Building an email list and keeping in touch
Now that we have the excuses for not building up an email list out of the way, let’s get down to the work of accumulating email addresses and what to do once you have them.
If you are lucky enough to have acquired some emails from colleagues and fans over the years, you won’t have to start from zero. You may need to export them to a more professional service than an Excel (or Word) document though. I personally use MailChimp as it is easy to configure, but there are many economical service providers to choose from (Mad Mimi, iContact, Constant Contact, Aweber etc). Set up with a service and export the email addresses you have collected. Do this with care as you shouldn’t put addresses into your database without consent. Do not add names to your database from business cards casually collected at film events or scraped from the internet no matter how promising and tempting it might be because if your account receives multiple spam complaints from those who did not sign up to receive your email, it could be shut down and/or suffer fines per the CAN-SPAM Act. Also, it irritates the person you are contacting and irritated people will never help you!
A daily habit of collection
Add a link to your email signup box to every page of your website, your signature on personal emails and all of your social media pages (for example, many providers have tabs to add to Facebook pages). Many service providers include a unique code that you can use to direct people to the sign up page. In Mailchimp, you can create codes right in their program that can send to Facebook or Twitter as posts inviting your followers to sign up to receive your news.
When you do send communication to your list (ie, newsletters), be sure to add a Forward to a Friend or Share link so that those on your list can share your news and attract their friends to sign up for more.
Collecting at events
There is that tried and true method of collecting email addresses via the paper and clipboard, but there are some services that allow for SMS text integration. I saw a band do this at a recent concert. They projected their text keyword on several walls of the club and all I had to do was send my email to the keyword and I started receiving their messages. At screening events, you could add this keyword to paper assets (posters, postcards, biz cards), mention it during your intro speech or after screening Q&A, add it to your opening credit sequence at the beginning of your film, project it on the walls at the after party. Tell people about it when they are the most excited to connect with you, in person.
You have a list, now what?
Hopefully on your sign up page, you ask not only for name and email address, but also zip/country code and maybe Twitter handle. Why? If you are releasing your film in certain territories or having screenings in certain cities, do not blast that news to your whole list because not everyone will be able to see the film. By segmenting your subscribers and sending relevant messages to them, you show that you care about not wasting their time. By asking for their Twitter handle, you will be able to connect with them on a daily basis (because you are using Twitter on a daily basis, right?), rather than only when you send out email news. It could help in building up your Twitter following as well!
Set a regular schedule for communication with your list. This could be weekly (probably when leading up to release or in release), monthly (probably while in production) or quarterly (probably when you are in between projects or in development). Make it something manageable, a schedule you can stick to and a schedule that trains the audience about when they can expect your messages.
As with anything that involves communicating with the public, the messages need to be relevant to THEIR lives, not just yours.
The best emails Educate, Empower and Inform
The better and more valuable the content, the more resonant and dynamic the email will be no matter how the content is laid out or what email service provider is used. In order to keep engagement of those who have given you permission to contact them, you must insure that every communication is valuable to the reader, not just to your project. The most effective email communication supports the benefits of the project while keeping the reader informed on topics of interest to their lives.
While there may be a cause related to your project (especially relevant to documentaries), it is also important to communicate who you are as an artist, your artistic identity. Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain does a great job of sending quarterly emails (called Breakfast at Tiffany’s) to her list where she doesn’t just talk about her projects. She informs her audience about other documentaries she has seen and why she liked them, other creative women and their projects, what causes that are dear to her heart are doing to change the world, and news on events happening in her hometown of San Francisco. This gives her audience a sense of who she is as a person, what issues she supports, and her involvement in the local community. When you sign up to receive her emails, it helps keep you informed of the world that you both care about.
Make your content “scannable” by using bulleted lists, headings, and charts where possible to layout your content in a clean and clear way. This will allow users to scan the material easily and pick out the main points of your text.
Tone down the graphics and images. Focus on useful and informative content. Email is not the place for heavily stylized design, mostly because HTML and CSS support is inconsistent across email accounts and devices. Email clients such as Gmail and Outlook increasingly are set to not show graphics in emails by default so your email may end up looking like a blank page when the recipient opens it if you use a lot of photos or graphics. Having a text only version is a must. Make sure you have a text version of your emails in the event that your mobile recipients can only see text.
It is useful to measure your results to give a clear picture of the true engagement of your fanbase. If your open rates are low, you will need to work much harder to capture their attention. Most email service providers include measurement tools to track effectiveness. Statistics on open rates, clickthrough rates, most active subscribers, unsubscribes, most popular areas of the world, etc are all available.
After a few months of use, you can start to see trends emerging regarding what times of day, days of the week and types of content are working or not working. Experimentation is encouraged as your audience is unique and their response is not necessarily the industry average. While some industry reports may say Monday is a bad day for email response, you may find that is a perfect day for your audience. Many times evenings or weekends are the time that people catch up on non essential emails and you could find your open and response rates are better at this time. Testing will help you know what is effective. Alternatively, you could elect to ask a question about time and frequency preferences in your email sign up form, but the more reliable data on this will still come from measurement tools.
Instead of an email list, can’t I just build up a Twitter/Facebook following?
You actually need both. Connecting on social sites is something you can do every day, but you don’t own that platform. The site can change the rules (Facebook does it every 6 months at least!) and leave your cut off from your followers, or in the case of Facebook, charge you to access them again. Think of social media as a virtual database, but your email list solidly follows you and you can access it anytime. It is good idea to have your own method of communication that you control.
Also, social sites are not the best tools for sales. They are the best tools for trust building and with trust comes the openness and willingness to support. Use social sites to earn trust. Use email to further expand the relationship, inform, offer incentives and eventually sell. Your strongest supporters are the ones who gave you permission to contact them personally via email, not just gave a thumbs up on Facebook.
Amassing an email list takes time and consistent effort. It will be slow going if you are starting from zero. For those who have a recognizable name from past work or who have recognizable names in their work, this process can be easier and faster, but if you don’t, it will simply take time.
Sheri Candler August 15th, 2013
Posted In: Marketing