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5 smart ways to grow your email list

How to grow your email list

Everyone who signs up for Montague Street Media’s newsletter, Newspackr, gets a welcome email from me with two questions:

1) Do you have a newsletter/blog/media site?

2) What’s your biggest challenge?

The top answer to #2, by a country mile, is always: Growth! How do I grow my newsletter? How do I get more people to sign up? How do I find the people who will be interested in what my newsletter has to say?

I’ve spent a lot of my career helping companies and individuals grow audiences and email lists.

So here are some top tactics that I’ve seen work — in order from free to low-cost to fully paid.

1) Have the signup link everywhere

This is mostly for independent writers, but publications and brands may be able to use some of this as well. The basic idea is that anyone looking you up or interacting with you should a) see that you have a newsletter, and b) be able to sign up for it easily.

That means:

  • Link in email signature
  • Link in Twitter bio
  • Link on LinkedIn (you can now add a ‘featured’ section to your profile… this is a great place to link your signup page)
  • Link in Facebook bio
  • Link in Instagram bio

And here’s a little bonus idea, pinched from the Newsletter Creators Group: Create a pinned Tweet inviting people to sign up for your newsletter, leaving your DMs open to accept people’s email addresses.

Like this:

Instructions to create the button are here.

You’ll have to add the addresses to your list manually, but people have been seeing some great results.You can do a similar pinnable trick on Facebook pages with the “Get Messages” option when you create a post.

2) Text-to-Join

This is where you have people text a keyword to an access number and collect email addresses via text.

This is how it works…

First, find a provider. A quick search on “text to join” will bring you to a list of providers. (I’ve used Textiful, but there’s also JoinbyTextSlickTextSimpleTexting, and a host of others.)

You get a keyword, subject to availability. Say your newsletter is about coffee, and you manage to get ROAST. You then ask people to text ROAST to your provider’s number (which will be a five-digit number, like 55-444, just to make up an example).

Then, you program the response the user will get — usually a very short welcome message from you.

Lastly, you ask them to text back their email address, and… BOOM, they’re subscribed!

This tactic is great for live events and local community organizing (think, using it on a poster in a coffee shop, etc.).

But, of course, since live events are on hold for a bit, you can also use them in:

  • Zoom meetings and webinars
  • On Instagram
  • On printed materials (like business cards or a print magazine)
  • On a receipt or invoice
  • In a print, radio, or TV advertisement
  • On the side of your business vehicle

I used this tactic for a local nonprofit and was amazed how many of our signups came through this channel. People always have their phones on them, and it can create a sense of urgency to complete the task — they might remember your keyword, but they’re going to need to enter that 5-digit access number while they’re looking at your sign or ad.

This one may take a little creativity to deploy, but the cost is relatively low. You’ll pay based on volume, but $20-$40 a month is roughly what you’ll be looking at to get started. Most providers also usually have a free trial and/or pay-as-you-use plan.

3) Referral programs

There are some famous examples. Harry’sMorning BrewTheSkimm.

Basically, you grow your email list or online following by getting people to refer your product — usually by offering them tiered incentives as they refer more people.

It can be as simple as creating a waiting list for a new product and letting people move up in line as they refer friends. Or you can offer more concrete incentives — t-shirts, mugs, credits in an online store — as people hit 3 referrals, 5, 10, 25, 50, etc.

While many of the early practitioners of this tactic built their own tools, it’s now relatively easy to get something off-the-shelf.

Some names: Viral LoopsReferralHeroGrowsurfReferralRock.

Most of these can be set up without a developer — and on the premium plans, you can get rid of branding from the vendor.

Expect costs in the neighborhood of $40-$240 a month, depending on the plan. High-volume campaigns may incur extra charges.

And, of course, think about the value of your referral rewards as part of your customer acquisition costs. If you send out a t-shirt at a cost of $12, and it yields 20 referrals, you’re getting those new leads at 60 cents a piece.

4) Sweepstakes

Sweepstakes are a major tool many media brands use to grow their email lists.

Basically, you partner with a few brands in adjacent spaces to yours, you set up a giveaway with a decent-sized prize (a vacation, a laptop, etc.), and everyone cross-promotes it to their email lists and social media.

At the end, you have a pool of email addresses from people who entered, and all of the partners get access to that pool of emails.

This can yield hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of new emails. You have to be careful about how you add these emails to your list (engagement can be low, since these folks signed up to win a prize), but you can also find a pool of real, new customers/readers.

Finding partners is the toughest part. And that’s why a few companies have entered the space as platforms to match partners.

Some names: DojoMojo (I’ve used them and would recommend), UpViralViralSweep.

Think in the range of $100-$500 a month for a platform subscription, depending on your plan. And you have to contribute money for prizing in almost all sweeps — if you’re small (and thus aren’t contributing many emails to the pot), you can sometimes make that up by shouldering a bigger portion of the prize.

5) Content-to-Capture

This is a paid Facebook/Instagram strategy — so, your ability to scale this will depend on what you have available to spend on ads. That said, even a relatively small ad budget can fuel appreciable growth.

The content-to-capture ad, pioneered by content marketing agency Keywee, uses your articles as the click driver to get people to sign up.

In short, you create a Facebook lead ad with the image and headline from your article. When people click to read the article, they’re asked to sign up in Facebook’s native lead form. The advantage of this is that the information is pre-populated by Facebook, which of course already has your name and email address (and relationship status and favorite TV show and pet and pet’s favorite TV show and…).

After entering their info, the reader is sent on to your article — and you’ve got a new email lead you can nurture with a great welcome series.

Also: Do you want to spy on what your competitors are doing for lead acquisition? Use Facebook’s new ad transparency libraries to look them up!

For instance, here’s every ad The New York Times is running right now.

To find a publication’s or page’s ads, go to the page, find the Page Transparency box on the right rail, click “See More,” then click “Go to Ad Library” in the bottom right.

Click 'See More,' then 'Go to Ad Library'
Click ‘See More,’ then ‘Go to Ad Library’

But wait, there’s more!

For more tips, you can revisit the Deez Links Audience Starter Kit linked last month. Or check out Dan Oshinsky’s 25 ways to sign someone up for your newsletter. You should also check out Josh Spector’s piece on 5 Tactics I’ve Used To Get 25,000 Newsletter Subscribers (pay particular attention to #3 and the section on lookalike Facebook audiences). And, for publishers, don’t miss this guide from the Membership Puzzle Project on smart investments in paid lead acquisition.

Growth is always a steep hill, but hopefully these tools and tactics can help you climb.


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