Bulk E-Mail Doesn’t Have to Be Spam

Bulk E-Mail Doesn’t Have to Be Spam

E-mail is a hugely successful phenomenon, letting ordinary people communicate with far more people using far less effort than any previous communications medium. But this facility has its dark side — the incessant bombardment of e-mail in-boxes with ads for illegal “Make Money Fast” pyramid schemes, pornographic Web sites, quack healthcare remedies and other come-ons.
As a result, some people misguidedly regard all bulk e-mail as “spam,” a derogatory term for untargeted, unsolicited bulk e-mail. But if you flip the spam concept on its head, you have a powerful tool you can use to reach a lot of people quickly and inexpensively, for business as well as personal purposes.
To make it work, you keep the bulk part — sending many messages out. But instead of flinging out untargeted missives, you target your messages to the interests of your recipients. And instead of heaving them unsolicited — this is the crucial part — you ask your recipients’ permission before encroaching upon their e-mail in-boxes. You make sure they “opt in.”
One of the best uses for opt-in bulk e-mail is e-mail newsletters. But as with bulk e-mail in general, there are pitfalls here as well as promises. To sort out one from the other, I talked to the queen of e-newsletters, Debbie Weil. Along with running her own Washington-based consulting business that specializes in helping businesses set up e-newsletters, Weil publishes her own, WordBiz Report, at <www.wordbiz.com>.
“The biggest mistake business people make with e-newsletters is thinking like a promoter, not a publisher,” Weil says. “Hypey, direct-response writing doesn’t work with e-mail newsletters. It’s a turnoff.”
Even if your objective is marketing, you need to provide information that’s useful to your recipients, not to yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of typical recipients. Provide them with substantive, accurate and comprehensive information that meets their needs, and present it in a lively fashion.
“If you blast out gaudy graphics and promotional copy that shouts, ‘Check out the widget we have for sale this month!’ the response you’ll receive is, ‘So what!’ ” Weil says. “People are tired of e-mail promotions jamming e-mail in-boxes.”
Whether you send your e-newsletter to customers or prospects, if you do it right by being truly useful, it will be time-consuming. That’s why Weil doesn’t recommend doing it more than once a month.
She also recommends keeping e-newsletter issues short, no longer than 1,000 words. With e-mail, people expect to get in and out quickly.
It’s easier than ever these days to create e-mail messages using HTML, the language of the Web. Here Weil and I differ a bit. She recommends HTML as being easier to read. Whenever I see an HTML-coded e-mail message, I think come-on. But if recipients have opted in to receive an HTML newsletter, I can see how they would be receptive to it.
Concerning mechanics, Weil recommends two Web-based application service providers (ASPs) that specialize in helping people create e-newsletters and manage subscription lists for them.
Constant Contact, at <www.constantcontact.com>, is the less expensive. It’s free for up to 50 recipients, $10 per month for up to 250 recipients, and $25 per month for up to 2,500 recipients, with prices continuing to rise incrementally from there.
IMakeNews, at <www.imakenews.com>, starts at $200 per month, but has beefier content management features, including a companion Web site for your e-newsletter. Both services offer free trial periods.
A simple alternative appropriate for low-volume personal or family e-newsletters is using your regular e-mail software.
But don’t just paste a long block of e-mail addresses into the “To” (sometimes referred to as “Mail To”) or “Cc” (carbon copy) address lines. This results in an e-mail message with a large header that not only looks ugly but can force recipients to scroll down repeatedly to get to your message.
Instead, if your e-mail program supports it, use the blind carbon copy line (typically identified as “Bcc” or “Blind Cc”). By sending an e-mail message to yourself and pasting recipients’ e-mail addresses here, you can hide these addresses from the other recipients.
To build a subscriber base for a business e-newsletter, your best bet is to include an opt-in box at relevant pages of your Web site, including your check-out page if you have one. Don’t assume that if someone visits your Web site or even purchases from you that they want to receive your e-newsletter.
“As with spam, people regard that as an invasion of privacy, and they’ll respond with anger,” Weil says. 
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or <www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column>.



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