Mailing Lists 101 aka “No one likes a spammer!”

UPDATED: December 16, 2011

As I mentioned in my last posting about Performer Marketing, a mailing list is a very powerful promotional tool that every performer should put the effort into developing. Your mailing list is a collection of people who are specifically interested in receiving information about you and what you are up to. Your job is to collect information from these people and stay in contact with them, keeping in mind that there is a fine line between a mailing list and a spam list, and you do NOT want to be a spammer! Nothing will turn people off from you faster than annoying them with unwanted emails.

CONSENT

Before you jump in and start creating your mailing list, there are some important concepts that you must be aware of, and one of the most important of these is consent. Legally and ethically, it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone you are sending your messages to consents to receiving them. If not, you are a spammer. And nobody likes a spammer.

Different states have different laws regarding establishing this consent, the safest method being a “Double Opt-In” method. This is the method I use and what I recommend you adopt. “Double Opt-In” means that a person adds their own email address through a form on your website/profile or you invite them from a sign-up list, and then the person clicks the link in a confirmation email to activate their subscription.

A “Single Opt-In” system would only require someone to enter their email address once, without the extra confirmation step. With this method, you can’t be sure that the addresses are actually being entered by the people they belong to, and consent is not as well established.

With the system that I use, I can’t actually add emails to my list manually. I can invite people to join, but that’s as directly involved as I can get, and I like this. It means each and every person who receives my emails wants to receive it. Now that is a targeted audience!

No matter which system you use, ALWAYS include information on how people can update their info or unsubscribe to your list! This is required by law and is courteous. You should include specific directions within the body of the email explaining how to unsubscribe, and if someone emails to ask you to unsubscribe them, just unsubscribe them. Don’t ignore them (one band ignored repeated requests from me and I blocked their emails and will NEVER go to one of their shows again). Don’t take it personally when someone wants to unsubscribe. Maybe they get too many emails as it is and they know where to find info about your shows on their own. Stay friendly.

Sadie Lune, a SF performer and activist whose emails I always love to read, includes this message at the top of her emails:

(as a reminder: if these emails give you a ‘ bad touch’ feeling, just email me with “remove” in the subject header and you will be zapped back to your bed, safe and alone, where you will realize it was all just a bad dream)

PRIVACY

Another touchy subject involved in running a mailing list is privacy. Be sure to protect the email addresses of those who you are emailing! A lot of people who run their mailing lists manually through their email accounts will simply add the addresses of everyone they want to send to, and send off the email. The people receiving the emails then have a long list at the top of the email that includes the addresses of every other person who received the email. This is not cool! If you use your email account to send out your announcements, respect the people on your list by putting the recipients’ email addresses in the BCC section. That way they will be invisible to the other recipients.

I have received emails from people where my email address was included in an email with a list of 50-200 other email addresses, and when I emailed the sender to ask them to use the BCC function in the future so that I would not receive spam because of their emails, they responded indignantly, saying things like, “I know that no one on my list would spam you!” and taking it personally. You may know that your friends are not spammers, but you don’t know who they will forward the email to, and who those people will forward the email to, etc. Don’t take the chance of annoying your audience. It’s easy to use the BCC function. So do it.

It’s also a good idea to reassure people who are interested in signing up for your list by including a message about how you will not sell or share their information with anyone. In his Free Will Astrology email messages, Rob Brezny includes this note (along with info on how to update your info and make sure the newsletters go to your inbox):

PS: I totally respect your privacy. I’ll never sell or give away your address to anyone.

STARTING YOUR LIST

When you’re first starting out, it may be tempting to manage your list manually, simply copying and pasting email addresses of interested people into a list on Notepad, Word or another program. This is easy with a small list, but keep in mind that when your list gets bigger this management method will get unweildy, and the easiest way to lose people from your list is by changing the system. Many people will simply either not read your announcment of your new system, not follow directions for updating their subscription, or simply not follow through on the new opt-in method, even if they really DO want to continue receiving your emails. So, the sooner you pick your long-term distribution method the better.

There are also some free programs available for managing your list, such as PHP List and others. I don’t recommend using either of these methods (copy and paste or self-hosted), because if your subscribers report your emails as SPAM (whether they opted-in or not), this can make it so that your ISP stops delivery of your emails altogether! You do NOT want to be known as a spammer, right? So go with a professional service.

There are lots of great mailing list services out there. Some are free, such as Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. I personally use and recommend MailChimp. Your account is free for up to 2000 subscribers, and you get the benefit of using a service that has a strong relationship with all of the big email providers. For instance, if someone reports your email as SPAM, rather than reporting you, they simply remove that email address from your list. Some other very popular mailing list services are AWeberInfusionSoft, and ConstantContact.

BUILDING YOUR LIST

So you’ve got your system all set up, you’ve invited everyone you know to sign up, now what do you do? It’s time to promote your list! Here are some basic Do’s and Don’ts for developing your mailing list:

DON’T add the mailing addresses of everyone you come in contact with to your list.

DON’T “harvest” emails from people on message boards or anywhere else online and add them to your list willy-nilly.

DO have a mailing list sign-up sheet at every show and invite people to join your list.

DO include information on how to sign up for your mailing list in your email signature.

DO place sign-up forms on several pages of your website, on your blog, on your online profiles and everywhere else you can think of.

YOUR CONTENT

Now that you’ve got people signed up for your list, you need to send them content! This is where your writing skills will come in. You’ll want to create a consistent tone for your newsletter that is in keeping with your personality as a performer. Entertain your readers, be consise, and deliver the information they’re after.

How often should you send out your emails? That’s up to you, but it’s pretty common to send an update every 1-2 weeks, possibly twice a week. More than that can be excessive, and less often may not be frequent enough to keep you in the minds of your subscribers.

How often do you like to receive emails from the lists you have subscribed to? Personally, I have unsubscribed to more than one list that sent out an email every day or even every couple of days, and anyone who sends more than one a day gets dropped really fast! If you want to update that often, why not start a blog instead?

Feel free to include the same information in more than one email. For instance, you can announce a show a month in advance and then remind people of the upcoming show a couple weeks leading up to the show and then in the day or two before as well. I know I am more likely to get out of the house for an event if I have reminders.

FORMATTING

Should you write your newsletter in plain text or HTML? Some people say that your email is more likely to be filtered into a spam folder if it contains HTML, but that may have only been true years ago. Some marketers also say that people are more likely to read short, simple text messages that seem more personal rather than messages that look like ads. There is debate both ways, and it is ultimately up to you and your preferences. Some services will let your subscribers choose which form they want to receive emails in, others… not so much. It all depends on your time and other resources. I usually send out plain text newsletters, but when I want to include images I will use my service’s HTML editor.

Whichever format you decide to use, the main thing you want to do is make sure that your emails are clear and easy to read!

If you’re using plain text and you have a lot of information to put into one email, use extra blank spaces and lines

—–

of

+++++++++++

punctuation

~~~~~~~~~~~~

marks

* * * * *

to break up sections in long announcements. Use lists to help people know what is included in the email before scrolling all the way down.

NOW GET STARTED!

These are the basics you need to know to get started, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and start collecting addresses (with consent of course). But don’t stop with what I’ve told you. Sign up for a variety of mailing lists and see how other people do it. Decide what you like and what you don’t like about other peoples’ lists and use that information when developing your own.

NOTE: Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, I am not qualified to give any legal advice, and the laws concerning how you govern yourself on the internet are developing and changing all the time. If you have any concerns about legal matters, consult a lawyer.

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