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Email and Your Web Strategy

I recently traded emails with Tobias Eigen, the Executive Director at Kabissa.org, about integrating "email lists" with a web site. It prompted some interesting thoughts.

When deciding how best to integrate email into your web site and broader communications strategy, what should you be thinking about? Well, for starters, you need to stop thinking about just 'lists'.

Here are the 4 major types of email communications, as I see them. Each is aimed at accomplishing different communications goals, but if your organization's primary asset is information, then I belive your Internet Strategy needs to address them all.

  • Newsletters
  • Alerts, or Notifications
  • Conversations
  • Campaigns

The rest of the post provides some detailed thinking on each area. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Newsletters

Goal: Communicate our agenda through a summation of what we believe is important now/this time period
Communicated to users as: "subscription"
Delivery: Regular delivery schedule
Content:
- Editorialized Content with consistent topic of focus  
- Has a name - i.e. the Kabissa Weekly  
- Same content delivered to all "subscribers"
Advanced features:click through tracking, open rate, bounce management
The future:Forget your "email newsletter" - identify your topic, build a "beefed up blog", and offer RSS.

Alerts/Notifications

Goal:Keep people coming back to us
Communicated to users as: "notifications" or "alerts"
Delivery: Event driven (or user defined - hourly, daily, weekly...)
Content:
- updates of content available on your site (or elsewhere)  
- not editorialized (i.e. not editorialized beyond what you're already doing on the web, no "stories", just blurbs and links
- we are just "notifying" here)
The future:
Unless we're talking about purely personalized alerts - i.e. just one recipient (the item I'm selling on ebay just received a bid), let RSS do the work and measure readership through community activity on your site. I could be persuaded to argue that you should just use RSS today - except email based notification still has one big advantage: you get their address
 

Conversations

Goal: Collaboration on my topic, by those outside my walls of influence
Communicated to users as: "email discussions"
Content: Subscriber provided commentary and discussions
Advanced features: none really - an established format - it aint broke, don’t fix it (though you may argue that searchable web-based archives and ability to subscribe & unsubscribe from web are "advanced")  

Campaigns

Goal: Move the recipient to act
Communicated to users as: "opt in", or even not at all - you may purchase a list to send to based on a target demographic
Content: Moving (hopefully) description of actions you want people to take
Advanced features:
- List filtering/segmentation  
- Action tracking  
- Open-rate tracking 
- Compound email sending: Send email to a wide group advertising several actions. Based upon which action is taken (maybe they signed the save the whales petition instead of the fight toxic waste petition), you send them more specific subsequent emails.