How to Build Email Lists with Free Content

John Hayes is a marketing strategist and contributing author at Vocus, specializing in email and social media marketing.

Email marketers are sometimes too keen to build their lists by collecting addresses without giving subscribers any real incentive to submit their contact details.

For example, the offer of a free newsletter (and virtually everyone does this) makes me shudder. Why should anybody subscribe to a “newsletter” when, in reality, they know they are going to be hit with slew of poorly executed marketing campaigns?

Personally, I want to be incentivized. I want to know that the list I am joining will be useful and not just clutter up my inbox with content for the sake of content marketing.

Sometimes prospects just don’t want to give you their email addresses. They are busy people and could do without the distraction – unless, of course, you can demonstrate real value. The only way to do this is to give them content they want for free (or without submitting their contact details first).

You might think this is foolish; that if you are going to invest heavily in a content-led marketing strategy, at the very least you should expect an email address in return.

Perhaps – but building trust with useful content is far more important than attempting to build email lists quickly. Consider offering a combination of these resources:

1. Blog Posts: Your blog should offer a detailed and regularly updated repository of useful content that inspires your prospects to engage with you. This could be a social media follow, a RSS feed subscription, an email share or (in the ideal world) an email marketing subscription.

Try to include a call to action in every post and sell the benefits of surrendering contact details. The offer of more detailed content is the best way of doing this. Perhaps you can expand on a short blog post with the offer of a detailed whitepaper or webinar (where, of course, you will collect contact details).

2. Content Samples: If you have recently published a detailed guide, white paper or ebook, give away an abridged version with a promise of the complete manuscript in exchange for the recipient’s email details. It is also a good idea to embed social media share links in your actual document, allowing your readers to share your insight virally as and when they read it.

3. eBooks: Distributing ebooks via online bookstores like Amazon’s Kindle Store or Apple’s iBookstore can help raise your profile and position your brand outside of the normal digital marketing channels.

Want more email marketing advice? Check out the Vocus Blog’s email channel here.

4. YouTube Videos: Keep them short and to the point and really sell the benefits of subscribing for more detailed information. Because people can look you in the eye in a video, YouTube is an excellent way of building trust. YouTube also allows users to subscribe to your channel (without passing on their contact details).

5. Podcasts: People still listen to podcasts. Just like video, they can be an incredibly useful way of repeatedly putting your brand in front of people without collecting their email address. Remember, people listen to podcasts when they are doing something else. They could be sitting on a train, jogging, driving to work or lying by the pool on holiday. Podcasts are a great way to influence people when they are free from distractions and able to concentrate clearly on your message.

6. Twitter Keywords:  The real action on social networks like Twitter happens in the search. Carefully selecting the right keywords in your Tweets maximizes their reach and drives more traffic to your site.

In both email marketing and social media marketing it is far more important to have people actually listen to your message than simply subscribe (or follow) you. Once you have their trust, it is far easier to earn their permission and collect their contact details.

For more from John Hayes on the Vocus Blog, click hereJohn is also the author of Becoming THE Expert: Enhancing Your Business Reputation through Thought Leadership Marketing, which is available as an e-book here.

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