As a gigantic nerd, I have a profound weakness for mailing lists. I’m forever signing up for Yahoo! groups, listservs and other virtual correspondence groups.
While they run the gamut from design business to employment issues to woo-woo practices, they have one thing in common: me. On every list where I read and post, I’m presenting myself to a whole bunch of people who don’t know me from Adam, but who are forming an opinion of me by what I respond to and how I do it.
With rare exceptions, I’m not a fan of explicit marketing on lists. But the reality is that when I respond to a question in my area of expertise, I’m marketing myself. So are you. So is everyone.
And so, in my roles as both participant and observer, here’s what I’ve seen works–and doesn’t–when posting/replying to mailing lists.
1. Know the difference between facts and opinions and make it clear which you’re offering.
I’ve seen raging flame wars start because of the way information is delivered.
Unless you are a trained mental health care professional, that "information" you’re offering on how to treat co-workers/clients/vendors/kids/etc. is your opinion, not fact. Even then, you’re on shaky ground.
It’s fine to offer advice in the form of stories and opinion, as long as you serve it up that way. You really cannot be clear enough or humble enough when doing this. If you’re unclear, stick to information. As in, "I’ve used this vendor and they offer these six products."
A related bugaboo is…
2. Watch your tone
It is very, very easy to come off as a jerk on a list. And once you’re
tarred with that brush, good luck getting anyone to pay serious
attention to anything you say.
Bend over backwards to be gracious and polite. Take excruciating pains with your posts until you’re sure you’ve got the tone thing down. Even then, if it’s a hot topic, take extra care. Or don’t post. Someone else will, trust me.
3. Be judicious in your use of email signatures
While a tasteful URL can work in your favor, the whole Ringling Bros. Circus of crap–offers, taglines, newsletter/blog links, etc–can make you look like the online equivalent of a used car salesman (with all due respect to the TASTEFUL used car salespeople.)
Remember, if you are even a little bit active, people are seeing that sig over and over. That biiiiig sig. Less really is more–as little as you can get away with, I think. (Oh–and this is an opinion, by the way!)
4. Offer incredibly useful information consistently
This should be a modus operandi, period, but it’s really important on lists, where people only know you from the words you’re sharing.
Be generous. Do it often. It will work for you.
This brings us to the final point…
5. Mailing list "marketing" is for the long haul
It’s fine to meet people on this list. It’s great when they turn into clients, or people who send clients your way. But the primary objective of most mailing lists is to share useful information. If your content is good enough, long enough, your stock will rise. Period.
If you can’t look at a particular list that way, probably best to limit your exposure on it. Lurk and gain information. Over a long haul, see whose posts you like reading and whose ignore (or worse, that you read for a laugh of the not-so-nice kind.)
What have you learned from being on mailing lists? Have you begun any interesting relationships from your involvement with one?