MailChimp may not be the best solution for your members

For membership-based organizations, regular and reliable communication with the member community is essential. Email newsletters are a commonly used tool for this and whenever email newsletters are mentioned, you can be sure MailChimp will come up as an option. But you shouldn’t be too hasty in embracing that friendly monkey!

MailChimp has a justifiably strong reputation for managing mailing lists and sending attractive emails. It’s an excellent tool for email marketing and is well ahead of its competitors. Its reputation is built partly on assuring customers that their messages will mostly avoid spam filters, so MailChimp is very careful about subscription processes and permission. And that’s where membership-based organizations can run into problems.

If you want to be sure that A) you retain full control of your mailing list and B) members of your organization cannot unsubscribe from important bulletins, then MailChimp may not be the tool you’re looking for.

A real-world example will illustrate the risks around control. Working recently with a client, we ran into a situation where MailChimp’s abuse-prevention engine, called Omnivore (sounds ominous!), put a flag on the client’s account. It would not allow the import of 500 or so addresses to an existing mailing list until each was sent a reconfirmation link via MailChimp. According to Omnivore, the email addresses in question had a high likelihood of generating bounces or spam complaints. Getting details on which specific addresses were problematic, and why, proved impossible.

The addresses for import actually came from people who had created user accounts on the client’s website and opted-in to receiving the newsletter. The client, understandably, did not want to bother these people with a re-confirmation campaign and especially one that would need to be done via MailChimp. Efforts to convince MailChimp that the addresses were legitimately sourced failed and so the organization was prevented from reaching some of the newest members of its community who had asked to be kept informed.

MailChimp is great for email marketing, but doing it properly requires close integration between your site and MailChimp, which may not always be desirable. In the example mentioned here, the client is in the process of building an in-house mass mailing platform and has, for now, reverted back to building HTML emails in Dreamweaver and sending them via free software called Mailman.

Members and unsubscribing

Something else for member-based organizations to keep in mind: MailChimp requires the inclusion of an unsubscribe link on all messages. This is as it should be and it’s good that they take their responsibilities seriously. However, if you adopt MailChimp to send member updates and a recipient uses the unsubscribe link, it can be tricky – and in some cases impossible – to get them back on that list again.

Member newsletters are not the same as email marketing. You don’t really want members to be able to unsubscribe from your updates. They should certainly be given different ways of hearing from you, but not a definitive unsubscribe (unless they no longer want to be a member, which is another thing entirely).

There are many email marketing solutions out there – here’s a selection of WordPress plugins to get you started. Before you pick the one that’s right for you, think about how much control you want or need to retain over your mailing list and whether complying with the rules of the chosen service will pose risks for your organization. Don’t be a MailChump!

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