Last month, a couple of folks I know (yep…Carney folks!) were lamenting the fact that there seemed to be an unusual number of people unsubscribing — or, worse! complaining about SPAM — every time they sent an email to their lists.

Feelings of panic, fear and frustration were jumping around the discussion like a bunch of caged, crack head monkeys — it wasn’t a pretty site. I’ll admit that I used to feel horrible every time someone unsubscribed from my list, too.

Then I decided to figure out why and take some action.

So here’s what I did:

1. Last fall, I told my subscribers that they deserved more from me — special content and treats that regular old blog readers (aka NON-subscribers) couldn’t access. And I decided to call this content “Secret Suppers.” The SS happens about once per month (I’m behind on this now…don’t judge!) and is a way for me to peel back the curtain of how I market my own business and share what’s working and what’s not working (yes, even marketing pros don’t hit home runs every time they step to the plate). The reaction to those emails was pretty cool. I got responses like this one:

“You leave me breathless with your expertise, analytics and problem solving skills!” (Gloria)

The Secret Suppers are currently housed in my Digital Dining Room, but you can see one of the earlier ones here. And if you’re a subscriber to my list, you have free access to the DDR (just so you know). But I didn’t stop there.

2. Next, I changed up the format of my newsletters so that they’d be more conversational. You know — more the way they are when you’re emailing a friend. Here’s one of them. Then I started getting responses like this one:

OMG. Thank you so much! I LOVE to hear stuff like this. That’s what email newsletters should be — a 2-way conversation! Email! go figure. (Monteve)

Cool beans, right? This is exactly what I was hoping for. (I also got a fair number of folks who responded to my question on that email!) But guess what? Even though I always seem to get positive responses from readers, I also get a number of unsubscribes the same day. (It’s a head-scratcher, I know.)

3. This month, I tried something even more novel (at least for me). I invited folks on my list to have coffee with me via Skype. So I could get to know them a little better. Put a face and a voice with the name. Hear about their current projects, find out what they do for fun — you know, really connect with them.

And guess what? Same thing! I had a total of 28 people raise their digital hands and take me up on the offer. (Click here to see the actual invitation.) And only three of those were people I already knew. The number that unsubscribed that day? Seven. Yep. Seven little dwarves couldn’t handle a simple Thank You/invitation to say hello. (Apparently meeting the person-behind-the-blog scares the bajeezuz out of some people…) Any who.

There will always be those who say, “No, thank you. Not for me.”

And that’s a very good thing!

How tightly are you connected to your right people?

If you’re doing it right — giving people extreme value and using email as an opportunity to be social, to have real conversations — then some of your ties will get stronger and tighter, and some will loosen or disappear altogether.

You will never please everyone. Cross my heart on this one, folks. Nor should you even try. (So stop doing that right now!)

Your right people can only identify themselves as your right people if you take the first step and be who you really are. Share what’s going on and help them achieve their goals. Clue them in on WHY you do what you do (not just that you do stuff).

And your wrong people? They need to go away, fast!

Who wants to pay extra for dead email weight anyway? Those unsubscribes were never going to buy from you. They just wanted that free gift you offered up as an enticement to join the list.

Which brings me to my next bit of advice: Your enticement needs to be delivered over time. In chunks.

If your freebie is a one-time download, guess what? You’ll attract a lot more lookie-Lews to your party.

It’s happened to me. Someone subscribes, gets the download, and before you can say, “Sweet Baby Lettuce,” they’ve unsubscribed and gone on their merry way.

If you offer something, make it a mini ecourse. That way, folks are a lot more likely to get used to opening your emails. And they can’t just do an opt-in/opt-out dance with your site. You’ll definitely get less people subscribing…but they’ll be quality people. The kind you want in your tribe.

How about you? What have you experienced with your email list? Let’s share and see if we can learn something from each other. Oh, and if you’re not on my list? Clickety-click and join the Story Bistro family today.