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25 June 2018
From our Tech Guru: Using MailChimp for Research Uptake Communication Print
Friday, 20 May 2016 09:47

An important tool for directed Research Communication is email. Mailchimp is an excellent emailing service that allows you to set up multiple subscriber lists and manage mass emailings as well as track usage. Our Tech Guru, Caite McCann, gives us the low down on designing and sending Mailchimp newsletters.

The great thing about MailChimp as a place to begin managing your Research Uptake communications is that it has three levels of service and the startup level is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. Once your lists start to grow beyond that there are several options for different pay services as well as optional add-ons for monitoring and evaluation the effectiveness of your communication.

Planning your newsletter

MailChimp is easy to setup but making changes can be tricky. It is a generic service, so to use it effectively there are a number of items you need to think about and plan, before you setup your account. Setting up any new account is time consuming and the better you plan beforehand, the easier you will find the process. Don’t forget to make notes of the decisions you make regarding your account setup and customization. This will become part of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), or organizational guide, for your institutional MailChimp account.

There are some questions to be asked before you setup your MailChimp account:

  1. How many subscribers do you have?
  2. Do you have different groups in your subscriber list that you want to be able to email separately?
  3. How will you grow your audience?
  4. What is the goal of your emails?
  5. What types of emails will you be sending?
  6. How do you want to present your information?
  7. Do different audiences need different layouts?
  8. How often do you need to email your subscribers?
  9. What are your reporting needs?
  10. Who needs to be able to access the MailChimp account?

Step One: Preparing your subscription lists

In preparation to setup your account, setup a mailing list of people you would like to invite to join your newsletter. Online etiquette is that you never add a person to a subscription list without their permission, but there is also a technical consideration. If you set up a list and the people who you have signed up trash your emails or report them as spam, the email address for your account, and possibly your entire domain name will be “blacklisted”. This means that the major email service providers such as google, yahoo and microsoft outlook, will note that that address sends out spam emails and the automatic filters on these services will send your email directly to spam and all other emails from the same domain will be treated as suspicious. Since this is automatic, it is incredibly hard to un-blacklist or “whitelist” an email domain. Therefore, never put anyone on your initial emailing list who might not what to be there.

Your best plan is to separate your email list into groups. The first group are those who will definitely need to be included (eg. staff), to whom your first email should always be a welcome email, giving them the option to unsubscribe. 

The second group are those who might be interested or who you want to include and who might choose not to join.  Sending a link to your signup form via social media or a personal email is a good way to do this.

Getting Technical

The process for preparing your lists to be added to MailChimp is as follows:

  1. First, standardise your lists, make sure they all have the same column names and orders, decide if you need any custom columns (MailChimp only includes: email address, first name and last name, but you can customise a list and add additional columns with additional information such as organization).
  2. Separate your list into people who must be on the list and those that need to be invited.
  3. Think about what emails you plan to send out. You might have several sub-groups in both of these lists, such as stakeholders, funders and participants and each of these might need to be in a separate list or be a separate group within a bigger list. In MailChimp you can decide if you want to place people on separate lists, but you can also divide lists into sub-groups. So for example you may want to send a quarterly email for everyone but also send monthly emails to a small subgroup who are, for instance, committee members.

Step Two: Setting up your Template

MailChimp has a variety of base templates that can be customised and then saved to use repeatedly. Or if you are adventurous and have the skills/time you can try designing your own custom html template.

Prepare templates for each type of email campaign you plan to send out - Newsletters, Briefs, Alerts, Reports, etc. Consistency is important when sending mass emails, you can be flexible but it is a good idea to set up base templates that fit the corporate identity of your organization (most universities will have a Style Guide with preferred fonts and text styles as well as rules for use of university logos and correct layouts. Often the press office or IT management division will have a copy of this and they can help with checking the final templates).

Another thing to note here is that images need to be appropriately sized for email, as an image that is too big and has a big file-size may fail to deliver. This needs to go into your SOP, since it also applies to images that go in the campaigns (in MailChimp emails sent to your groups are known as Campaigns).


Step Three: Creating your newsletter

On your Mailchimp Dashboard you will see “Create a campaign”


When you click on it you will be taken through the steps required to create a campaign/newsletter. These are:

  • Select type of campaign (Choose “Regular Campaign)
  • Select the recipient list
  • Set up (name your campaign, add the email subject line etc)
  • Choose a template
  • Design your newsletter/campaign (add content)


Then you can review your draft publication – either as it would appear in an email, or you can email it to yourself and anyone else that should review it.

 That’s it! This is exactly how this DRUSSA Digest is created!

Step Four: Admin of the MailChimp Account and Reporting

So, as you can see, it’s pretty easy, but it is important to make sure you have the admin side properly managed:

  • Sharing accounts and management levels - MailChimp has a couple of options. Put together a list of contributors and decide what level of access they need to fulfil their role. Don’t simply assign an admin role to everyone, this will lead to disaster.
  • Integration of other accounts - MailChimp allows you to link various social media and analytics accounts to your profile. While some of these are free, such as a basic tracking link to google analytics, lots of them are part of the paid section. Go to your profile page and find the integration tab and see what accounts you would like to link to your profile.
  • Reporting and google analytics – you need to decide what your reporting needs are – you can see more about this here
  • Always write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to make it easier for someone else to manage the account if you are not available. It will also really save you time in the long run.
  • Secure and backup your templates and lists – MailChimp allows you to export all of your templates and subscriber lists, so every time you create or change a template export a copy for your backup files and set a schedule to do the same for all your lists. About once a quarter will do, but also after any events where you promoted your lists. There are two reasons for this, first while MailChimp does all it can to secure your data, the responsibility is yours, particularly on a free service, and, secondly, it keeps the office peaceful. Also it is surprisingly easy (even when you know what you are doing) to delete something essential and as MailChimp has no undo function, if it’s gone, there’s no going back.

I hope you found this useful, as promised here are all the links to the help pages referred to on MailChimp. Good Luck!
I look forward to receiving your mailing list invitations.


Links to Resources and Guides on MailChimp

Getting Started With MailChimp

Create Signup Forms and Response Emails

Share Your Signup Form

Manage List and Signup Form Fields

Create a New List

Image Requirements for Templates

Upload, Add, and Edit Images in Campaigns

Templates: Basic and Themes

Types of Custom Templates

MailChimpDesign Guide

Manage User Levels in Your Account

MailChimp Glossary

Caite McCann is the Information Systems Manager for OSD and the DRUSSA Programme