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Using MailChimp – First Impressions, and How to Plan an Engaging Email Campaign.

November 02, 2010

I have been thinking for a while about alternative methods of building a community around Squibbleworld.

One of the options I had not considered previously was setting up a monthly email newsletter. This is because I mainly associate email newsletters with companies that use newsletters to tell you about their latest offers. This is useful if you are looking for a particular item on special, but normally I mark most of these types of email newsletters as read immediately, or at best skim through them quickly.

However there are a few email newsletters that I actually read from beginning to end. The first of these are the Computer Graphics World E- Newsletter and the Animation Mentor newsletter. This is not surprising because they are basically magazine-format newsletters that focus on subjects in which I am particularly interested. More surprising however is the Jbox newsletter. You can see they have also embedded the latest newsletter into the front page of their website. The Jbox website sells all kinds of cute items straight from Japan. Like other commercial email newsletter campaigns, the Jbox newsletter includes a list of its latest products. What is different about the Jbox newsletter is that it always starts with the author’s impressions of life in Japan as a foreigner, cultural insights and sometimes interesting tidbits relating to vocabulary and language structure. It’s true that when I get to the end of the newsletter, I often skim through the list of latest items just as I do with most other commercial newsletters. On the other hand, I always look forward to those few minutes in my day where I open the Jbox newsletter to read interesting information about a completely different culture.

Why then is this type of newsletter more effective than one in which a company merely lists items that are on sale, or offers its readers coupons? You need to ask yourself: what can I offer our subscribers besides our latest special offers? Your readers will stay subscribed to your newsletter longer if they feel you have something more to offer them than your latest specials or cut-price deals. Put your items or the service you are promoting in context, by providing interesting background information on that topic for your readers.

The informational type of newsletter builds a positive connection with your subscribers. Even if your subscribers do not immediately follow up on the links attached to the email, your newsletter will looked forward to, not regarded as spam to be quickly disregarded or deleted.  

I decided to take this idea as a starting point for my Squibbleworld Newsletter. Each issue will feature tips and interesting facts relating to animation and web design. But to give the newsletter a more community-oriented feel I plan to feature a project by an artist, web designer or animator from around the web. So if you’re interested, get in touch, or send me a message on twitter!

Using MailChimp for the First Time:

I chose Mailchimp to set up my newsletter campaign, as it seemed easy to set up. I also wanted to test the service so that I could recommend it to future clients should they wish to set up a similar campaign.

Signing up was easy, I was also given the option to view some video tutorials, but decided to plunge straight in for fun. I expected a few hiccups because of this, but in fact by the time I had finished setting up my first campaign, I couldn’t believe that the process was so simple. Viewing the basic video tutorial after the fact confirmed that I had set everything up correctly just by following Mailchimp’s easy step-by-step process. This reassured me that I could easily recommend Mailchimp to clients and that it would be easy for them to use and maintain once their account had been set up.

There are two different types of account, the ‘Forever Free Plan’, which allows you to store up to 1,000 subscribers, and send up to 6,000 emails a month. If you need a list that allows for more than 1,000 subscribers, then the price of your plan will increase accordingly. There is also a ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ plan for people who do not intend to use Mailchimp every month, and ‘High Volume’ plans for companies with over 50,000 subscribers.

For more information on Mailchimp’s Pricing Plans go here:

Setting up Your First Email List and campaign.

The Steps:

{rokbox title=|Getting Started :: Mailchimp guides you through the process! | size=|500 249|}images/blogpics/mailchimp/getstarted.jpg{/rokbox}

Set up the list – This will be the list that your users will be added to when they use your sign-up form.

Make a signup form – The signup form can be customised as much as you want and can even be made to match the theme of your website. A small version of the form can be embedded on your website so visitors can sign up right there, or you have the option to link to the form hosted by Mailchimp.

{rokbox title=|Lists and Forms :: Create a new list, and signup form that matches your website design. | size=|271 237|}images/blogpics/mailchimp/lists.jpg{/rokbox}

Design the campaign.

Pick the type of campaign you think will suit your readers best: I chose the ‘regular ol’ campaign option’, which gives the subscriber the option to choose between HTML emails (with images and formatting) or plain text emails.

{rokbox title=|Campaign Builder :: Mailchimp makes designing your campaign email easy with HTML templates you can customise. | size=|500 241|}images/blogpics/mailchimp/campaigns.jpg{/rokbox}

Make a template – You can choose to use a pre-designed template, customise a pre-designed template, or make your own from scratch. To start with I chose to customise one of the existing templates to suit my needs, and this saved a lot of time. There are many videos in Mailchimp’s Resource section that show you how to do everything including building an email newsletter template from scratch, so this is something I will definitely explore in the future.

Assign the Campaign to the email list you set up previously.

Send a Test Email – It is important to send a test email BEFORE you farm out the newsletter to all your subscribers so you can see how the newsletter will look in as many email clients as possible. This test can also be an indicator of which email clients will send the newsletter automatically to the spam or trash folders.

If everything looks good at this point you can send out your email newsletter to your subscriber list! Hooray!

After the Campaign – Useful statistics:

Mailchimp provides campaign reports that let you know how your campaign is doing. For instance, you can find out what percentage of emails were actually opened, and use the statistics to better tailor your future campaigns to your particular audience.

I think that over time the Squibbleworld newsletter will prove to be a very useful tool, and an excellent way to keep in touch with regular Squibbleworld visitors.

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