The Dark Art of Dark Social: Email, the antisocial medium which will not die.
Email newsletters go back to the dawn of the Internet but have been neglected in recent years with the rise of shiny social networks. But eTOCs have seen off RSS and email will not die. Why else does Twitter encourage users to share tweets via email? The evidence is clear that message dissemination via social networks only reaches a relatively small proportion of the potential audience and that most link sharing occurs via private channels such as email (hence "dark social"). The Silk Road bust and the unmasking of Dread Pirate Roberts reveals how difficult it is to maintain anonymity online. Public discussion via online comments is limited by the high risk nature of the putting your head above the parapet in the rough and tumble of the web. Yet discussions via private channels continue unabated. The rebirth email on mobile devices and the contribution of social media to information overload is causing a rethink about the utility of public versus private channels and we are seeing the rebirth of email newsletters and mailing lists. My upcoming workshop at SpotOn London 2013 will look at the case for and against dark social, practical aspects such and tools such as how to use blogs as content management systems for email generation and asks you to embrace the dark side. As part of my research I have been experimenting with email subscription options on my various blogs (see DarkSocial Experimental Ethics). So what are the options?
MailChimp is what the many of the big boys use. Very powerful and free for up to 2000 subscribers (after that, you pay). Downsides: slightly dodgy stats claims, doesn't play well with Microsoft Outlook, can be tricky to get your posts formatted the way you want. The good news is that MailChimp emails allow replies, offering up the possibility of onging email conversations (if that's what you want).
Feedburner offers an email subscription service. Available for any platform and particularly easy to integrate with Blogger via a sidebar widget. Unlike MailChimp, recipients cannot reply by email but they can leave a public comment on the original post. Like MailChimp, Feedburner allows email replies.
Key feature - unlike the other two solutions listed here, you can burn a selected tag as a feed for email subscriptions rather than inflicting all your verbal blogging diarohoea on subscribers inboxes. This enables you to schedule a regular newsletter rather than turning them off by bombarding them with everything you post. Blogs are great for those who have the time and the commitment for
frequent posts. But many don't and not everyone wants to read your
passing thoughts as they occur to you. The answer for both of these
groups is the digest or newsletter - weekly, fortnightly or monthly as
you prefer. So how do you structure and write an effective email newsletter? If enough people ask me in the comments to this post, I'll tell you ;-)
But there's a problem hanging over Feedburner - the future status of the service after Google axed
Reader earlier this year. Feedburner's stats and post scheduling also seem to
be as erratic as ever :-(
Wordpress JetPack also offers an email subscription option (run via wordpress.com even on self-hosted installations) but unlike the other two is only available for Wordpress blogs (on wordpress.com or self-hosted). Probably the simplest of the three to set up. Like Feedburner email subscriptions, simple to run - the blog is your content management system delivering full text content or excepts to your subscribers without any work after you have scheduled or posted them. Unlike the other two services, JetPack emails do not offer email replies, so if you think email newsletters are about relationships rather than publishing content (hint), you'll have to include your email address if you want people to be able to contact you.
So why bother with email at all? Long answer - because it works (Why email newsletters still work). Short answer: mobiles.
So am I going to sign up to your blog via email? Well no I'm not, but I'm unusual - a web dinosaur who's still in love with RSS (the glue of my online world). But I'm in an ever decreasing minority in that respect, and the advantages of email on mobile devices are considerable.