Beyond the Blog: Use Email to Stay in Touch with Clients

In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of a blog as the foundation of your content marketing strategy. But like any good concrete slab, blogs just hunker down and wait for people to visit. Nothing wrong with that, but if you want to make friends and influence people, you’ve got to get out in the world. And you do that via email and social media. Facebook, Twitter, and the all-important Friendster (kidding!) are a topic for another day—for now, let’s talk about email.

Put bluntly, you need a mailing list. Why?

It’s the only guaranteed conduit into your clients’ minds.

Your blog sits at home and waits for people to come to it. And while you should be tossing posts into the social media streams, the concept of someone reading everything in their Facebook or Twitter feed is laughable. Not everyone subscribes to Inbox Zero, but the chances of someone seeing your email message (you did compose a compelling Subject line, didn’t you?) and opening it are decent.

(A brief anecdote: in the last sale we did for Take Control Books before selling the business to Joe Kissell, we sold roughly 2400 books via email. Want to guess how many we sold via social media, even with retweets and Facebook likes? Three. But we’ll talk more about social media’s limitations another time.)

Heck, if you use a service like MailChimp to run your mailing list, you can even see what percentage of people open your messages and click links in them. For basic use and fewer than 2000 subscribers, MailChimp is free, so there’s no need to fuss with complicated mailing list software and worry about email deliverability issues.

(As another aside, I’ve run my own mailing lists for decades, and it’s not fun. For decent deliverability, you need to set up SPF and DKIM, and list management is a royal pain in the tuckus. The only thing worse is running your own mail server. Seriously, outsource email in every way you can.)

Mailing lists have numerous other advantages:

  • Someone who signs up for your mailing list is acknowledging a deeper relationship than a Twitter follow or Facebook like.
  • As long as you keep the messages interesting and useful, such as with TCN content, you can send your subscribers email regularly for years.
  • Email is where serious business takes place. It’s not about kitten pictures. Well, not as much anyway.
  • Simultaneously, email can be either from your business, if you want to look more corporate, or from you personally, if you prefer a high-touch approach.
  • People often keep and come back to email messages that contain something they want to try; that’s our goal with TCN content.
  • In email, you aren’t limited to the insanely short posts necessary for social media—don’t go writing the Great American Novel, but you can get away with a few of our tips or even an entire article.

So if you don’t have a mailing list now, or if you’ve let yours lapse for lack of content, now is the time to hop on the horse. There’s a lot more we can talk about when it comes to email, such as frequency, length, design, list management, and more. If you’re dying to learn more about one of these topics, let me know and I’ll focus there soon.

Set Up Autoblog to Collect TCN Posts Automatically

I previously wrote about how to configure the free CyberSyn plug-in to bring TCN posts into WordPress automatically. Now let’s look at another popular WordPress plug-in that offers this capability: Autoblog, which is part of WPMU DEV. (ASMC members, note that ASMC has negotiated a discount for you.)

Like CyberSyn, Autoblog is an aggregator plug-in that eliminates the need to copy and paste text and graphics from the TCN site to your Web site. Once you’ve installed and configured Autoblog, it checks your custom TCN RSS feed regularly and adds every new article to your site as a draft post that you can edit and post on whatever schedule you want.

Once you’ve subscribed to WPMU DEV and installed the WPMU DEV Dashboard plug-in, follow these steps:

  1. Do a search in WPMU DEV Dashboard to find Autoblog.
  2. Click the Install button, and when prompted, click Activate.
  3. In the WordPress navigation sidebar, hover over Autoblog and click Add-ons. (Or just click Autoblog and then click Add-ons underneath it.)
  4. Activate both the Featured Image Import and Image Import add-ons by clicking the Activate link under each one. No other add-ons are necessary.
  5. Open a new browser tab and go to your TCN Account page. At the bottom of that page, in the Member Links section, Control-click the Apple Pros Members Feed and choose Copy Link, Copy Link Location, Copy Link Address, or whatever your browser calls it. (If you’re an ASMC member, copy the link for the ASMC Members Feed instead.) Make sure to get the right one, and ignore the Recent Posts Feed; it won’t work reliably, and I’m still figuring out how to get the unnecessary links taken off.
  6. Now that you have your RSS feed’s URL in the clipboard, go back to the tab for your WordPress site and click All Feeds in the sidebar, and then click Add New at the top. There are a bunch of settings, but I’ve highlighted the important ones in the screenshot below and will explain them next.
  7. Give your feed a name in the Your Title field, and paste your RSS feed’s URL into the Feed URL field.
  8. For Default status for new posts, select Draft. (The post type and date menu defaults are correct.)
  9. Select the local user you want to associate with these posts from Set author for new posts. Or, if you want them to be bylined by the original TCN author, leave it at Use feed author.
  10. To make sure you get the right categories, choose Categories from Treat feed categories as, and select the Add any that do not exist checkbox. (This isn’t essential; if you have your own category scheme, feel free to configure this section differently.)
  11. Make sure to leave the Use Full Post default for Use full post or an excerpt.
  12. Set Import the most recent to 10 added posts, and set Process this feed to every day. There’s no reason to run it any more often than that, and you want 10 posts so you can get each month’s content in one run.
  13. Finally, and this is key, for Select a way to import featured image, select Use enclosure tag of a feed item. This setting is essential for pulling in the right featured image.
  14. When you’re done, click the Create feed button, which then returns you to the Autoblog Feeds screen.
  15. Hover over your feed’s title so the links appear below it, and click Process. Autoblog will tell you that the feed processing has launched in the background and you can get details in the Autoblog Dashboard.
  16. Click Dashboard under Autoblog in the in the WordPress sidebar. At the very bottom, if Autoblog says it will regenerate the page at a future time and you don’t want to wait, click Regenerate the page. Otherwise, look at the graph. You should see a small green bar to indicate how many feeds have been processed (likely 1 in your case) and a taller blue bar to indicate how many posts have been brought in (9 in this case, but 8 will be more common).

That’s it! It may sound a bit involved, but it takes just a few minutes to set up, after which Autoblog will automatically retrieve new posts added to your custom TCN RSS feed and turn them into drafts in your WordPress site.

Remember, these are drafts, and before you make them public, you’ll want to cut out the Facebook and Twitter teasers at the bottom of an article before posting. Then, after you’ve posted, you can use those teasers with the link to the article on your site, to promote it on social media.

If anything isn’t clear in the instructions above, or if you have troubles, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Preview RSS Feeds in Firefox and Google Chrome

Playing with aggregation plug-ins and feed delivery services can be fussy, especially when you’re not entirely certain exactly what’s in your feed. Here’s the easy way to check.

  1. Copy the URL of the RSS feed in question to the clipboard.
  2. Open Firefox.
  3. Paste the URL into the address field and press Return.

When you do that, Firefox displays a summary of the feed, which looks like this:

Click any of the article titles to see the full post, but remember that you must be logged in to your TCN account to be able to view the full text of the post.

The main utility of previewing your TCN feed this way is that you can compare it against your the contents of your Posts page to make sure you have the right feed URL.

You can also preview feeds by pasting their URLs into Google Chrome. It provides the code behind the feed, which can also be useful, although it’s hard to scan quickly to see what articles are included.