Mailcamp musings

Mailcamp was an interesting idea and I really think Steph came up with a winner. Email doesn’t exactly get a lot of love at Barcamps etc and it is often dismissed as being old fashioned – especially when compared to the holy grail of social media ;). That said it still has a vital role to play in any digital strategy, and crucially these days it offers great value for money and the opportunity to do some real evaluation of it’s success.

I liked the format as well – 8 minutes is enough time to get a case study across I think but maybe not a wider concept (which is probably why the practical, case study presentations seemed to work a bit better.). Having Lloyd police the timings kept all the speakers honest as well which gave the event real momentum. Also I think the slightly unusual timing (3.30 til 8ish) helped encourage a slightly different audience as well as the subject matter.

As for the actual talks there were three that really made an impact on me (plus a fourth that I’m especially glad was given.)

The one I’m glad happened was the one about JISCMail. I’ve had a topsy turvy relationship with it over the years and it still sometimes drives me mad but I think it still has so much to offer and over the years hasn’t done enough to promote itself (or to embrace new opportunities). The fact Listserv now offers HTML emails via a WYSIWYG interface is great stuff and needs to be more widely known.

The talk Jess Lea gave about the DFID e-bulletins was extremely interesting. They have *really* embraced email as a delivery channel and as she admitted they “shamelessly promote” the e-bulletin across *all* their channels.

They are in a lucky position to have so much great visual and rich media content. Also they tend to have interesting stories to lead with (which are repurposed from their website so no new editorial) – though they get engagement throughout their sometimes quite long emails with even links about corporate information at the foot of the page benefiting from additional traffic.

It was really interesting to see just what could be done on email – the bulletins are beautifully designed and is an example of a possible world beyond print.

The final talk of the day was another major highlight – but strangely for almost entirely opposite reasons.

Matt from Reason Digital really closed the show with a brilliant talk about the idea of “the best email ever”.

The presentation was brilliantly ‘performed’ but the core lessons were wonderfully sensible and exactly the sort of take homes that could (I stress *could*) make a really difference.
I think these were his main points;

– be interesting (if you can’t be interesting don’t send anything)
– have an objective (why are you sending the email – what do you want to achieve)
– make the ask (people respond to questions and links)
– less is more (short and sharp beats long and dull) – don’t over-design (or over-think)
– segment your lists (send email to the right people not default to everyone) – be a human being!

His rant about the waste of time starting emails with “Welcome to the…” was inspired and his other rules were all things I could, and will, get behind (the stuff about emails coming from people not ‘do not reply’ accounts and writing interesting useful subject lines needs some immediate thinking about.)

The final talk that really clicked with me (not that the others weren’t good but these were the ones that really made me think..) was by Andy Snow from the MHRA.

Andy was talking about the huge success they have had with email alerts from their website. The kind of figures and engagement he was talking about were amazing (3.3 million emails already sent this year with an engagement figure of almost 79%!). All this with minimal publicity even on their site!

The have been iteratively improving the signup process based on user feedback and currently have 70 plus ‘channels’ people can subscribe to.

In a much smaller way I think email alerts are likely to become a core product of our site in it’s next version – it was a popular service in the past before the functionality failed with no explanation or fix in sight and I think giving it a higher profile on any future site and taking on board some of the lessons from the MHRA will make it a real hit.

Anyway plenty to think about.

Thanks to all the speakers and especially to Steph of course.

One thing it has got me wondering is if a similar event around analytics and data driven decisions might be a goer. I for one would love to learn what people are doing out there in that area.


  1. Thanks for the write up Matt, it was a really useful event and good to see you there.

    Reason Digital have reviewed free email-sending software on their blog:

    MailChimp comes out top.

  2. Yea Mailchimp is a great product and I think I’d choose to use it if we weren’t already contracted elsewhere..

    Nice to see you and Mrs Owen as well 🙂

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