Jan 16, 2011

Use flickr and dribbble to send automatic RSS emails

Here’s a really quick tutorial that photographers and designers might enjoy. MailChimp’s RSS-to-email feature isn’t limited to pulling in RSS feeds from blogs. You can link it to virtually any RSS feed. If you’re a photographer who posts stuff to sites like flickr, this means you can spend less time writing newsletters, and more time doing what you love (but at the same time, updating customers and prospects with your latest work).

Here’s how to build an automated newsletter that pulls content from flickr…

I’m going to pull photos from our MailChimp flickr account:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/freddievonchimp

at the bottom of the main flickr screen, there’s a little RSS icon:

click on that to get the URL of your photostream’s RSS feed.

In MailChimp, I create an RSS campaign:

and go through the normal steps of creating an RSS campaign, with just a few tweaks.

When it’s time to give MailChimp your RSS feed, paste your flickr photostream:

Depending on how often you post new photos, you might want to adjust the frequency. Remember, we’ll only send an email if and when we detect that you’ve posted something new. So if you post new photos every single day, you might want to send more frequent updates. That’s because if you make it a monthly newsletter, it might be extremely long. If you post relatively infrequently (like I do), you might prefer to send monthly.

After selecting what list to send this to, you’ll need to pick an email template. I’m going to use one of our new start-from-scratch templates:

Specifically, the "right sidebar" template:

In the main content area, I’m going to nuke the placeholder text, switch to source view, and replace it with some RSS merge tags:

This will pull in the title of the photo, and then a thumbnail from flickr.

You might want to look at all the different RSS merge tag options to build a more customized display. There’s a merge tag cheatsheet at:

RSS-to-Email Merge Tag Cheat Sheet

Once you’ve got that merge code in place, get acquainted with the pop-up preview button:

It’s going to be your best-est friend as you’ll want to keep checking how all your template tweaking looks.

After you’re ok with your merge tag setup, you’ll probably want to tweak the template design.

and here’s what it looks like when previewed:

You’ll want to make sure you give proper titles to all your photos over on flickr. Some of my photo titles are a bit too terse when viewed in context of an email.

Here’s what I customized:

  • MailChimp will automatically pull in your company’s name (and sometimes your logo), and put that into your header. If this isn’t going to be your main newsletter, you might want to make it more specific, like "My latest photos" or "my portfolio updates" or something like that.
  • In the right sidebar, I swapped out the content with more "About Me" stuff.
  • But instead of typing out my bio, I just used some of our social merge tags, which will insert your twitter bio, your latest tweets, plus some handy links to your twitter stream, and a follow button (which is why I removed the "follow on twitter" link above all this). Some of you might want to let your customers know that you’re on twitter too. It’s yet another place they can get updates about you.
  • I also went into the settings and changed background colors, header color, etc.
  • If I had more time left on my laptop’s battery, I’d show you how to add automatic social sharing links to each of your photos.

Incidentally, pretty much everything I described for flickr works for Dribbble as well. I’ve put together a super quick Dribbble updates email for our DesignLab:

Getting more advanced

If you’re a super advanced web design snob, you’ll probably want to just stop right now, scrap everything I showed you above, and code your own completely custom HTML email template.

If that sounds like you, I recommend starting with our Email-Jitsu tips, then look into our Email Template Language in order to really take advantage of MailChimp’s template power.

If you want some code to start with, we just open-sourced our 36 new start-from-scratch templates, and posted them to github.

If you’re a lazy design snob (ahem, like me) then you might want to skip our start-from-scratch templates, and go with one of our slick Designer Templates (we commissioned designers like Khoi Vinh, SquaredEye, MetaLab, Veerle Pieters, and more).

On a somewhat related note, we use a lot of these concepts, plus a dash of API integration, to build stuff like our Etsy AutoConnect templates.

Tell stories with pictures

We build functionality like this because we know it’s hard writing email newsletters. You need to stay in touch with your customers, but man — writing those monthly or quarterly newsletters is a lot of work. You still need to write them, though, because there’s no better way to let your customers know who you are, and how you roll. Email newsletters are an investment in your overall "brand story."

But you don’t have to limit your story telling to words. And customers don’t necessarily want very frequent, long-form newsletters anyway.

Creating an RSS-to-email publication like this helps you "fill in the gaps" (especially for your more loyal customers) with more frequent, automated updates. Best of all, once you set it up, it totally runs itself so that you can just get back to doing the work you love.