Is getting people to sign up for an email list worth the hassle?
July 20, 2015 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I run a small monthly arts event. We do publicity with posters and online through social media (no budget for buying ads) and also have an sponsorship with a local radio station to promote us online and on-air. When I say "we" I mean "me" because I'm the only one who handles all that. We have a website, Twitter, Facebook that I keep updated. But a few people have told me I should collect attendees' email addresses and keep a list and send out notifications that way.

I honestly don't want to. I don't like spamming people, and I end up deleting most of the notifications I get. But maybe I'm not like other people; maybe everyone else is craving email notifications and would come to events more often if they got them. What says the Ask hivemind? Do you like using them?
posted by emjaybee to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Some people like email notifications. A monthly "hey this is happening; here's what we're doing this month" announcement is a good way to get people to remember you exist and come. If you run your email list responsibly (use a service like MailChimp or CampaignMonitor or similar to automate most of this) by getting confirmed opt-in signups, providing a reliable unsubscribe mechanism with unsubscribe links in every email, setting clear expectations about email frequency at the beginning and then sticking to them, etc..., you aren't spamming; you're running a perfectly reasonable newsletter.

An email list is also good way to reach out to more loyal constituents for help too. You could include a section calling for volunteers or donations based on what you need.

People who want to be hear from you by email will sign up. People who don't won't.
posted by zachlipton at 7:34 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is your website a static page or is it something like Wordpress? If it's the latter, you can just make the subscribe to the blog link more prominent and when you update the site with new content, they'll get an email.
posted by angelchrys at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2015

If it is monthly, I think an opt-in email list might help people who are interested remember about the next event. Make the subject line clear: Stained Glass Artists at July Art Workshop and put the key message in the first line so people can easily see if they are interested or not. I use MailChimp - free and easy and (like all the other good services) there is a link at the bottom that makes it really easy for people to unsubscribe so minimal spam factor. The list manager can also tell you how many people open the email - that will give you a good idea how well it is working so if it is a real dud you can always drop it.

If you want you can build it into a real newsletter but even simple event reminders can be appreciated and shouldn't be too much work for you.
posted by metahawk at 7:40 PM on July 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's not bothersome if you (a) only get email addresses of people who are interested and (b) don't send too much mail and (c) provide a clear unsubscribe option if people change their mind about wanting your messages. Definition of spam is UNsolicited commercial email.

As has been said, use a reputable service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp - they'll take care of that unsubscribe management for you.

I'm not in the "email is dead" camp. It depends on your audience. Some people are NOT on social media and/or are not attuned to paying attention to events via social media.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:43 PM on July 20, 2015

I subscribe to a few different lists and I like them for some things. Unlike notifications on social media there's no chance I'll miss them if I'm not on the internet for a few days. It's the sporting teams I follow which seem to have the most utility---sending email out on specific days with match news, ticket discounts etc.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Who is your audience? If you're trying to get in touch with youngs, an email list is probably not much use. If you're communicating with older folks (40+ (like me)), then an email list may have some value.
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 7:45 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest MailChimp as well. It will let you create a professional-type email newsletter that people can easily unsubscribe to with a button for free. Of course, if you start emailing more than 2,000 people, it won't be free, but it sounds like you won't hit that limit. Most people do ignore emails, but some will read them and come to your event because of it. And yes, services like Facebook or heck, even Snapchat, are becoming popular ways to communicate, but email will not stop being an effective way to reach people, both young and old.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:46 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since Facebook is so unreliable in what it shows you and doesn't, an email list can help fill the "But I didn't see this!" gap. In general in arts and culture, sad to say, you kind of need a scorched-earth approach because platforms are proliferating and everyone's information preferences are different. However, I'd advise you to use a free or cheap email client like MailChimp that lets people sign up automatically and quit automatically, so that you do not actually have to manage the list. You can put a form on your website that will do it for you, and just send those people to the website to sign up.
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

40+ in general is more comfortable with email and more likely to interpret it as "here is a message for me." I never look at events on Facebook because it's all, like, people who live in other cities inviting everyone in the world to their play or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:24 PM on July 20, 2015

Response by poster: Wow, these are all surprisingly unanimous. We do get a lot of 40+ folks, and are glad to have them, but also would like to reach a younger crowd. But an email list wouldn't get in the way of that.

I've put out a call to my volunteers, who generally stick to making coffee and setup/teardown, to see if any of them are interested in doing this, because I am at capacity. We only run 9 events a year, so if they got past the learning curve with MailChimp they'd not be putting in much time.

We do have an ongoing need for donations, so it could be useful for that.

I don't mind hearing more stories of email list management if you have them, so I won't mark this "answered" just yet.
posted by emjaybee at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2015

From a marketing perspective, yes, email is useful. It's easy to miss a tweet, and if you're not paying Facebook than only about 15% of your followers will see your posts in their feed.

MailChimp is super easy. It's actually pretty fun too - they have great branding and a great interface. They also have a knowledgebase that not only explains how to use their software but also teaches you a lot of good practices. I highly recommend reading their tips on subject lines and avoiding spam filters.
posted by radioamy at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I totally sign up for email lists for local art/music promoters. I sign up for those I absolutely know I won't want to miss an event from, but I also will sign up for ones that I think have potential to interest me in the future. I twitter too inconsistently to use that for events and hate facebook (Your Youngs May Vary). I find signing up for an email list is a way I can say HEY! I REALLY WANT TO SUPPORT YOUR THING! while not having to donate (yet!). I think it's worth it!
posted by ghostbikes at 8:43 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Agree with everyone else that you should 100% do this. Also, what I have learned in my time running an online business is that "What would I like myself?" is not usually a good determinant of strategy. Just because I *personally* don't like X or Y (in my case, I think Twitter is the dumbest) doesn't mean it's not a valuable tool for reaching some people. So don't discount the very useful newsletter feature just because they turn you off personally.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 8:53 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my experience at several places, email has had a huge ROI. I worked at one place that is literally famous for how young its followers are, and even there, our email campaigns were much more successful than our social campaigns at actually driving specific action (selling stuff, increasing usage, etc.). Social posts got tons of likes, faves, retweets, etc. but only a minuscule fraction of those converted to the actual goal. And I'm talking about some massive social followings here. I would almost never recommend someone do online marketing without some email component.

As others have said, it's not spam if people are specifically asking for it (make sure it's clear what they're signing up for), topical, and easy to unsubscribe from. It may take some work to find the optimal volume. Some recipients and audiences are more welcoming of email than others. Sometimes once a month is more than plenty, sometimes once a week will give great results. Track everything, and adjust as needed.
posted by primethyme at 8:55 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

With online marketing, as with anything else, if you have limited resources it's important to remain focused on what works, in terms of engaging your audience.

Email newsletters are really best used as a way to deliver visitors to your website. Can your list do that?

How many email addresses have opted-in so far? How much traffic does your site get? Is there a conversion point where you can gather email addresses? How long would it take to set up?

Depending on the size of your list, as another rule of thumb, only 25% of email recipients are going to open the newsletter in your inbox. After that, only 3%-5% will actually click on a link to get your site.

So you are going to have to hustle anyway to get the word out, because email isn't going to do it all for you.

And it's unclear if there is really any way to get return on investment (time) anyway.

Best to focus on having a good site with a good blog, and focus on engaging your audience on Facebook.
posted by Nevin at 9:26 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd caution you to be careful with volunteers. Email lists are great, but a poorly run email list and the resulting complaints is a horrible experience. It's not that hard to do it right, but people often have strange ideas about what is acceptable, and you don't want to hand the voice of your organization over to someone unless you know they'll use it well. Random people sometimes get really strange ideas about how an email newsletter should work. A few things not to do, that a well-meaning person might do anyway:
  • Sign people up without their consent. Take email addresses gathered for some other purpose (like buying tickets or signing up for a raffle) and put them all on the list. Only put people on the list who explicitly agreed to be on the list.
  • Send mail to the list beyond its agreed terms. If you tell people it will be a monthly newsletter about your upcoming events, honor that. An extra emergency email now and then to announce a cancellation due to weather or an important logistical detail is great; suddenly using the list to plug your friend's band's new album is not ok. (Including information about other relevant arts events in your area at the bottom of your regularly scheduled newsletters may be a helpful service though.) Repeatedly begging for money is a problem too.
  • "Weird email things" like sending an empty email with a PDF flyer attached or trying to generate your email by saving a Word document as HTML or making the whole email one big image. Using stupid or irrelevant subject lines.
  • Argue with people. No matter how responsibly you run your list, someone will eventually complain loudly and rudely that you're spamming them. This person, who may otherwise be a lovely individual, may use horrifically rude language. Just be polite and ensure he/she gets unsubscribed.
You could definitely have a volunteer help set up the template and help you run it with appropriate supervision, but I'd be leery of handing the whole thing off to a volunteer unless it's someone you truly trust will represent the group well.
posted by zachlipton at 9:37 PM on July 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

If you are honest about what the list is about people will absolutely not feel like they are being spammed. If the sheet says, "sign up here for notifications about this group", people will not be upset if they get notifications about this group.

For non-profits I'd stay away from info captures like contests and such, so you do indeed only get those who are truly interested.
posted by bowline at 9:38 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

What's your goal? To get more turnout at events? To drive people to the website? To get people to give money? You don't have to pick just one, but you do have to refine your strategy based on what is important to your organization, both broadly and in the moment you're sending the email.

I did this as a living (uh, my last day at that job was Friday, for reasons unrelated to the job itself), albeit for much larger nonprofit organizations -- but many of the same technical and strategic principles apply. Memail me if you want to chat more.
posted by Ragini at 10:08 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't use Twitter at all or Facebook much, and I'm not likely to remember to check your website. But I do read my email several times a day. (Unfortunately, I'm nearing the 40+ range.) So, yes please,have an email list if you want to get information to me!
posted by leahwrenn at 11:17 PM on July 20, 2015

I (mid twenties) actually prefer email for infrequent updates like this. It's very easy to miss things on Twitter or Facebook.
posted by panic at 12:01 AM on July 21, 2015

It is worth it when done correctly. I sign up for emails for many things, for many different reasons. The first time that I get two in the same week, I delete them. I enjoy the emails that come in once or twice a month that actually tell me about an event that I might have missed otherwise. You could go that route- use your email as a priority notification for events. People who sign up for emails from you find out first. It could make them feel special.
posted by myselfasme at 5:49 AM on July 21, 2015

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