One of the many benefits of being a Chamber of Commerce member in Park City is access to the member contact list, including emails. This list contains over 1800 contacts, and at a time when the economy calls for a little belt tightening, it’s a great resource for business owners who want to reach out to the community with an email newsletter.
Nice list, what do I do with it?
The PC Chamber will send you a list as a file that can be opened using Microsoft Excel, but what should be done with it? Add each email to your Address Book? Import them somehow into your email system?
Desktop email clients (Outlook, Apple Mail) are not not ideally set up to send out a massively distributed newsletter (nor is web based email such as Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail).
The answer should be to use an email marketing solution such as Constant Contact or Campaign Monitor. These types of companies make it easy to create newsletters, manage subscribers, and offer excellent reporting on the success of your campaign. They also ensure that you are complying with the CAN-SPAM act. But there’s one huge, glaring problem – They don’t allow third party subscriber lists, including those from a Chamber of Commerce. This is how Campaign Monitor describes their policy:
Although we know that Chambers of Commerce and Tradeshow lists, for example, often give access to lists with email addresses to each member, we don’t consider this enough permission to use with our service, since the permission was not given directly to you. (link to source)
Aren’t we already opted in?
When Spigot Design became a PC Chamber member, part of the agreement to signing up was that we allow the Chamber to distribute our email addresses to other members. This was obviously acceptable since we’re granted access to the same list. I spoke with Colleen Burke, Director of Member Services at the Chamber and she says that the Chamber has begun to require that new members ‘opt in’ to distributing their email. The plan is to also require all members to opt in retroactively, and Colleen is currently planning the best and smoothest way to accomplish this.
This is a good step in ensuring that the Chamber list is robust, and that as few members as possible mark these newsletters as spam. Unfortunately I’m not sure this will fully satisfy the email marketing companies into allowing members to upload the Chamber list. Their policies are fairly black and white. Speaking with a “Subscriber List Review” staff person at Constant Contact I was informed that, “To comply with our policy, each subscriber you upload should have met you, said my name is So-and-so, here’s my email address, and yes, send me your newsletter, ” which means even ‘opt-in’ isn’t good enough.
That’s not the only way to comply with their rules, but it’s clear they want you to have explicit permission.
So what’s the answer?
Here’s where we get to some hard choices. There is no easy answer. According to the person I spoke with at Constant Contact, the answer is simply that you cannot use this list, at least not with their products. But we have the Chamber list, and we have permission to use it… so here’s a few options that we do have:
1. Self hosted software
This is the option Spigot Design has chosen. I installed an open-source (free) program called poMMo, a self-hosted “mass mailing software” application. “Self Hosted” means that I installed it on my own server rather than being hosted elsewhere, (as Campaign Monitor is). With these types of applications there is no subscriber police so can upload any list you wish. poMMo works as advertised, and I’m able to send newsletters and manage subscriber lists.
There are some drawbacks however:
- No reporting. There is no data collected on who opened the email, if they clicked through to the site, or who un-subscribed.
- Installation. You have to know how to set up a database and install a php based application.
- No templates for newsletters. You’d better know a little html here, or no go.
- No one ensuring you comply with the CAN-SPAM act.
There are similar applications that are more robust and provide reporting features, but they are commercial applications costing $500 and up. I wasn’t prepared at the time to commit to one, but I now wonder if the reporting features alone would be worth the investment.
2. Get subversive
This option ranges in to ethics and how comfortable you are with skirting stated policies… According to the Constant Contact representitive I spoke with there are “probably quite a few” of their clients who are using third party lists that fall outside of their policy. But unless there is a problem with their account or they receive an inordinate amount of spam or bounces, they don’t bother with them.
So theoretically speaking, you could create an account at Constant Contact, upload your Chamber list and claim it as legitimate. Personally I couldn’t choose this option, but it is enticing.
Judging from the number of Chamber member emails I get from Constant Contact, I suspect many of us have chosen this route.
3. The Chamber to the rescue?
According to Ms. Burke, the Park City Chamber/Bureau has been in contact with Constant Contact and there is some sort of deal that may be worked out to allow members to use the list. I was unable to verify this with the representative that I spoke with, but perhaps this issue will be resolved once the details are known. If a deal does get worked out, hopefully this will spur other companies to create a similar deal with the Chamber, as there are many others out there (I prefer Campaign Monitor myself). So thank you, Colleen, please keep up the good work!
Unfortunately there is currently no ‘easy’ answer to sending out email newsletters to Park City Chamber/Bureau members. But there are answers, even if slightly difficult. Ultimately, the best way to build your list is the old fashioned way, by meeting people face to face and asking permission, or directing them to your own contact collecting system.
UPDATE on 6/13/09
I’ve decided to move my newsletter/subscriber list over to Campaign Monitor, mainly for the reporting features.
I attempted to upload a list that I thought was clean, but after failing the review process, I realized it wasn’t clean enough. This means I can no longer use the Chamber list as it is given, as Campaign Monitor considers it a third party list.
My solution is to send out one final email to the Chamber list using the poMMo software, and requiring each recipient to go to my site, and specifically sign up to receive further emails that I’ll send from Campaign Monitor. While this may not seem like an ideal solution (in that I won’t be reaching as many people), the list – in the end – will be very clean, and contain only those who are truly interested in receiving future contact from us.
UPDATE on 8/26/09
The results are in from my little plan, and while not surprising, still somewhat disappointing.