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How to Build a Subscriber Base of 10,000 Strong – and Growing

In their latest book, Managing Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose explain that content marketing is an excellent way to build passionate subscribers to your brand. And what company wouldn’t want that? Subscribers, a loyal following, and fans can be critical to the ultimate success of your company in terms of closing new business.

It has been a while since I blogged about my firm’s experiments with content marketing, so I thought it would be fun to write about our experiences growing and maintaining our newsletter subscriber base. My firm creates and publishes weekly newsletters offering new ideas to help senior managers build great companies. Our inaugural edition was sent back in March of 2010 to about 200 subscribers, and we are now sending the newsletters to nearly 10,000 active subscribers. Here are a few ways we helped our subscriber base to grow:

1. Make it a valuable resource

First and foremost, your newsletter should be viewed as a valuable piece of content. Instead of just touting our news or our portfolio company news, we focus on providing ideas and insight in every newsletter. We also combine content written by members of our team with content from industry thought leaders, making it a well-rounded resource for our target audience — senior managers of growing technology companies. Here is a recent edition of our newsletter, showing the mix of unique and curated content.

2. Target the low-hanging fruit

Reach out to your employees, partners, and existing customers to explain the value of your newsletter, and give them an easy opportunity to subscribe directly and easily through your communications, whether it is over the phone or in email. You’ll be surprised at the conversion rate of your requests. In different campaigns we launched targeted to those within our networks, we saw 20-30 percent conversions! We took the approach of sending personal but simple emails. Here are two samples we used:

3. Create compelling and valuable content assets

Consider creating longer, more in-depth and higher-value forms of content that would warrant registration. These could be webinars, eBooks, white papers, research reports, etc.  Just remember to be up front and let your audience know that they are being subscribed to your newsletter as a result of downloading the content, and that they can unsubscribe at any time, as well, to make sure you are being compliant with CAN-SPAM regulations (and good business practices). We have seen a good deal of success by publishing longer eBooks and requiring an email address as part of the download process. To date, we have over 1700 subscribers who joined us directly from our eBooks.

4. Make your content easy to share

Another great way to grow your newsletter subscriber base organically is to target your existing subscribers. Consider including easy links so that your subscribers can forward your content to colleagues and friends, without having to leave your page to do so. Also it never hurts to ask your subscribers directly to share their interest in your content! Here is how we do it:

5. Work with key influencers

When building your subscriber base, it is invaluable to partner with industry thought leaders for your content marketing efforts — a topic I have blogged about, in detail, before. Getting influencers on board, not only to participate in your content creation but also to share your content and newsletters with their networks, is a great way to exponentially boost subscribers. I am a little weary, however, of bluntly asking anyone to promote our newsletter, so we make sure to show the value our newsletter brings to our target audience, and ask the thought leaders we work with if we can sign them up to receive an edition. Over time, you may be surprised by the future endorsements that roll in — without any effort on your part.

6. Think about using push-pops or modal windows

I know that many people absolutely hate pop-up windows. I know that they can be quite annoying to your frequent site visitors. (Remember: the majority of visitors to your site are new visitors in most cases)! However, we have seen a fair amount of success experimenting with different messages and styles on our pop-ups. We have added over 3,000 subscribers from our pop-ups and have seen conversions nearly as high as 5 percent. We have seen the highest conversions with pop-ups including testimonials from existing subscribers and images of people. We also try different messages to see the effect that language has on conversions. In our case, messages building up the prestige of the newsletter and trust of our subscribers tend to perform well. Here is a sample pop-up:

7. Encourage everyone on your team to promote the newsletter

Do you have an active sales or recruiting team? Are people on the phones selling your product day in and day out? Meet with these people and explain the value of the newsletter to them and to your brand. Explain that the newsletter can be used as a fantastic nurturing tool, and push your sales team to sign up as many (real) prospects as they can by explaining the value of the newsletter to their audience.

We have added over 2,000 subscribers by teaming up with our outbound-facing team. If you implement this tactic, encourage your team to explain exactly what the newsletter is and to promote it as a valuable content asset. Encourage your team to be blunt and ask outright rather than dancing around the question. Remind them that you will never share their email to quell any fears of spam. Once you have heard the feedback, you can even say “I have spoken to other (managers, etc) like you and they have enjoyed the content.” You may also consider asking if anyone else in the organization would find value in receiving the newsletter.

Are you having similar success growing your subscriber base?  What are some tactics you have implemented?