Back in the dark days of the internet, websites would have simple sign up forms for users to get updates about the site. Unless you used RSS (or Atom) to read the sites. Even then, online marketers and brands would offer specials not advertised on their site to build the engagement via email. The size of your mailing list was a badge of honor for those marketers.
Then came along social media, and email lists were pushed aside for the shiny new thing. In the beginning, there was a glut of social media options, and it was almost impossible for a brand to engage on every outlet. Facebook likes and Twitter followers became the new badge of honor. And while social media is still a great way to engage users, brands and marketers soon discovered they couldn’t always control the message, especially with Facebook. So what did they do? They realized the most common form of communication available to the web is the venerable method of email. Cyber Monday was a perfect example. I couldn’t count the number of comments I read on Twitter about people weeding their email of offers from long ago forgotten sites. But I mostly follow web professionals who know the ins-and-outs of online marketing and get their information from, (well, probably Twitter, but they are an anomalous subset of the Twittersphere.) The point being, millions of people woke to an inbox of offers. Many people clicked those links, some bought stuff. It works.
RSS/Atom syndication in its purest form is not a common method of reading websites today (unless you are part of the aforementioned anomalous subset of Twitter users), but still provides the backbone of many ways content is consumed. But this isn’t about syndication. It is about the rebirth of mailing lists, and more specifically, the forms that sites now deploy to get you in. Those lists sign-ups are generally there year round, but right about the holiday season, sites/brands begin offering “free stuff.” Be it a book, a song or a full suite of electronics, sign up for their mailing list, enter a chance to win. I’m not an expert on this subject, didn’t even play an email marketer on TV. But my understanding is you can’t force people into subscribing, just like contests have the small disclaimer, “no purchase necessary.” Generally what these forms do is pre-populate the subscribe checkbox, which is still a slippery slope in my opinion of conforming to the spirit of opting in. But hey, a free TV is a free TV?
More to the point, there is never an option (at least one I’ve encountered) that says, “I love your content and regularly read it so I don’t need an email reminder. However, I’d love to win your cool stuff.” Hell, provide a short text box to allow the user to optionally add how they consume it. It very well might be a great insight into your audience and their online consumption habits. Because at some point, inundating your readers/consumers will call into play the law of diminishing returns.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid the new badge of honor is the hydra of social media followers guarding the treasure chest of email subscribers.