Thursday, September 1, 2011

Affinity email: Affinity group needs and email services

Technology makes it easier than ever and at the same time complex to communicate with affinity groups. Your affinity contacts are growing increasingly educated and sophisticated and have developed expectations about their user experience as recipients of email messages and email newsletters. With high expectations and spam regulations, just one slip can obliterate a relationship.

When it comes to affinity email, what is the best email service provider for delivering messages and newsletters? Ideally, many community managers would say it is the service that matches the needs, interests, and technology level of a particular affinity group. However, from ongoing technology changes to evolving needs of affinity groups, the choice can be a moving target. Additionally, identifying, researching, and keeping up to date with the various email service providers can be time-consuming or costly. Email options may also be limited by budget, skill and comfort levels with technology, institutional policies, a one-size-fits-all approach by decision-makers, or other factors.

Thanks to Pamela Grow, I discovered Groundwire's 2011 Email Service Providers report that reviews a number of email providers that any individual, organization, or business may find helpful. However, it omits a provider that I've been test driving with one affinity group over the last two weeks. So, to add to that report data, this blog post includes my review of AWeber Communications email services.

Before reading the Groundwire report and my AWeber review, it's important to note that operations with different needs for affinity communications will self-select different email service providers for consideration. While the report targets "the environmental movement" that Groundwire serves and its integration with a particular software supported by Groundwire, the report covers a number of email service providers that many individuals, organizations, and companies may consider. Thus it provides a springboard for comparison against a current email-management service presently in place or a starting point for acquiring one.

In my case, AWeber was recommended by a colleague based on my current needs within a particular affinity program. AWeber's email services provide a low-tech interface for subscribers to create attractive emails and manage their distribution in a timely and responsible manner, including protecting privacy and avoiding spam triggers. A great feature is AWeber's free videos, live webinars, guides, and blog content accessible through its website before even paying one cent. However, if you do decide to try AWeber, I found it competitively priced for my purposes; it was just $1 for a trial and $19 per month during my test period.

AWeber email service features include:
- autoresponders with drip campaign capability (AWeber 'follow-ups') for pre-planned sequence and timing of emails,
- an option to personalize emails with subscribers' names and other information,
- a link within communications (that you can remove if desired) that explains spam policies in plain language,
- a process to screen uploads to prevent spam,
- numerous templates for email messages and newsletters,
- capabilities to create sign-up forms with multiple templates and options,
- split test sign-up forms (A/B test landing pages),
- subscriber segmentation capabilities,
- an option to convert blog posts into email newsletters delivered invidually or in a weekly summary,
- email delivery options through RSS, Facebook or Twitter,
- email analytics to track opening of messages, clicks on message links in messages, unsubscribes, revenues generated by an email, email services (e.g., Yahoo!, Gmail) used to read messages, and more.

The Groundwire report has a disclaimer that also applies to my AWeber review: "The information ... is as true and accurate as we could possibly make it. ... Service Providers are constantly changing, so ... always confirm information from the vendor before making a buying decision."

Overall, the AWeber email service worked well during my affinity group testing. I was able to achieve my objectives for affinity email messaging and analytics during the testing period, I will use it to communicate with other affinity groups, and I recommend others try it as well.

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Resources
Get started today on your test drive of AWeber Communications email services for creating attractive email messages, email newsletters, and web forms for your affinity groups and effectively managing and monitoring email distribution.
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Brenda Dow is a specialist in Marketing, Advancement, and Business Development. She holds degrees in communications and human resources management, and blogs about affinities and affinity related activities at http://www.AffinityAvenue.com.

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