SPAM filters can sink your battleship. Don’t let ’em.
Okay, here’s the deal. I’ve seen it countless times. Musicians sending out their newsletters by creating Groups in their Hotmail or Yahoo web-based email clients, and sending out to each of the groups separately. The thing they don’t tell you is that while Hotmail will let you send to a number of people, your emails are likely to be filtered out (by folks like Hotmail) for doing so and never actually get to your recipient.
Here’s my advice… Pay the monthly fee with a vendor like Topica, YesMail, DoubleClick DARTmail, or some other email marketing provider. It is not only worth it because of the convenience of publishing, but they also provide tools like the ability to segment your list by market/region/interest, the capability for list members to update their information and sub/unsub themselves, tracking of user sub/unsub, metrics for reporting performance of email campaigns. Not to mention they will keep you updated on an ongoing basis about something I’m about to explain – the CAN-SPAM Act.
CAN-SPAM and how it applies to the singer-songwriter.
Okay, first of all we’re talking about an Act signed by George Bush in 2003, so you can just imagine how confusingly simple it is. The Act itself was intended to stop all those nasties sending penis enlargement email to sweet, young, impressionable children. But instead what it’s done is keep legitimate people like you from emailing your list about your gigs. You should certainly consult your lawyer about CAN-SPAM if you have one, but if you don’t, I’ll give you a few pointers to keep your nose clean and keep your fans from becoming lifelong enemies.
The basic gist of CAN-SPAM is don’t hide. Be completely open about who you are, how the people on your list got there, and what they have to do to be taken off the list. That may sound simple, but if you’re not a real tech geek (like I admit to be) then you might hide without meaning to. Don’t think too much about what I just wrote – I know – it would seem that you would know if you were hiding. But when it comes to cybespace, well, anything’s possible in the virtual world.
Ten Tips for Better Email Newsletter Publishing:
1. ALWAYS send your emails from the same email address. No buts. Just do it.
2. Encourage your list members to add that email address to their “Safe List” (good idea to do this in the confirmation email they get from you that says they have been added). This way SPAM filters on the ESP side won’t even think about you.
3. In your email program, set the From Name to be your name, or your newsletter’s name, and always use that name in the From Name field. People like to get email from people they know. But they get nasty when they think you’re someone they don’t know. It’s a good thing this doesn’t apply at dinner parties when someone doesn’t recognize you, otherwise you would never go to dinner parties.
4. Send your newsletters on a regular schedule if you can (like every 2nd Monday of the month). I know it’s hard because sometimes your finger is hovering over the send button because you gotta get more people to buy tickets to your show next Friday. But people really appreciate it if your are respectful of their Inboxes. Plus, you gotta use the Cry Wolf Rule. If you ping them every couple weeks with something else, they’re not going to pay attention when you really do have to send them an emergency email about a show cancellation or last minute appearance on Jay Leno.
5. If you’re going to venture into HTML email, use a template so it’s always the same for each issue. And, always do a TEXT version of the email too, because some people opt out of HTML to avoid downloading unwanted images and clogging up their server bandwidth, that’s why there are better servers for this and other purposes, that anyone can find at sites like ServerMania.com.
6. Test test test. I know you’re an artist, and you’re an incredible writer, and everyone always congratulated you on what a great speller you are, but you MUST proofread your email. You MUST send your email to a short test list of people you trust before publication, at least until you get good at this thing. Then you can just send it to one or two people you trust.
7. You should register for email addresses at places like Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, Excite, and Lycos and put those addresses on your Test List so you can see if you get filtered out into the SPAM folders on those servers. (Nifty trick, eh? Even the pros do this just to see, so they don’t embarrass themselves in front of their boss when she doesn’t receive the company announcement at her home AOL account.)
8. Put all your contact info at the bottom of your email, including a mailing address. Now, I know this can get hard. Musicians tend to move around. So get yourself a PO box that never changes – it’s pretty cheap to do, and saves you a lot of trouble. The MOST IMPORTANT thing about the CAN-SPAM ACT says you gotta put your snail mail address at the bottom of every email announcement. I know, get with the times, GW. But that’s the law. For now, anyway. You should also put the opt-out or unsubscribe instructions in that area of the email.
9. Stay on top of Email Marketing research. Right now, studies have shown that emails sent on Mondays and Fridays are getting the best traction (opens, clicks, conversions, etc). Statistics have varied on this subject. Try to schedule your emails for distribution on days market research is showing to be best for your target market, too. If you want to read more, I’ve put some resources up on my web site at: www.marketmonkeys.com/library/email_marketing
10. Content is king. Keep it short and sweet, but don’t be shy. People opted in to receive your email because they want to know more about you, your music, they want to buy your CDs, and they want to go see you play. Can you think of a more friendly audience with which to correspond? Include listings for your upcoming shows, so they don’t have to go to your web site to see that you’re playing down the street from them that night and wouldn’t it be great to bring some folks from work. Most important of all, MAKE IT YOUR OWN.
To read more on CAN-SPAM:
AN ABRIDGED GLOSSARY OF EMAIL TERMS:
BANDWIDTH – Techie term for musclepower and room to move around.
BLACK LIST – ESPs keep a black list of domains (DNS entries) that are known SPAM offenders. Kind of like McCarthy’s list, but for emailers. You don’t want to be on it.
CAN-SPAM – Act put in place in 2003 that says people can sue you if you send them mail and can’t prove they asked for it.
CRM – A form of direct marketing that puts you in touch with your customer through a series of direct interaction. CRM stands for either Customer Retention Marketing or Customer Relationship Management, depending on who you ask.
ESP – The people who host your mail. Be nice to them, even if they happen to also be your nasty cable company.
EMAIL CLIENT – Software you use to check email (like Outlook, Eudora, or Webmail)
EMAIL SERVER – Where email messages are stored and downloaded from ISP – The guys who host your web site. Like your bedroom floor, there is a finite amount of space on people’s servers, and nobody likes to be inundated with gym socks.
OPT-IN – When someone asks you to add them. (A nice smile from across the room doesn’t count.) If they haven’t done this, don’t do it. And even when someone you know asks you to do it for them, suggest they go to your web site. If they do it themselves, they won’t forget they did and get mad at you later.
WHITE LIST – The good list. ESPs also keep lists of domains they know are less likely to be sending SPAM. If you know someone at MSN or Yahoo, you’ll want to call in that favor now. You can also just send them an email, telling them who you are, and asking to be put on the white list. Sometimes straightforwardness works, sometimes it doesn’t.