How to Use Social Media to Build Your Email List, For Campaigns and Non-Profits

More from our friend Laura Packard with PowerThru Consulting! Learn the latest about the always-popular topic of list-building via social media in the article below, and be sure to check out her past articles. This piece first appeared on the PowerThru Consulting blog.

How to Use Social Media to Build Your Email List, For Campaigns and Non-Profits

By Laura Packard

Social media for list building

It’s been a couple years since my version 2.0 post about list-building via social media, and now there are so many cool tools out there (plus updates in how Facebook and Twitter work) that it’s time for an update! Here’s the very latest scoop on how you can use social media to build your email list, for both non-profits and political campaigns.

First of all, why do this? If people prefer to get your content on social media, why try so hard to get their email address? Two reasons – reach and control.

Three quarters of adults are connected to one or more social media platforms (via Pew). Facebook is the behemoth, with all other sites clocking in at fractions of their base. But as per usual, none of these stats guarantee that users check the sites every day, or even that they will see your content if you post it right before they log on.

Facebook uses an ever-changing algorithm to determine what content it shows users, called “EdgeRank”. Facebook used to say only 16% of your fans see your content (via Huffington Post). But with their latest changes as of December, reach may be much much worse. This makes sense when you think about it, because Facebook is in the business of making money through advertising. Forcing people to spend to promote their posts and gain reach means better earnings for Facebook.

And with all social media websites, even ones that don’t filter, the flow of new content is so steady that your information may be quickly washed away. This is why it is critical to always be using social media to capture more email addresses – then you can reach your entire intended audience, and control the flow of communication to your supporters, rather than a for-profit company with constantly changing rules acting as traffic cop.

So you’re onboard with the basic concept. Now how do you go about getting email addresses from your social media fans?

First, put a URL in your About (“Short Description”) section on Facebook, and as the “Website” link on Twitter. This makes your website easy to get to for your social media audience. Facebook showcases the first sentence or two of your short description when people look at your page – so make this succinct and powerful, and add the URL. Twitter has the same opportunity with the “Bio” section, and the ability to directly add a URL so you don’t have to waste valuable bio space on it.

Next, set up custom tabs in Facebook. You could use custom tabs to highlight a basic email signup form, and maybe a hot petition around your issue. If you remember the days of FBML, it used to be really easy to set them up. Not so much anymore, but there’s still lots of (fairly) easy ways to do it with free apps. I personally like the Static HTML app by Thunderpenny for entering html code by hand. (For an example of this in action, visit the Facebook pages of one of our clients, GunFreeKids.) Don’t forget to add custom graphics to your tabs to really make them pop visually!

How do you get the HTML code to embed a simple signup form into an app like Thunderpenny’s? Some systems are easier than others. Salsa makes it really simple – there’s a Developer Resources link at the very bottom of your Salsa interface, and that sends you to two options for short signup forms. Here’s the instructions for Convio. Here’s instructions on how to set up a custom tab pointing to an NGP VAN page. You can use Constant Contact’s Facebook app to add a signup tab (app here). And here’s the instructions for the MailChimp app. You can use 123formbuilder with NationBuilder to add forms to Facebook that integrate with your Nation.

How do you create a custom tab around a petition or a donate page? This is a little trickier, because you need to create a Facebook app (here:, and set the page tab url to be the full URL of the item on Salsa (or elsewhere). You’ll also need a secure URL (begins with https) for custom tabs these days. OR you can make it easy by using an app that lets you do customizable iframes, like the Static tab app by Woobox. For an example of a custom tab in action, see the petition tab on our client GunFreeKids/Keep Guns Off Campus — points to an action in Salsa. If you’re using ActBlue for donation handling, you’re in luck – there’s a great free app that does it all for you (get it here).

Keep making asks to your audience to get people to sign up for your email list. You can alternate direct asks with petitions, post at different times and on different days to reach different audiences. Use photo posts as well as link posts to get the widest possible audience (don’t forget to put the link in the photo and in the description text). You must keep posting because social media is a river, your messages float on by. Check out our social media principles and best practices guide for more tips. Also don’t forget to occasionally “pin” one of your asks to your Facebook timeline, so it will stay at the top for up to a week.

Try using online advertising on Facebook and Twitter. You can direct traffic to a petition/action on your website, or embedded in a Facebook tab or via a promoted post or Tweet, and see how those all perform against each other. By uploading your email list to Facebook’s ad tools (and now to Twitter), you can exclude the email addresses of people already on your list — and narrow in on people who are fans of your page/followers of your account but NOT signed up for emails. You can also use Facebook’s new lookalike audiences to go after people that are similar to the folks already on your list. These new tools should help you pick up some new emails for much cheaper than a paid campaign with Care2, LeftAction etc. — so go after the low hanging fruit first if your budget is limited.

Try brand new (pay) tools like ActionSprout. They serve up Facebook-enabled petitions to your audience. Much like how ActBlue has a pool of 1-click supporters, it is super easy for one click activists to take action. Their tool is not free, but you can try it out for free and see how costs compare to a paid acquisition campaign with Care2 or (which would run you $1.50 or more per opted-in email address).

Now, for the reverse question. how do you move email list signups to become Facebook (and Twitter) fans? Ask them! Especially after they sign up for your list for the first time, when they are most motivated. Check out our Social Media Tell A Friend tool, part of our PowerTools suite of apps for Salsa, which makes this easy for folks using Salsa. Here’s an example in action from Transportation Riders United, this tell a friend page is what you are redirected to after you sign up for their email list – encouraging you to become a supporter on social media too. These are easy to build in NationBuilder too, with their built in tools for social sharing.

And don’t forget to set up autoresponder welcome email messages to new signups too. Welcome emails are a best practice in any case, but you can really make them work for you by including a social media nudge in them.

And finally, we recommend emailing your list and asking them to become Facebook fans/Twitter followers. It’s a great free way to bump up your social network fanbase in a hurry. However, it’s important to keep in mind the statistics – a quarter or more of your audience doesn’t use social media. So you may want to include an action for those not on social networks to take, such as visiting your website for the latest updates. And don’t forget to keep sending welcome emails to new members to your list – depending on how your welcome emails are set up, people may slip through the cracks. So you may want to set up queries and do a sweep social media email at the end of every week or month to new folks that were not autotrigger welcomed.

Thanks Laura! Excellent as always. – cpd

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Laura Packard
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