Inbound Now #30 - Growing a community & email list with DJ Waldow

DJ is the former Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory. He’s also worked at Bronto, an email service provider. He’s a professional speaker in the social media and email marketing industry and an all-around great guy!

In this episode:

  • Some Email marketing takeaways he has learned over the years
  • Improving email open rates
  • How to grow your email list
  • Being and hiring a community manager
  • Project Awesome


David: Hey everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 30 of Inbound Now. I’m your host, David Wells. With me today is a very special guest, Mr. DJ Waldow. Welcome to the show, DJ.

DJ: Thank you so much. A lot of pressure to match that energy and enthusiasm. I think I’m up for the challenge, though.

David: I’m actually really monotone in person. But I’m on camera, right? So I’ve got to get out there and …

DJ: Get after it, right?

David: I drink a lot of coffee before this, so that’s my other secret.

So, DJ Waldow, he was formerly the Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory. He’s worked at Bronto, an email service provider. He’s a professional speaker in the social media and email marketing industry. He has a great blog over at

DJ:, that’s right.

David: He is also in charge of Project Awesome, which we’ll dive into a little bit later in the interview here. Welcome to the show, man.

DJ: All right. Great to be here.

David: Cool. I wanted to get you on to really dive into your experience. You’ve worked at a lot of email marketing companies, so I want to get some of your insight on some of the best practices around that area, and then dive into what it really means to be a community manager, and what companies should be thinking about when they’re actually looking to fill that role.

DJ: For sure.

David: Let’s dive into email marketing. You worked at Bronto and Blue Sky Factory, and you’ve been deeply engaged in the email marketing community for some time now. What are some of the biggest takeaways that you’ve learned over the years?

DJ: I think I probably started talking about this when I was at Bronto a few years ago, and it stuck with me. I’ve really been doing email for about six years now, which in the email industry is probably quite a long time. I’ve talked to some folks who’ve done it over 10 years, but they’re like the grandparents of email. I’m probably like the elder adult.

I think the key really is to send timely, targeted, valuable emails to people who want them. It’s a very easy statement to say as a guy who talks about email marketing. It’s easy to say. It’s not necessarily easy to do.

If you think about those different components of that and taking it backwards, the first piece is sending email to people that want it. That means people who have opted in, people who have raised their hand and said, “Yes, we want to get an email from you.” That’s really one of the most important things because if you want people to be engaged with your email and open it and click and share and convert, it’s got to be something they want to receive and are excited about getting.

But there are other components to that too, the relevance and the timeliness. We all know those emails that we get, that literally come into your inbox and you’re excited about opening them. Whether it’s a subject line that is really appealing or it’s a company or a brand where you know they provide valuable content all the time, you’re going to open it.

I think too often what we do as email marketers is like what a lot of companies do. Everybody thinks that their product or service kicks ass. Can I say ass? I hope I can say that word. If you can say it on the radio, you can say it on this show, right?

People think that their product and service is the best thing in the world, and that’s great. They should, in a lot of ways. But you have to remember, just because you think that doesn’t mean your subscribers in email are going to think that what you’re offering is the best thing. Keep in mind what is valuable to subscribers, not necessarily what you think is the most valuable.

That’s giving the broad picture, and we can dive into a lot more detail.

David: Basically, your email marketing channel really shouldn’t be product-focused at all, right? It should be more about providing educational content to help your readers.

DJ: I’d say yes and no. It depends. Certainly there’s nothing wrong if you’re a B2C and you want to pitch your product. Let’s say that you’re Banana Republic and every email you send is about a new sale that you have, that’s fine. That works for them.

Since we’re talking to you, HubSpot tends to go on the other spectrum and shares educational materials and eBooks, and uses emails to promote webinars and educational pieces. I think that works too, but ultimately HubSpot’s doing those things because you want more clients.

David: There’s always that ulterior motive. But it’s more we’re helping people, and yeah they might become a client. Mass marketing messages, like JC Penney’s, I guess it works, but is it because they’re just doing it in mass quantities?

DJ: Well, in some ways, yes. Think about it. I’ll just use some big, round numbers. If you’ve got a list of a million … well, I have to do match on a million. Let me just keep it simple. Let’s say you have a thousand, and 10% of your list opens, which is a pretty low rate. 100 people open your email, and half of those click and a certain number buy, you’ve just paid for that email campaign.

So yeah, I think in some ways you’re right. It is a volume game, in that a couple of emails will easily pay for your overall campaign. But I think we all consume email differently. I use my wife as an example for this a lot. Her favorite email is Sierra Trading Post. I happen to know the folks that run the campaign over there. I wouldn’t say it’s the prettiest. It’s not the most well-designed email. It’s not the most appealing, eye-catching. But it works. My wife reads those emails. She’s not looking to be educated about the product that REI is selling. She doesn’t care. She wants to know, when she’s ready to buy whatever that outdoor gear is, she’s looking for that sale. She’s looking for the very targeted email that says, “Hey, I know that you bought this, maybe you want to buy that.”

I’ve probably talked a lot, so far, about more the B2C space, but it really does depend. There’s a balance to do both.

David: Got you. What would be a good open rate, in your mind, for an email campaign? I guess it depends across industries.

DJ: It totally depends. You can get some good stats. Actually, BrightWave Marketing, Simms Jenkins out of Atlanta has a site called You can just probably Google “email stats,” and it will come up in the top results. The number that we bat around a lot is 20% as an average open rate. If you’re above 20%, you’re probably doing better than average. Below, you may want to think about it.

The reasons it depends is if you do emails that are not segmented and not targeted – in other words, you just blast out the email to your whole list, which I don’t think is the best idea, but it works for a lot of people – then your open rate is just based on that, and it’s not all that interesting. I think what’s interesting is when you start to really target. When I was at Blue Sky and when I was a Bronto, we had clients who sent … this is, again, a B2C example, but I’ll give a B2B example as well.

As a B2C, you can say, “Everybody who has purchased something within the last zero to three months, send to that list and track that list differently.” Three to six months; six to nine months; over a year. Now I bet those open rates are inverse. As you get further out on the purchase cycle, the open rates are going to do down. But that’s the number that’s interesting to me, not the overall open rate. What’s interesting is the people that just bought from you, they should be more likely to open that next email. I would start to track those numbers.

To give a B2B example, I’ll just say, use HubSpot. HubSpot sends an email about a webinar. The advice I would give is the people that don’t sign up for that webinar or don’t open that email, you send a follow-up to just that segment. Now, all of a sudden, your original open rate of, let’s say, 20%, you get an additional 10% that open that email, combine those two and do some fuzzy math, you’ve got something higher than a 20% open rate.

David: Cool. How important would you say the subject line of the email is? That’s what people see. That’s what I would think would be the catalyst if they’re going to open it or not, right?

DJ: When I think of open rate, there are two things that drive an open. Well, there’s kind of three, and some of them combine together. But you nailed the first one, the subject line. A subject line either has to be … this is all stuff that can be tested. That’s the beauty of email. If you send me a subject line that is appealing enough for me to open it … because, remember, people scan their inboxes. I had 100 emails in my inbox today. I’m looking for the subject line that says, “We want to hire you today” or “We want to pay you a million dollars today.” So you scan your inbox and those are the emails you’re more likely to open. But, again, that can all be done through testing, because I’ve been proven wrong hundreds of times, where the generic “July Email Newsletter” as a subject line works.

That’s the first thing, a subject line. The second thing is trust and knowing the sender. If I get an email from … I’ll use my wife as an example. She gets Sierra Trading Post. She knows what the content of those emails is going to be. She knows that she’s purchased from them before, and it’s valuable to her. So she’s more likely to open a message from Sierra Trading Post.

Take that even on a personal level. I get an email from you; now that we know each other, I’m more likely to open that email. So I’ve seen some things that are interesting. In fact, HubSpot does this, and MarketingProfs, where you use, a lot of times, the person’s name, comma, HubSpot. MarketingProfs does that too, so it’ll be “Anne Handley, MarketingProfs”.

It’s an interesting tactic, because I think, in some ways, it depends on who that person is. There are a lot of recognizable names at HubSpot and MarketingProfs, where you could probably get away with just sending the name, but I still trust the company overall more than the names.

I think that’s important, the from name. Then the hybrid of those two is if you get a from name that you really recognize and trust and know is valuable, and a subject line that’s compelling. Let’s see if I can do this. You’re more likely to get it opened.

The third thing, I guess, is the person like who me who just opens every email that lands in their inbox. But you can’t really count on that.

David: Right. Cool. You recently did a webinar. Where was it? It was building your list. My notes are all scattered. You did a webinar with Chris Brogan, Peter Shankman, and Jason Keath, it was like the ultimate list building webinar? I saw a lot of that. Basically, the gist was a marketer lives or dies by their marketing database. So what are some of the ways that marketers out there listening can actively grow their list?

DJ: I just was at a conference here in Park City last weekend called evo. I ran this session, and we were talking about email marketing, growing your list, and we did this exercise with this group of people in the class. I said, “All right. Go pick five random websites, companies that you like, that you trust, whatever it is.” Somebody was a timekeeper, and I said, “What I want you to do is go subscribe to their email newsletter. Go sign up.” So the timekeeper’s job was to check how long it took to sign up. I walked around the room, and we shared the results afterwards. What was fascinating was it’s amazing how people hide the subscribe option.

You want to know the number one way to grow your list? It’s to put it on your website.

David: All right. So it’s really that easy? Putting it somewhere visible on your site is step one then?

DJ: That’s the thing. I think people hide it too often. This exercise proved that they make it hard for you to subscribe. The other things that we were going through this exercise, you subscribe, but they ask for 100 different fields to fill out. You don’t get that welcome message right away. Or it just is not clear that you’ve even signed up. I’ve gone to plenty of sites where you go and sign up, and you hit Submit and you just wait. There’s no redirect landing page that says “Thanks for signing up,” or “Look in your inbox for a message from us.” Nothing.

So I share that because to me that’s kind of like this “duh.” Of course you have a sign-up on your website. But you’d be surprised at the number of companies that make it very difficult for you to sign up for their email.

That really is 101 stuff, but it’s something that people miss all the time.

David: It would have to be visible above the fold on your highly trafficked pages. Otherwise, it’s hidden. It’s the golden rule of marketing, right? Make it as easy as possible for someone to do what you want them to do.

DJ: Exactly. And that being said, I do realize … I was talking to this group. Some of them are web people, they do the website. I said, “I realize you have a lot of valuable real estate there, and there’s only so much real estate that you can use.”

I think it’s Jay Baer that talks about this a lot, Jay Baer from Convince & Convert. He uses the analogy that things like Facebook, it’s rented space. You own your email list, as much as you can possibly own something. Those are your email addresses. You have to respect that email address.

But Facebook changes their policy tomorrow, which they probably will, they’ve proven they have, or something else comes out, you don’t own that stuff. With Google+ now, it’s the first social network I’ve seen where you can pull down your data. You can extract all of your conversations that you’re having there.

That’s the beauty of email, I think.

David: Cool. Switching gears a little bit into community management, because that’s also something you have a ton of experience in. You wrote a post. I think it was a guest post somewhere, but it was “The director of community isn’t just tweeting all day long.” Can you lay out what exactly a director of community does? What are some of the main things a director of community should be doing?

DJ: I think that first and foremost … to be clear, this obviously differs per company, and the director of community role in my world, at least when I was at Blue Sky, was doing all things social media. There are companies that have a director of community and community managers, and all sorts of different roles.

But overall, no matter what you do, if your title has social media or community in it, you have to know how to communicate. The communication can be in the form of writing. It can be speaking. It can be tweeting. It can be blog posts. It can be webinars. It can be stuff like we’re doing right now. But you have to be able to have an intelligent conversation in various different platforms.

I think, too often, that’s the mistake. People go and hire somebody who’s really passionate about a product or service. “You’re going to be our new community manager.” But you’re on the front lines. You have to be able to respond to a crisis. You have to be able to write a blog post that’s intelligent and legible. No spelling mistakes and no grammar mistakes. That’s why, when people ask me … they always say “Well, I’ll just hire an intern to do that,” or “I’ll just hire somebody out of college to do that.” I’m not suggesting that an 18 or 19 or 22 year old can’t be a community manager, because I’m sure there certainly are some that could. But you have to have some kind of worldly experience to know how to handle yourself in those types of situations.

But the number one thing to me, I think, is you have to be able to write, speak, and generally communicate.

David: When is the right time for a company to actually decide to hire a community manager, or should they be training someone internally, or spreading it between a couple different people?

DJ: I think you can definitely spread it amongst a lot of people. In fact, using Jay as an example of this again, Jay and Amber Naslund wrote a book, “The Now Revolution.” They talk about the future of community managers, and one of the things they say is everybody’s going to be a community manager at some point, because it’s going to be ingrained in everything you do.

I keep giving HubSpot props, but it’s true. You guys have a lot of voices and faces of HubSpot. I think of Ally and Rebecca and Mike and Brian. Everybody there can speak intelligently, knows the product, knows about inbound marketing, all those things.

So to answer your question, “When do you hire that person?” If you’re going to be serious about social media, and you’re going to have a Twitter account, you’re going to have a Facebook page, you’re going to have a LinkedIn company profile, and you’re committed to it, you’re dedicated, you’re all in, you’re going to put effort into it and actually make it be something more than just an occasional tweet, I think when you’ve made that commitment, I think that’s the time to hire somebody to really manage that, because you can’t just half-ass it. You’ve got to be all-in when it comes to social media stuff.

David: If you’re just half-in, it shows with the lack of being part of the community, right? You’re not responding. Even if it’s an automated Twitter account or something, people can tell.

DJ: I wrote this guest post on Outspoken Media earlier. It was about social and email and how they integrate. One of the things I wrote in there is there’s nothing worse than getting that email that says, “Follow us on Twitter!” You’re all excited. You’re like, “Oh, cool! They’re going to be engaging and having conversations, and all that fun stuff!” You click that Twitter icon, you go over and you’re like “Oh, last tweet was a month ago.” Or, “Oh, every tweet is just their blog posts.”

So you go from that excitement as a subscriber, you’re trusting this company, you’re excited about it, and all of a sudden it’s like [makes sound].

We all know that. We’ve all been there. If you’ve been part of social media at all, you know that you’ve been to those places where nobody’s doing anything. I think that’s when you need to be more serious about hiring somebody to do it full time.

David: Got you. Cool. All right. Let’s talk about Project Awesome. You are currently on the job hunt, and you’re using social media to do that. Can you tell us a little bit more about Project Awesome? What’s your strategy?

DJ: I’ll try to keep the intro of this brief, because the intro is not as exciting, I don’t think, as what’s happened since. But, basically, I knew on July 1, that I was no longer employed by Blue Sky Factory. Certain things I could and could not say. I knew that I wanted to do write a blog post and say, “I’m available.” I’ve seen people do that before. It’s interesting, but if you’re not hiring, who cares?

So I thought to myself, I want to have a role as a digital interactive marketing manager VP, something like that. I said, “I’m going to practice what I preach. I’m going to make this, hopefully, a social media experiment to be a case study.” So the first thing I did is I cashed in some of my social capital, if you will. I reached out to Chris Penn, Chris Brogan, Peter Shankman, Jason Keath, Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Anne Handley, and a couple other folks. I made it really simple. It was almost like blogger outreach, in some sense.

I made it really simple. I know they’re all friends. I copied them all on the email, so everybody was very visible, very open. I said, “I’m looking for a 30 second video clip from you of why people should hire me.” Almost everybody in that group responded, and I put together this little montage of videos.

It’s cool. It’s Peter Shankman sitting on a New York City bus. He was one of my favorites, because basically he’s on this bus. Imagine he’s got his iPhone in front of him, and he sitting here, he goes, “I hate the East Side. I hate …" He goes, “But that’s not the point.” He says, “People ask me to do this stuff all the time, and I don’t do it because most people suck. DJ doesn’t.” So, from Peter Shankman was I don’t suck.

David: That’s a good endorsement.

DJ: Right. Jason Keath did this whole Don Julio thing, a secret agent. It was fun, but I think what it did is it said, “Hey, if these guys are backing him, and these guys will take 30 seconds to say why you should hire DJ, maybe I should look into him.”

Two other things I did with this blog post, I created an interactive resume. So, instead of a boring, standard two-page Word document:  This is what I did. Raised X numbers of dollars, blah blah blah. I just basically did that same, similar thing. It’s almost like a PowerPoint presentation that I made as a PDF, with links so you can see what I’ve written, where I’ve spoken before, and those different things.

Then the third piece of it is I did that same interactive resume, I dumped it into iMovie and did a voiceover. I used GarageBand and did a voiceover, and just talked people through my resume.

I published that at 10:30 on Monday, July 11th. Three days later, literally, three days later, I have had … god the numbers. I’m trying to think. The resume I posted on SlideShare, it’s close to 6,000 views of that resume so far. Of the hire me video, there’s been 600, 700 views of that video. I’ve had, I think, at this point, over 60 people who have emailed or otherwise set up an interview to say, “Let’s talk a little bit more about what you could do next.”

David: Right. Cool. I think it’s interesting what you’re doing. Like you said, the two-page Word document resume, I think it’s dead. You have your own online space. You have all these social channels you’re pointing people to. You’re basically laying out everything that you’ve done in a pretty engaging way, and cashing in that, talking with the experts, getting their backing as well. I think it’s really worked out well for you.

DJ: I didn’t think about it at the time, but I think that first piece of getting those folks to say “This is why you should why you should dire DJ,” it’s the equivalent of having LinkedIn recommendations, but 30 seconds of the video portion of it, somebody actually saying it. We all know video and pictures are a lot more powerful. That’s why you and I are talking today instead of somebody reading this in a transcript.

David: You used social media to get your job at Blue Sky Factory too, right? This isn’t your first rodeo.

DJ: Greg Cangialosi, the CEO at the time, we were back and forth through DM. He knew of me through different events. I never once showed him a resume. In fact, I spoke with somebody today and they said, “When you come in for the interview, can you bring a copy of your resume?” I said, “Would you like me to print out the PDF version of the interactive resume?” They said, “Well, do you have a regular resume?” And I said, “No.”

Here’s the deal, though. Somebody said this to me. “Well, there are certain companies that are going to want a traditional resume.” And my thought is …

David: You probably don’t want to work there, right?.

DJ: Probably not the company I want to work for. I know that limits me in some ways, but that’s the reality. So it’s exciting. I’m pretty pumped about where this is going. Well as my wife said, she’s like, “5000 views, that’s great. How many job offers do you have?” That’s all she cares about, right?

David: All about the ROI, man.

DJ: She’s like, “I don’t give a crap about the numbers. I want you to get a job.” We’ll see.

David: I wish you the best of luck on Project Awesome. This is my endorsement. Everyone out there listening, you should hire DJ Waldow. He knows his stuff.

DJ: Thank you so much.

David: I’ve seen him speak at a number of events, and that’s why I wanted to get him on the show here today.

DJ: I appreciate it. And if folks want to go, that URL is I’m allowed to plug.

David: I have one last, final question. I’m obligated by social media law to ask you this. What’s your take on Google+?

DJ: I love it.

David: You’re for it?

DJ: I love it. Now, at this point, it’s a little overwhelming, because now that it’s open to everybody, you’re getting invites left and right. I think what Google did right on this one … in fact, Jay Baer, Convince & Convert, has a wonderful post. Chris Brogan has like the 50 ways to use Google+, and a bunch of other people have written about.

What I really like about what they’re doing is, for the first time, Google didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or reinvent the Wave, should I say. What they did was they took, I think, the good things about Facebook, the good things about Twitter, and just mashed them together.

The Hangout stuff is pretty powerful, the fact that you can have this video chat with up to 10 people at a time. We could have done this in Google Hangout. Now they have to figure out a way to record that, still, but pretty powerful stuff. I think they’re onto something and, like anything else, we’ll have this conversation in three months or a year and see what’s happened.

David: Definitely want to get you back on. Where can people find you online, DJ?

DJ: Or you just go to Google and type in “DJ Waldow.” You will find everything you ever wanted to know and probably some things that I don’t even know exist.

David: Nice. Awesome. Thanks for coming on, man.

DJ: All right. Thanks for having me.