Ever tire of sending out emails one at a time to a large group of people, even though your work is education related? I have. Just recently, I emailed an HTML newsletter on what we're doing in Instructional Technology to over 3000 staff in my school district. To accomplish that, I used what's known as a bulk emailer.
No, bulk emailing isn't just for spammers anymore...it's also for legitimate uses! While blogs and the ability of that content to be subscribed to is important, email remains the lowest common denominator of Internet use.
You need to know how to do this, and what tools are available to get the job done for a simple reason — as a technology director, staff development coordinator, or anyone who has to routinely mass email work colleagues, it's important that you get the information out. The following are tools — a.k.a. mass or bulk emailers — I have used successfully over the last year. Here's how I've used bulk emailers in the past few years:
- Sending out HTML/Web Page newsletters to subscribers. While many email programs are text-based and do not support HTML/web page sent via email, in the right environment, you can send web pages as newsletters.
- Sending email out to several hundred graduate students who required custom messages based on information they submitted via an online database. To send these emails the traditional way would have taken days of tedious work. Instead, it took about 15 minutes to set up and 30 minutes — unattended — for the computer to send the emails out.
- Send emails to a special interest group without having them all subscribe to a free, ad-sponsored service like YahooGroups.
- Facilitated graduate research that involved sending out surveys for doctoral research. Each superintendent received an email with their name, title, and district, as well as a special survey code.
- Sent email to thousands of workshop participants who had registered and attended — or failed to attend — professional development sessions within my District.
You can follow a simple process
Instead, the following process proved effective. The process is outlined below:
- Export only the data relevant from a series of relational databases to comma-delimited format or tab-delimited format.
- Import the data into a mass, or bulk, emailer and customize the outgoing message using "mail merge" features that allowed participants to receive a message that was tailor-made just for them.
- Setup your computer as a Email (SMTP) Server; the programs I mention here will do that for you.
- Send out several hundred emails inside the firewall to District email accounts, as well as other accounts.
Of course, this is the same process that anyone who needs to send mass emails with custom data encounters. In fact, the process is identical to those sending out "snail" mail in mass but at a much lower cost.
Some of the features that make a mass emailer useful to you include the following:
- Can import comma-delimited (CSV) or tab-delimited files exported from databases (e.g. whether it's Access, Filemaker Pro, or even, an Excel spreadsheet).
- Has a wealth of custom fields aside from name and email address that you can drop data into. Some programs only allow 3-4 fields for import; this is limiting because you are only able to customize the email message for their name and title rather than really get specific. The more specific you can be, the better the email is received by the user.
- Provides its own Domain Name Server (DNS) so that you do not have to set up an email server — easier than it sounds if you follow the instructions here. The DNS makes the program less dependent on your ability to set up an email server (a.k.a. SMTP Server).
- Allows you to send out, not only text emails but also, HTML/Web pages. To create these, you setup a web page on a web server with absolute links (that is, you include the complete URL or address to the graphics and to items linked from that web page) then copy-n-paste the HTML source code into a message window. The bulk email software sends the HTML as is and when the email recipient opens the message, they see exactly what they would on visiting the web page. This is a benefit since the attractiveness of a web page is brought to an email message, enhancing readability and attractiveness.
Some tools available to you:
- FairLogic's WorldCast: Available for free to non-profit educational institutions in Windows only version, this is a versatile mass emailer. Registration does not result — as I once feared — in more junk email and the free registration code arrived instantly upon my emailed request. FairLogic describes its product — accurately — as being able to send bulk email, validate email addresses as to whether they work or not, send emails to huge recipient lists imported from dBase tables, text and comma-delimited values and address books from popular email programs (e.g. Outlook, Outlook Express, Palm Desktop). It can also import many fields — no limit yet that I've discovered — and include the fields in mail merge format within the body of the email. It can also set itself up as its own SMTP server, which is a powerful feature.
It is an excellent bulk emailer and easy to use with built-in wizards. What's more, it can send HTML, or web page, emails without problems. Of course, the main benefit is that it is the only free bulk emailer this author has encountered. It is available online at http://www.fairlogic.com
- MaxProg's MacBulk Mailer: Available for Macintosh only (although the vendor recommends a Windows alternative program) at a cost of $39.90, this is a powerful bulk emailer. The Pro version not only boasts the features of FairLogic's WorldCast as well but also support for MySQL, direct emailing from Filemaker Pro databases, and conditional message content based on who it is your writing to. I highly recommend this Mailer for Macintosh users. It is available in OS 9 and OS X versions. The program is available for download and/or purchase at http://www.maxprog.com/MaxBulk.html Unfortunately, you'll need to set your computer up as its own email server. This is not too difficult and instructions are available online. If using Mac OS X Jaguar (harder) or Panther (easier), you have the capability for setting up your email server built-in. You can find detailed instructions online at http://www.reitter-it-media.de/software/osxpostfix.html#panther
- Linux users will have a more difficult time finding a GUI-based bulk emailer. When you find one, let me know! Most bulk emailers I've seen are command line only and/or depend on esoteric codes. You can find a short list of what I have found online at http://www.mguhlin.net/blog
Using bulk emailers in educational settings enables you to get the information needed to those whom you serve so as to enhance their performance and work. And, in the end, enhancing performance and work in educational settings can yield tremendous results when multiplied by several hundred. Staying in touch via email can make not only your job, but that of others receiving the email, easier.