INTERVIEW: MATT DEBENEDICTIS FROM MAILCHIMP ON REACHING YOUR FANS
Tips on avoiding the Promotions tab, the SPAM folder, and $1000s in fines
Today we’ve got an interview with Matt DeBenedictis, Manager of Compliance at Mailchimp, and it’s gonna be a tremendous resource for developing your Social Media Escape Plan.
Matt is the guy who helps stops shady behavior and spam activity on the Mailchimp platform, and he’s got good advice on how to make sure you stay out of trouble (and out of the Promotions tab) with your email newsletters!
Seth Werkheiser: So what the heck is “compliance?”
If it's unintentional, we work to rehab that user, so they can get the best marketing they can. And if it is malicious, we make sure that they are gone and can't do it again. And we work with an engineering team to build tools to stop further malicious things when we see patterns.
Being in the email marketing world, and knowing how lucrative that can be for bad actors, my goodness. Your game has to be eight steps ahead of what they're doing.
Yes. Especially when Mailchimp has a high deliverability. So we are very sought after by malicious actors.
Speaking of deliverability, a common thing I hear from folks reluctant to get back to doing newsletters is, “why bother sending an email if they all just go to spam anyway?” Where does that mindset come from?
So, an email would go into spam would go for a couple of reasons.
One is the reputation of your sending. For instance, your sending domain. If that's not well, it's gonna end up in the spam folder.
If people are not engaged with it, it can end up in the spam folder, too. For instance, Gmail is actually extremely volatile in that department, where if they see that most people are not engaged with it, not opening it, they'll start filtering those into the promotions folder or spam folder or something like that. And that's definitely a factor.
If you've had a lot of unsubscribes, a lot of bounces, that basically comes into your sending reputation as well.
So improving your engagement, improving that is kind of key with placement. As well as adding that little thing in the footer of like, “hey, put us on your safe sender list.”
People's address domains, too. Some can be a little more aggressive than others. The spam filters, the colleges edu domains are extremely aggressive. So that's kind of a factor as well.
But that's also why you want to make sure that you're sending bulk emails through a sender that's got a very high deliverability rate, because that also helps out a lot, and Mailchimp is really good with that.
I hear a lot of, “when I used to send my email we had a 10% open rate.” Well, gee, why is it 10%?! Like, it seems like no one wants to open it, so you gotta work on that.
Right. Yeah. Why is that? Look at your unsubscribes, your lack of opens. They all tell the story. Follow what that story is, and ask yourself why, what are people signing up for? Are they signing up for the announcements of tours? Are they signing up for very unique personalized content?
You've shined a light on them before and it's a very good example; Pissed Jeans, they've got one of the best email newsletters around.
It's their voice! Every bit of that band's personality drips through that email.
Fans follow on different formats. For instance, there's some bands I follow their news through email, and others that I mainly just follow on like Instagram or things like that. It depends what their content is. And also, what is it that I'm really following for? Is it a band that I constantly want to know what's going on? Or is it a band that I'm just waiting for their announcement of like, their next album on vinyl so I can get it before everyone else does?
Making things exclusive is also a thing that's helpful. Unwed Sailor has done that a lot recently really by putting out like, “okay, we're gonna give you a link to our new song like a week before it streams out.” That helps drive fans to then be engaged with the newsletter.
I wanna really know about emails from Bandcamp, there's a lot of sites out there that will say, “Hey, export your email list from Bandcamp and put it in Mailchimp and send it out. That’s okay, right?
So specifically speaking of Bandcamp, yes.
I actually pulled it up to kind of look and it's basically like, yes, but you gotta make sure that when you send people emails and you'll comply with email marketing laws and the mechanisms by which a recipient can unsubscribe. And don't sell your data essentially to any parties. Sure.
So off of Bandcamp, yes. Because it all comes down to permission and where that permission from the email came from. With Bandcamp, it's purchases or if you do a signup.
There's the opt-in like “join this band's newsletter.”
And that's the key. As long as you've got that checkbox that establishes permission for that email, and that will make it good to go.
The only wary thing is if a band has had a Bandcamp up, and let's say you've had it up for like five years, and you've never sent an email. Some of that permission will have gone stale, in the sense of, you send an email to someone and they’d be like, “I don't know what this is from.”
And kind of industry wise, 12 months to 24 months is what you should look at for, how long email permission can last. Anything beyond that it’s probably best to kind of junk those older ones. It's just not worth it because then you get into the what I was saying about, you know, you're gonna have a lot of bounces, a lot of unsubscribes, or possibly even someone reaching out and reporting abuse, which can cause your domain to just be completely blocked, and you don't want that.
I never thought of that past a year or 24 months kind of a thing. That makes a lot of sense.
So with Bandcamp, yeah, you can totally export those addresses out and send to 'em. You know, purchases alone can establish a type of permission as well. But you want to be on the the game about that.
A recommendation with that, so you see how people respond to that, when you upload it into Mailchimp, add tags that the signup source was Bandcamp. If you start to see some higher unsubscribes, they might need some different type of content, or you might need to create a welcome automation to kind of bring them into it.
Actually, right before we hopped on this call, I got an email from a punk rock label out of the UK, that I bought something off Bandcamp like six months ago. Okay, I had to think for a second, and I was like, “oh yeah, I bought the first High Vis LP off of this label.” And it was like, okay, yeah. Cool. And I ended up checking out the other stuff they had for the holiday sale.
That's a thing of beauty when that works like that.
Here’s a softball question for you: why shouldn't a band buy an email list?
Because those are people who have not given direct permission. They are a third party. They've gotten it from a third party, and historically it always creates high unsubscribes, high bounce rates, and the most important; high abuse rates, because people are like, “I didn't ever sign up for this.” And if you're a band, what does that gain you? That's like the equivalent of going into a private party and throwing flyers for your show and then running out.
Should unsubscribes be taken so personally? I know folks that send to thousands of people and then they fret over two unsubscribes or something like that. It's like, I mean, yeah, it's a bummer. But like two isn't a giant enormous number…
You gotta kind of see what that story is, what those unsubscribes are telling. There are many incidents of people who, uh, have reached out to unsubscribes because they take it personally, emailing them specifically and uh, that brings up a lot of privacy laws. Factor too because unsubscribes are supposed to be honored and especially if you're dealing with an address in the EU, even more so.
Someone I know worked with a client that had like 10,000 unsubscribes over the years, and the client was like, “can't we send an email to all the people that unsubscribed like a welcome back email?”
My friend there was like, “no, we can absolutely not do this.”
That is a violation of the US CAN-SPAM laws.
You cannot email an unsubscribe once someone has unsubscribed. That's a very serious thing that can lead to fines in the thousands.
I would imagine anyone that has sent to 20,000 unsubscribed emails there would be some repercussions.
Yes. It is not good. And that will destroy your sending domain and then people don't get to see your emails, and that's kind of the point.
Yeah. Don't engage in dumb behavior and people will see your emails then.
And the way to avoid that is to keep the audience engaged. Start looking at who's not opening over time, and then sending them different types of content that's really tailored towards them, to try re-engagement campaigns essentially. And focus on those. And then as well with that, looking at people who have not engaged over a long time and it's like, well this whole batch of addresses has not opened a campaign in the last two years. Just get rid of those addresses. It's just dead weight.
Send emails that people want. If you're sending something a lot of people want to read and they open the emails, it will probably stay in their inbox, right?
Oh yeah. Without a doubt. If someone's been engaged in opening, they can go through multiple times, most of the time depending on who their domain is, yeah, and not have it then start to get filtered. It takes a lot of inaction.
So like, if I signed up for your email list because I wanted updates from your band, and all you send is vinyl updates, I'm not gonna do anything with that, because I don’t even own a record player.
Look at the severity of things. People might unsubscribe because you send out four newsletters a month.
And that's not what people want. Or you know, depending on how candid you are on social media, they might.
You can kind of link that into your unsubscribed stories as well. Like, you find a connection.
I have heard stories of different bands who like, you know, their one member is very vocal on Twitter, to a point where it kind of annoys fans, and then they see kind of less engagement. People might still be wanting to check out and buy their records and stuff, but they're like, yeah, I don't want to hear from them on a personal level.
At the same time though, again, it's about managing expectations. Tegan and Sarah put together an email newsletter, I don't know if you saw that, but like, they send like two or three a week, because their fans are like, “I want everything Tegan and Sara.” So they get away with that. Whereas bands that haven't built that relationship, it wouldn't make sense for them to send something every week.
Yeah. Billy Corgan has said this before, but bands have a contract with their fans, and you don't know what that contract is.
Eventually you come to an understanding with each other of what that contract is. The band can buck that and do the opposite of it, but right. In the end they'll end up losing fans cuz the fans had a certain expectation.
Right. Or you might end up with a 10% open rate.
Do bands come to you at all, like, “hey, I'm having problems” or this or that?
There's been bands, there's been record labels that I have come across my way in the compliance department because they had issues. We've worked to help them out. I can definitely say personally, I've worked with a few record labels that hadn't touched their list in like six years and then they're like, “okay, we're doing a bunch of vinyl reissues, we want to start getting active again.” And it's like, okay, let's talk about your audience management, and how to make sure you don't have an issue.
That's great, and I think one of the biggest takeaways from this is that old list or those old emails and stuff like, that you can't just like dust it off and go zero to 60 with it.
Just because you've got 20,000 addresses, that doesn't mean that's 20,000 addresses that want to hear from you today.
And these days bands, labels, whoever can set up a landing page or have a thing on their website for people to sign up. They're getting the permission from that. That's pretty much the golden way to do it.
Yeah. It's finding the voice that you need with your fans and making sure to maintain your data.
And consistency, too. If you're only sending out an email once a year, again, that goes back to your email’s age and stuff like that. So you gotta kind of hit it every now and again.
Exactly. You gotta make sure people are engaged in knowing of the brand, or they will forget why they even cared.
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