Getting email subscribers: Content and social media marketing

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Going back to the idea of “What’s in it for me?” from our lesson on incentivizing subscribers, one of the best reasons for someone to sign up for your email list is the quality of the content in those emails. If they know they’ll be getting interesting, useful, actionable, motivational, inspirational, educational, or otherwise helpful content in your emails—and not just an eternal onslaught of sales pitches—they’ll be far more inclined not only to join your list, but to actually open your emails, read them, and engage with them.

In this lesson, we’ll cover the two primary content-driven techniques you can use to build your list: Content marketing, both on your site and beyond, and social media marketing, both free and paid.

Getting email signups: Content marketing

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a fairly nebulous topic without one universally accepted definition. However, the myriad marketing experts have essentially arrived at this: Content marketing is any type of content (writing, videos, pictures, anything else) that’s educational, entertaining, or otherwise valuable to current and prospective customers. Content marketing rarely sells directly; instead, it’s a long-term strategy that helps you form a bond with your customers which, one day, will (if all goes right) lead to sales.

That means content marketing requires an investment of your time, resources, and, in many cases, money. However, studies have shown that companies that make a commitment to content marketing will see eventual dividends…

  • Content marketing brings in 3.3 times the leads of paid search advertising. (PDF)
  • 82 percent of customers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content; and 78 percent perceive a relationship between themselves and that company.
  • And conversion rates are almost six times higher for companies that use content marketing than companies that don’t.

Content marketing’s importance to email marketing is twofold.

One, email marketing can be a form of content marketing—and, arguably, should be as much as possible. Going back, once again, to the “What’s in it for me?” question, emails with good content that’s not just “buy buy buy!” can be very appealing to potential subscribers. Your email newsletter is a form of content marketing.

Two, when you’re putting a significant amount of resources into content that isn’t specifically hard selling your products, you want to give yourself the best chance to have it pay off down the line. After you’ve provided serious value to someone through a piece of good content, you’ll want to get that person into your sales funnel—and getting them to sign up for your email list is the most effective way to create that sticky connection.

Why you should have a blog on your website

Content marketing is far broader than just blogging, however, one of the most obvious ways a company can get started with content marketing is through a blog on their website. There are a number of powerful reasons why it’s good to have a blog on your eCommerce website:

  • SEO and traffic. High-quality content is rewarded by Google. And the more you can put out, the better—in one study, companies publishing 16 or more blog posts a month got almost 350 percent more traffic than companies posting four or fewer.
  • Content creates leads. That same study also found the companies publishing 16 or more blog posts a month got approximately 450 percent more leads than companies posting four times or fewer. And another study found marketers who make blogging a priority are 13 times more likely to get a positive ROI from their content.
  • Better social media visibility. You don’t just want to post product links on social media. By promoting your content, you’ll have something else to share to bring people to your site and provide another reason for people to follow your accounts.
  • It keeps people coming back. If you’re not adding a ton of new products (or, really, even if you are), customers might not have much of a reason to regularly come back to your site to check in. Regular content gives them that reason.
  • More value to your customers. Content helps customers connect with your brand, develop more trust, and engage more. It also shows there’s a real team behind your store—a commitment to putting out quality content shows yours isn’t one of those stores where someone just slapped a quick template together.
  • Establishes you as an authority. One way to succeed in your product niche is to demonstrate that your brand is a knowledgeable authority in that space. A blog is a great way to do that.

It’s for all those reasons that 55 percent of marketers say blog content creation is their top priority.

But, of course, creating good content takes time, effort, and talent. Is it worth it? Well, more than three-quarters of companies using content marketing say it’s successful (with 28 percent saying it’s extremely or very successful). 79 percent say it increased customer engagement; 65 percent say it increased leads; and 58 percent say it increased sales. (PDF)

Using content marketing to gain subscribers

Good content can be a big driver of email signups—put together content that keeps people interested and they’ll want to come back. Here are some ideas for producing content that can specifically drive email signups.

Tease related content in your newsletter

You want to put great content on your blog, but you also need to give people a reason to subscribe to your email list. That’s where you can tease more information in your newsletter.

Business Development Bank of Canada has a very thorough content section directed at the entrepreneurs and small businesses who make up their entire customer base. And once you start reading an article, a pop-up appears at the bottom of the screen enticing you to subscribe to their newsletter to read more.

Tease more related content to earn subscriptions.

Establish a personal connection

Content on a business website doesn’t have to feel stiff and corporate; in fact, to make a better connection with readers, it shouldn’t feel that way. Create content that feels like it’s coming from a real person (because it is coming from a real person) and people will want to connect.

James Altucher, an entrepreneur who sells business courses and books, takes an ultra-transparent approach on his blog in order to get subscribers. They’re connecting with him for his advice—but also with his personality. Nothing is off limits; he’ll openly discuss how much money he has in the bank, why a business he started failed, or even why he got a divorce. As a result, he’s using his writing to make a personal connection with subscribers who will eventually trust him enough to become customers. In the crowded eCommerce spaces where he’s competing (entrepreneurship, marketing, self-help), his differentiator is himself, and he uses his blog to establish that.

Establish a personal connection with content.

We aren’t recommending everyone go ultra-personal and -transparent, however, finding a unique, authentic voice that’s true to your brand and its values will help your content stand out—and help you build relationships with customers through that content.

Create a content upgrade

We’ve covered content giveaways extensively in our lesson on incentivizing subscribers, but to reiterate for this specific use case, when someone’s reading your blog, you can offer a related eBook, cheatsheet, guide, or PDF as an incentive for subscribing to your list.

A weight loss consultant (who calls himself Mr. Skinny Pants, naturally) offers simple content upgrades from his blog: PDF versions of his tips for people on the go. He highlights the offer for that content upgrade near the top of each blog post…

Offer PDF version of posts for people on the go.

And the link takes you to a custom landing page to subscribe.

A custom landing page to download a PDF version of a website.

Have a clear call-to-action at the end of your posts

At the end of each piece of content, you can include a call-to-action. You may want to use it to sell a product related to the post, to ask people to share the post, to ask them to follow you on social media—or to subscribe to your newsletter to read more.

The correct choice will depend on the nature of your blog posts and the goal of your blog, but if you’re focusing on using your content to build your email list, include a bold, clear CTA at the bottom of the post.

Shwood Eyewear includes a prominent CTA (the blue button really stands out) at the end of their blogs to encourage people to subscribe to read more. Notice there’s nothing in the subscription process related to buying eyeglasses or sunglasses; it’s all about the content, which they use to build relationships that eventually lead to sales.

A CTA button at the end of a blog post.

Getting email signups: Social media

Social media is an important tool for most eCommerce sites. After all, if you’re considering buying a product from a store you’ve never heard of, you follow the social media links on their site, and find they haven’t posted anything since 2014… doesn’t the chance of you purchasing from that site plummet? Beyond demonstrating credibility, social media is also a way to engage and nurture relationships with customers, build your brand, make sales, give customers more avenue to share your brand, and communicate with people on the platforms they’re using every day.

However—for all the great things social media can do for your business, email is still more effective at getting people to buy stuff:

  • Email is 40 times more effective for acquiring new customers.
  • Customers are three times more likely to prefer receiving advertising messages in email versus on social media.
  • 4.24 percent of visitors from email marketing buy something versus 0.59 percent from social.

The good news: You can use social media to grow your email list, and then your social media and email strategies can work in tandem to push people toward the right messages that get them to buy. There are two overarching ways to use social media to get subscribers: For free, and with paid advertising. Here are some techniques to use with both of those strategies.

Using free social media to gain subscribers

Make it clear you’re offering different, valuable content on your email list

You’ve gotten someone to follow you on social media. That means something you’re offering connected with and inspired them. But now, to get that same person to also subscribe to your email list, you’ll need a different value proposition.

Here are a few ideas of what form that could take:

  • More exclusivity. Virtually every brand has a fully public social media presence. In contrast, an email list is a “private” group. Make it clear to your social media followers that email subscribers are part of a VIP group with early access to sales and products, more information, and private discounts.
Use social media to promote an exclusive email list.
More perks offered by subscribing to an email list.
  • Longer content. Social media doesn’t lend itself to particularly long content. Email can. Show your social media followers that your email newsletters tell longer and deeper stories, feature more photos, or dive deeper into education about your product or your brand’s area of expertise.
Show your social media fans what they'll get for subscribing to your email list.
  • Personalized content. Your social media posts aren’t segmented; your entire subscriber base gets the same message. Email, on the other hand, can be personalized and segmented for individuals.
Offer personalized content that you can't offer on social media.
  • No missing out. Your social media followers almost certainly won’t see everything you post. According to a Hootsuite study, the average Facebook post only makes it to 6.4 percent of your followers. For Twitter, it may be more like two percent. Instagram could be around 10 percent. Meanwhile, emails reach up to 90 percent of subscribers and have an average open rate anywhere from 22 percent up into the mid 30 percent range. If your fans want to make sure they’re not missing out on your sales, your announcements, and your content, email is their best bet.
Make it clear your subscribers won't miss posts as sometimes happens with social media.

Don’t forget to ask

It seems obvious to just ask your followers to subscribe to your list—but it’s so easy to neglect. When was the last time you posted on social media about your email list? Or posted about the lead magnet or incentive you’re offering for people to subscribe to your list?

When you’re creating your marketing calendar and planning your social media posts, remember to add in periodic reminders about your email list. And, like Crocs below, it’s always good to reiterate any incentive you offer to new email subscribers.

Post about your lead magnet to build subscribers.

Direct your Instagram “link in bio” to a landing page

This may initially sound like counterintuitive advice, but you don’t need to link to your home page from your social media sites. Your followers are, most likely, already aware of your site and don’t need a link to it—you’re better off linking them to your email list. By directing social media followers to your email list, you now have a better, direct connection with them that you can use to sell. (Plus, assuming you have a link to your site itself somewhere on your email sign-up landing page, they could always click through if they’re really motivated to buy immediately.)

The smoothie company Greenblender uses a link in its bio to offer up a free eBook:

A link to subscribe in an Instagram bio.

Which then leads to a landing page for email signups with a free eBook incentive.

A landing page with a free eBook incentive.

Add a Facebook tab or signup button for your email list

Give your fans plenty of chances to sign up for your email list on your Facebook page. That includes creating a tab or section where they can sign up (with, of course, an explanation of what they’ll get for signing up).

Add a Facebook tab for email sign-up.

You can also put a button right in the header of your Facebook page directing fans to sign up.

Put a sign-up link right in your Facebook header.

Pin an article directing users to sign up

You can pin a post to the top of your Facebook page or Twitter feed. Consider pinning a post that will take people to your site to have them subscribe.

In this pinned Facebook post, an eCommerce site selling courses for mommy bloggers offers up its best lead magnet to direct people to the site to sign up.

Pin a post on social media that directs people to subscribe to your email list.

And the same thing is happening on Twitter…

Linking to an email list from a pinned tweet.

Use a contest or giveaway for your followers

We covered contests in the incentives section earlier, and noted that contests do carry the risk of attracting free stuff seekers using fake emails or just signing up for the contest with no real interest in your brand. By running a contest on social media you can mitigate some of those negatives; after all, you’ll be targeting people who’ve already demonstrated an interest in your brand so they make for better email list leads.

Burts Potato Chips ran the contest below on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram simultaneously. All of those sites led to a landing page where people had to subscribe for a chance to win.

Advertising across all social media platforms. Here, Facebook.
Promoting across multiple social networks, here Twitter.
Promoting across all social media. Here, Instagram.

Even One Direction recognized the value of running a contest to build an email list.

One Direction promotes their email on social media.

Using paid social media to gain subscribers

The majority of your social media followers aren’t seeing your posts—your free posts. That’s because the social networks want you to spend money to advertise to your own fans, as well as people who are in your target demographics. And as much as falling in line and buying ads feels like you’re giving them the “win,” the ads can be extremely effective. For better or worse, the social networks know a ton about their members. The “worse” there is from a societal perspective, of course—but as a marketer, the “better” is that in the history of the world, there has never been a better way to microtarget your exact ideal buyer. If you sell Rick & Morty action figures and it’s cheapest for you to ship them to the west coast of the United States, you can target people who are Rick & Morty fans, action figure collectors, and live in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Paid social media advertising can be cost-effective too… eventually. SmartBlogger recommends setting up your initial ad and aiming to pay less than $4 per subscriber—at first. That sounds unsustainably high, and it is—but it’s a sign your ad is actually working (both the ad itself and the people you’re targeting). Over time, as the platforms adapt and you tweak your ad and target audience, your cost should go down. If you get down to, say, 30 cents per subscriber, that’s around 16 or 17 new subscribers for $5 each day (also known as one latte, or adding both double meat and guac to your bowl at Chipotle). Over the course of a year, that adds up to more than 6,000 subscribers for less than two grand. If you can convince just five percent of them to spend $50 on those Rick & Morty action figures, you’ll be more than $13,000 in the black. 

Obviously that’s back-of-the-envelope math using silly, made-up numbers, but the acquisition costs are doable. Use your own customer lifetime values and conversion rates to see at what point paid social acquisition makes sense for your email list. 

Find your target audience

The first thing you need to do in order to find your target audience for social media advertising is… know who your target audience really is. That’s where buyer personas come in. Once you’ve built a buyer persona, you can test different social media ads targeted at that person. (Say, women in their 20s who like travel and dogs.)

You will, however, want to test different audiences in order to see which one responds to your ads the best. That will ultimately help you refine your targeting to get your costs down.

You may also want to look into retargeting—that is, advertising to people who came to your website. They’ve already had an interaction with your brand, so this can be a chance to bring them back into the fold.

What to put in a social media ad to get email subscribers

There are three main elements to a social media ad: copy, picture(s) or video, and call-to-action.

  • Use a great photo or video. There has to be some visual element to your ad. You’ll want to test different photos to see what works but remember: Your photo is there to catch the person’s eye, make a connection with them, and entice them to sign up. You can also use video, which can be more difficult to create, but may get better engagement, especially on Instagram.
  • Keep your copy concise and focused on the value proposition. Make it clear what a person will get for subscribing to your newsletter. Whether it’s an incentive (like a free eBook), great deals, interesting content, education, or something else—that has to be clearly and explicitly conveyed through your copy.
  • Make the call-to-action explicit. Don’t assume that just because people read your copy they’ll know to click your link to sign up. Literally tell them that’s what they need to do.

Use landing pages

So someone clicked on your fantastic ad. Great! Where does it take them?

You don’t want to just send people to your homepage—you’re looking for email subscribers, not web visitors. (You’re paying way too much just to get one web visitor.)  That’s where landing pages come in. A landing page is a page that’s specifically designed to convert—in this case, to convert someone into an email subscriber. A landing page shouldn’t sell anything else or have any other calls-to-action; it’s entirely focused on achieving its one goal. And they’re extremely effective: One study found a landing page for an email marketing list can raise conversion rates up to 50 percent.

Summary and implementation


Content marketing is a long-term strategy, requiring lots of effort without necessarily bringing an immediate boost to sales, but one that can pay off significantly down the road. Email marketing and content marketing have a symbiotic relationship: Good website content can lead to subscribers, then good email content can keep nurturing them along toward making purchases and repeat purchases.

  • Blogging. Blogging helps with everything from SEO and web traffic to creating long-term bonds with customers who see you as an authority.
  • Teasing content in your newsletter. If you use your emails to provide interesting, entertaining, and/or educational content, it gives people a reason to subscribe beyond looking for discounts or hearing only about your products.
  • Establish a personal connection. Help build an honest, trusted relationship with your customers by letting them get to know you and the team behind the eCommerce store.
  • Create a content upgrade. A piece of downloadable premium content to go along with your free content is a great incentive to turn a reader into a subscriber. 

Social media is another key source for email list leads—and converting your followers on social media into email list subscribers can pay off in terms of future revenue.

  • Make the different value proposition clear. Your followers are already connected with you on social media. You need to demonstrate why they should also join your email list. Make the difference evident, whether it’s more exclusivity, longer-form content, personalized content, less of a chance of missing important announcements, or something else.
  • Just ask them. Periodic reminders on social media that you have an email list—and that it offers a different value proposition than your social media channels—is an important but easily overlooked way to convert followers to subscribers.
  • Facebook tabs, pinned tweets, Instagram “link in bio,” and other sticky reminders. If you make sure your email list is front-and-center on your social media sites, your followers will be more likely to see it and subscribe.
  • Use a contest or giveaway. You can use a social media contest to also direct your followers to your email list; this is a good way to get a fast influx of new subscribers.

You can also use paid social media advertising to get new subscribers.

  • Make sure to target your buyer personas. Social media advertising allows for quite a bit of targeting. Know who your target audience is and direct your ads at them to get the maximum value out of your social media advertising budget.
  • Test and iterate. Social media advertising takes a lot of testing and refining in order to get the costs down and success rate up.
  • Make your ad appealing.  You need a great photo or video, concise and effective sales copy, and a strong call-to-action to drive subscribers from your social media advertising.
  • Use landing pages. When someone clicks on your ad, make sure they’re directed to a special page on your site that closes the deal and gets them to subscribe.


Here are some action steps you can take in order to use everything from this lesson to start growing your email list both in the short-term and long-term.

Step 1: Take advantage of your blog

  • Add calls-to-action to your blog posts to direct people to sign up for your email list.
  • Consider blogging more frequently in order to better use the content on your website to drive email subscriptions.

Step 2: Incorporate your email signup into social media

  • Post about your list on social media regularly, always making it clear why followers also need to subscribe. Consider a contest for your social media followers that requires email signup.
  • If you’re comfortable giving up the real estate, add things like a Facebook tab, pinned tweet, or Instagram link in bio directing people to subscribe.
  • To grow your list to non-followers, consider a paid advertising campaign. Create a good landing page and a quality ad, then test and iterate.