In addition to posting 28 million messages a day for the 260,000 different free list groups registered at its site, ONElist, Redwood City, Calif., announced today that it was beginning an opt-in e-mail marketing program.
Now in addition to the latest gossip about a pop star or debate over petcare, the service's 8 million members can decide whether they wish to receive promotional information from marketers about goods and services relevant to a variety of list topics.
The company has already seen a substantial increase in response rates to targeted ads attached to the bottom of e-mails before they are distributed to list members.
"This is a powerful way to advertise," said Mark Fletcher, ONElist's 29-year-old founder and VP-technology. "You have the ability to target the advertiser's message."
The move to offer opt-in marketing to advertisers and list members is just the latest step in the creation of a direct e-commerce community for the 2-year-old company, which was listed in April by Media Metrix as the 22nd-largest Web service and No. 230 among the top 500 most-visited sites.
CLICK AND BUY
In addition to adding opt-in marketing options to users, Mr. Fletcher soon hopes to establish an e-commerce business enabling list users to simply click on an ad in order to complete a sales transaction.
"We want to provide one-click point-of-purchase through e-mail ads where you click on a link in the e-mail and you have just bought the item," he said. "We can take care of the transaction."
Group purchasing of products by list members would be a natural extension of the e-commerce side of the site, Mr. Fletcher said.
ONElist, which announced a $4 million minority investment from CMGI's @Ventures III and Bertelsmann in January, hopes the active discussion within lists and the substantial growth of communities through word of mouth will help make the opt-in promos successful.
With virtually no outside marketing and an acquisition cost per member of less than 5 cents, ONElist's registered users have ballooned from less than 2 million in January to 8 million today, representing almost 5% of all registered e-mail users. Frank Mara, VP-marketing for ONElist, predicted list users will total 30 million by next year.
ONElist hopes the active discussions will continue among users receiving promotional e-mails to discuss the products and provide word-of-mouth referral to other list members.
"The key on the opt-in is integrating customer referral," Mr. Mara said. "No one has done that."
Marketers interested in choosing a target market for opt-in promotions on ONElist will be guaranteed weekly exposure to inter- ested customers in a chosen category in order to deliver a clear message.
"I don't know anybody who doesn't like opt-in and no one who doesn't like the segmented consumers," Mr. Mara said. "We have membership with interests in entertainment, music, pets, PCs and com- puters, women, travel and leisure."
Ad agency 24/7 Media, New York, is working to promote the new program to current ONElist marketers such as Macy's, Sports Illustrated and WebMD.
In addition to the initial ONElist registration form, there will be several points on the Web site (onelist.com) where people will have the opportunity to register for the opt-in offers.
As ONElist expands its marketing and e-commerce business it is also developing partnerships with companies such as MindSpring Enterprises to provide community list services to other customers and is in discussions with free e-mail services and Internet portals about future agreements.
Mr. Fletcher said he knew he had a good idea when he established ONElist two years ago from his home, but described his experience as "a non-stop roller-coaster ride upward."
The company's biggest step may come in the next 6 months as ONElist prepares to file an initial public offering.
"The goal is to IPO this thing and make it huge," Mr. Fletcher said. "We're firm