Email lists (also known as “listservs” or “email groups”) are one of the most annoying holdovers from the ancient days of the web. Back in the 1990s, Yahoo Groups, Majordomo, and other mailing list managers provided a convenient way for like-minded people to find one another and communicate. But that was 20 years ago. Much has changed since then.
Here are 7 Reasons why email lists suck:
- Too many emails. You might be interested in the answers to your question but you don’t need an email with every post to every other topic. Subscribing to a “daily digest” cuts down on the amount of mail but still requires the user to sift through lots of junk and in the rare case when there is a post that merits a reply it is too late to chime in.
- Repeat questions. How many times have you been subscribed to an email list where a newbie pipes up with a question that has already been addressed countless times? This causes longtime members of the community to disconnect and disengage.
- Rich media? Forget it. Most mailing list software was designed to handle text only—no images allowed. Most attachments are stripped away from new posts or (at best) are cumbersome to download and access.
- No profiles, rep score, or badges. We don’t like to use the word “gameifcation” when we talk about forum software but it’s a helpful way to describe the instinctive need for users to show off their rank and contributions to the community and to say ‘thank you’ to those who have helped them.
- Where the $#% is the archive? Typically, the archive for a mailing list is buried on an external site that is difficult to access.
- Limited search. The search box should be built into the interface. This simple step would cut down on #2 on this list – Repeat questions – and help solve #5 – Where the $#% is the archive? – but obviously the email-only format makes this virtually impossible to correct.
- Harder to create excitement. Without any ability to integrate this content with your URL and brand, the activity is hidden from plain view. An exciting and vibrant community might look stale and boring.
While some forum solutions are stuck in the past alongside email list technology, modern forum software solves the complaints described above.
Easy to manage email alert options make gives control to the user so their inbox is not overcome. An archive that is quickly viewable and searchable cuts down on repeat questions. Support for rich media and engaging user profiles are more and more crucial as users strive to create a persona specifically for their community.
Finally, making new friends and finding like-minded souls is exciting, invigorating, and motivating. The platform that hosts this type of activity should reflect this atmosphere. That’s exactly what we do with Ninja Post.
As a follow up to Thursday’s post about forums and email alerts, we offer some thoughts on the practice of sending “daily digests” that summarize content from your forum from the previous day. On the plus side, daily alerts are a way to keep users engaged (especially those lazy lurkers) and get them in the habit of thinking about the site. On the other hand, many users find daily email alerts to be overwhelming. If not right away, then eventually the daily crush just gets to be too much.
Generally speaking, we think users should have the option to select the types of alerts they prefer. Subscribing to alerts for a particular thread is just one example that shows how alerts should be sent on a case-by-case basis. In terms of sending “daily digests” there are three factors to consider:
- Volume. Is there enough activity to warrant a daily email summary or does it make more sense to simply subscribe to all threads as they are posted.
- Private or Public. Is the forum is for internal use (e.g., a company-only forum) or is it a public forum? The email alert settings for organizations can be a little more aggressive than for a public forum because the content is work-related. However, it’s still best to let users choose how they manage email notifications.
- User Behavior. Ideally, email alerts are customized on a user-by-user basis according to their interests, demographics, etc. For example, a male from Colorado might be interested in different topics than a female from Florida and email alerts should account for such differences.
In summary, as long as the content is both fresh and relevant to the user it makes sense to send summary alerts. If not on a daily basis, then 1-2 times per week seems to make the most sense. Sending a monthly newsletter is a nice touch but we do wonder if the frequency is too low to get users in the habit of returning to the forum.
Email alerts from forum communities come in different shapes and sizes. Or to put it more accurately, email alerts can be short bursts that are sent instantly or they can be a bit longer and contain a summary of hot content from the day, week, or month.
1. Examples of instantaneous alerts are:
- When someone adds a new thread to the community.
- When someone replies to a thread you’re participating in.
2. Examples of summary alerts are:
- A monthly newsletter.
- A daily digest.
Sending too many emails causes users to unsubscribe and disengage completely. If you don’t send enough emails, users will forget your forum exists. It’s necessary to strike the proper balance. We have found that it’s crucial to let users choose how they consume content like email alerts because each user will have a different preference.
In any case, we believe email alerts are opportunities to encourage users to participate. Sometimes users need an extra nudge to share their $0.02. Our goal is to inspire more activity and spicing up the email alerts with an ask or a trigger is an easy but often overlooked way to get users to contribute to the forum.