I found listening to Alex Balfour (Head of New Media, London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012), on the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast (21.30 into the show) very inspiring. Of course social media was important, but direct email was the core way of getting the message out, sending 83 million emails.
Social Media is cool, and a great way to engage, and interact with a community. But email has a far bigger following. To quote ‘The Church and New Media’ by Brandon Vogt, “Email is a New Media staple. Almost everyone uses it”. The point is to reach people where they are, and so email is an important channel, given a large percentage of the population are not on social media. With the busy Christmas period approaching fast, now is a good time for you to consider this approach.
If you’re a small church, you’ve probably never explored email services that provide list management for special interests, and allow you to create a professional look and feel HTML email (which is very tricky to do on your own, to ensure it is rendered correctly by all email clients). You might be simply relying on your church office to maintain a list, and send out plain text emails.
I’ve just started exploring Mailchimp (as used by BigBible no less), which provides a free account that will store up to 2,000 subscribers & send up to 12,000 emails per month (other service providers do exist). I’m very impressed so far with the flexibility, the look and feel it provides, and the reporting statistics. But one of the major benefits is that it takes the headache out of list management. People can to add or remove themselves, and even choose the sort of information (group) they would like to subscribe to.
For example, you might create groups or lists for these three categories:-
- Weekly updates – your church might have a weekly newsletter, sermon podcast and perhaps even a blog post or two.
- Special events or services – Christmas, Easter, Harvest Festival, Mothering Sunday, Carol Concert, Christingle Service …
- Children’s events – Halloween Alternative, Christmas Party, Holiday activities
If you place a signup form on your website, you can have check boxes, so people can choose between one or more categories. Your subscribers then get the information they want, without getting spammed.
Automation – RSS Feeds
The ‘Weekly updates’ I mentioned in the ‘List Management’ example can be automated. All the items in the example have an RSS feed associated with them at St Paul’s. Mailchimp composes the email from RSS feeds. Once you have setup your template outlining which feeds to include, and how you would like them displayed, then each week, Mailchimp will do the rest. This redistribution of existing content, comes at no cost to you (in terms of weekly workload), but ensures your existing content gets exposed to a wider audience.
From time to time, when you have a special event or service, you may wish to send out a mail shot. Mailchimp provides sample templates, making it easy to get a professional look and feel (graphics and fonts). So for example, I’m writing one right now for our Christmas services (a work in progress, but you get the idea).
Of course, there had to be an app involved, and Mailchimp has one, to monitor your campaigns (how many people opened the email, what time of day, did they click on a link, or retweet). Yet more stats to monitor. The app also has a signup form, allowing people to register for a list straight from your phone. Quite nice if you’re chatting over coffee.
I would love to hear about your experience of using mailing list software, and any hints and tips you have.