concept. When FeedBlitz partnered with FeedBurner back in 2005 to deliver their email services for them, email subscriptions were the #1 requested feature.

Moreover, the evidence shows that email subscriptions are significantly more popular than their most frequently cited social media equivalent, RSS feeds. (I'll ignore for now the fact that most bloggers' email subscriptions are ultimately powered by RSS; it isn't important from the email subscriber's perspective).

Need some data? HubSpot ran a survey in 2009 and found that email subscription rates varied by audience, but could be as much as 12 times (not 12 percent, 12 times) more popular than RSS.

Darren Rowse, aka @ProBlogger, revealed at a session Blog World 2010 that ~75% of his subscribers were email-based; that's 3 times the number of RSS subscribers.

Based on these data points, if you don't offer email subscriptions you're potentially missing three to ten times your potential subscriber base.

Your mileage will vary, but clearly the opportunities lost to connect are significant. Can you really afford not to grow your subscriber base that much with a simple step?

Put another way, if someone told you that you could boost your subscriber count four-fold or ten-fold with five minutes' work, wouldn't you leap at that opportunity? That's what having email subscriptions in your blog can deliver over time.

Email Subscribers are your Biggest Fans

These days it's work – it takes commitment – to subscribe to a properly run mailing list, what with CAPTCHAs and dual opt-in. The email subscribers on your list have made this commitment to you, and they are inviting you to barge right in and occupy their inbox (you need to do this respectfully, of course, but that's for a later post in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series).

Many people follow hundreds of "friends" on Facebook, Twitter accounts, and all those teeny-weeny, unbranded, untracked, undifferentiated, easy to miss messages fly by.

See too Jay Baer questions the current vogue of trumpeting the number of Facebook fans and compares the trend to email subscriber valuation:
"The psychology of Facebook "likers" is similar to email newsletter subscribers (I have enough kinship with this company to allow them to stay in touch with me). However, in comparison to your Facebook fans, your email subscribers usually provide far more important information to your business when they subscribe. It takes a lot more than one click to subscribe to an email list."
Compare and contrast. Your email to a subscriber is in their inbox, by invitation. Fully branded. Content rich. Tracked. Customized. Personalized. A Tweet? Not so much.

Your subscribers are your core audience.

They're the foundation of your community. They advocate for you. Engage with you. Recommend and refer you. And email is the best mechanism for staying in touch – and for them to forward your messages too.

Email is Everywhere

You're a blogger. You're probably more tech savvy than many of your friends. Although you have already several email accounts (one from your ISP, cable or phone company, one from a free service like gmail or hotmail, one for your work, and one for your cell phone), you may prefer not to use email much of the time. That may be true of your blogging friends too as you all hang out online on Twitter.

So when you think subscribers, you may well think of RSS first. That's fine; it's natural to do so for you. But remember this:

You are not your audience.

Think about it. Your audience is probably less technically sophisticated than you are. They don't know nor care what RSS is. They don't want to download and install and learn yet another system just to get updates from your blog. And no, they don't understand that little orange RSS icon in their browser and they don't understand how to get to the browser's integrated RSS reader to subscribe and track updates. It isn't happening for them.

So, unless you are writing for a very tech savvy readership, your readers are not as likely to be comfortable with Twitter, RSS feeds or even Facebook. They don't "get" it. That's fine too – they're not worse than you or me, just not as focused on new messaging technology. So stop trying to persuade them that they're wrong (or, worse, stupid), and accommodate them.

Give them an email subscription option instead.

Because they'll all have email addresses. And so, no matter what, using email, you have the chance to turn a casual visitor from another blog or from a Google search into a subscriber, a fan, a member of your core community.

Email is also great because of its ubiquity. You can capture almost anyone with an email subscription form. That's just not true for a Twitter or Facebook page. In fact, the one thing you have to have to join any social network is a functioning, active, email address!

Email is Accessible

A growing number of companies are now blocking social media access from their offices. There a variety of reasons used to justify this - control, legislative compliance, security, productivity are just a few – and as short-sighted as you and I might think this is, it doesn't matter. Debating the wisdom of such a move is irrelevant. Very often sites like Facebook are forbidden within the corporate firewall.

It is extremely unlikely, however, that email is blocked. A visitor accessing your blog from a business location can subscribe with their company email address and your messages get through. Problem solved.

Email is also the #1 application used on mobile phones for most people aside from, well, phoning. I'll talk about making your emails mobile-friendly later in the #LBB series, but every smart phone has an email app built in and you can reach the mobile user with an email subscription process too.

Finally, email is readily accessible to people with visual impairments or reading difficulties. Screen-readers can easily convert an email for the visually impaired and so it's often the best way for them to access your content as a subscriber. This is especially true for HTML mail (the vast majority sent today), since accessibility features in HTML such as alt and title tags also work in your HTML subscriber emails. Social networks and status updates are brief, text based messages that lose all this valuable information.

Email is the Most Effective Subscription Mechanism Available

Email Subscribers Are the Best Subscribers You Can Have

I've already mentioned that an email subscriber is a committed subscriber, based on the work they've had to do to get on your dual opt-in list in the first place. It takes time and effort to do this, and it's much more of a meaningful investment than clicking "follow" on Twitter or sending a friend request on Facebook. In a sense, the ease of following someone on these social sites, while it ramps up your friend and follower counts, makes these counts increasingly meaningless. It's all too casual. And causal is not committed, not invested and not as valuable to you in the long run because of that.

Email is popular and represents a subscriber investing their time in order to have you talk to them. That's pretty amazing when you think about it.

But the best part of email subscriptions is what you as a blogger can do with them.
  • Unlike an RSS subscriber, you know who they are.
  • Unlike RSS and social media, you can brand emails to reinforce your message.
  • You can add your own ads or third party sponsorships.
  • You can ask them to tell you more about themselves.
  • You can personalize the interactions with each update (you can't do that with a tweet, RSS entry or wall post).
  • You can target segments based on history, activity of other demographics.
  • You can track activity easily.
  • You can set up autoresponders for drip marketing and affiliate sales.
  • You can offer rewards and incentives for new subscribers.
  • You can test different subject lines and calls to action.
And you can do all of this automatically, driven by your blog, for next to no ongoing effort. It's easy!

Email is Better for Most Subscribers

Most email applications are sophisticated, powerful pieces of software with years – decades in some cases - of investment put into them by their vendors. As such they can do things that most social media apps can barely dream of.

Here's what I take for granted in my email system as a subscriber.
  • Sorting, search and cataloging mechanisms.
  • Folders and rules to automate organization.
  • Categorization, customized views, archiving.
  • Trivial forwarding, replying, attachments and more.
  • Available when I'm offline.
  • Robust! There's no fail whale in your email app.

Email Complements, not Competes with, Your Blog and Social Media

Don't get me wrong here – I'm a huge fan of social media. I blog, tweet and all the rest of it. This isn't an email vs. social media battle.

It's this basic: Email is the perfect complement to your blog and other social media channels. You can use your email to link back to your blog of course. But it can also link back to your Twitter account, Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. It can invite people to "like" an article, for example. Or to retweet on Twitter. If you consider your blog as the hub of a "hub and spoke" marketing system, your subscriber emails are mini-hubs. They too can link back to your other content and social media spokes.

And so the final benefit of having email subscriptions. Better than any other social medium, email can drive subscribers back to your site and your other social media content, increasing page views over time and establishing a virtuous cycle of greater page views, increasing monetization potential and further growing your subscriber base (your core fans and eventually, your core customers).

Adding Email Subscriptions is Fast, Easy and Won't Add to your Workload

Here's the really good news. Setting up email subscriptions for you blog won't take very long and, if done right, won't need much work from you once you're up and running.

In fact, if you're spending more than five minutes a day on your email list once you have it going successfully, I'd say that something is very wrong.

There are several options to choose from using capabilities that might come with your blogging service, using your own email systems, all the way through to external service providers, like FeedBlitz, who can manage this for you. Some are free, some premium, and we all have different features, pricing approaches and so forth.

There will be a post at the end of the #LBB series on how to choose a provider, but if you're starting out now, just pick a reputable one (ask your blogging friends, research on Twitter etc.) and make a start. You can always export email subscribers for transfer later on if you wish (importing them elsewhere can be a hassle though – more on that can of worms in a later article).

Next Up on List Building for Bloggers #LBB

Welcome to Email Marketing with your Blog

List Building 101: Basic email marketing list jargon explained, demystified and a few myths debunked along the way.

About List Building for Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

The Blatant FeedBlitz Plug

Obviously, we'd be thrilled to have you consider using FeedBlitz for your blog's email subscription services (and more!). If you haven't yet selected a blog to mail vendor, please click here to view our five minute "getting started" video tour.

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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Blogger Brother Jesse said...

Once again, GREAT ARTICLE! I will be on edge every day for your emails.

11:14 PM, November 04, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your insight on this matter is refreshing and enlightening it is now that I shall try to utilize these options. Thank you.

10:43 PM, November 15, 2010  
Anonymous Tracey Foster said...

That was a quite understandable explanation. I agree that newsletters are way more convenient than social pages and similar resources. For example how can I receive information if I don't have any special account? But emails is something that every single person has. Thank you for this post!

8:57 AM, January 19, 2012  

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