By Steve Outing
Let’s talk a bit about e-mail lists. Probably you’re already collecting e-mail addresses: Folks sign up for your newsletters or news alerts, or simply sign up for accounts on your site that are necessary for contributing content or posting a comment.
Alas, you’re limited in what you can do with those lists. You of course send them what they’ve requested (newsletters, alerts, or maybe personalized news reports). But you have to be really careful about anything else you send those users, for fear of being accused of spamming them.
A great way to be able to e-mail more information and offers to your users is to create sub-lists or secondary niche lists, which users must opt into. For example, your Food editor might establish a special e-mail list just for people who are crazy about food and cooking — promising them content that’s not in the newspaper or on your website, but that they’ll be interested in because of their passion. You can also send them coupons or special food-related offers; the prospect of discounts within their passion zone may be enough, alone, to get them to sign up.
The idea here is a simple one: Offer special content to those who identify with a particular interest or niche, and start collecting sub-lists that you have permission to use to send out more content and targeted advertising.
Sub-lists also can spill over to online community and social media. Just about every beat reporter at a news organization can establish a network or community of experts and people interested in the beat topic (see Beatblogging.org). Find a way for those people to sign up as “super enthusiasts” about the topic; you’ll collect their e-mail addresses and have a way to communicate with them, with their permission.
What I’m recommending here is simply smart marketing technique. Look around online and you’ll see lots of Internet marketers doing what I describe above. Of course, news organizations typically aren’t that attuned to modern marketing techniques. Plus there’s the newsroom cultural pushback about interacting too much with the audience, which these methods require. But perhaps some news organizations will take the hint.
One last thought: E-mail distribution is a tricky business, and it’s easy to do something that will get you blacklisted and put on spam lists — which can be difficult to get off. Unless your organization has true competency in e-mail, I’d encourage you to look at e-mail providers. I use Aweber.com, which I think is great. But there are plenty of others to choose from.