How To Seed Your Email List (without being a spammy growth hacker)

Lyle McKeany
Jan 21, 2015 · 4 min read

I just lied to you. Yep, you read that right. I totally lied to you right off the bat. Sorry about that. What I’m about to tell you is probably, most likely, well…okay, it’s totally spam. What I mean is, it’s technically something you’re probably not supposed to do based on CAN-SPAM laws, specifically the email address harvesting part, especially if you’re doing so as a company. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you, ok?


About two and a half years ago, a friend and I were racing to see which one of us could get to 500+ connections on LinkedIn first. At the time I probably only had half that number and he was already far ahead of me *shakes fist in the air*. Up until that point I would only connect with people I had met in person either through work or school. With a friendly competition in place, I figured to hell with all that and started accepting any connection request I received. This is how I came to find out about LIONs, or LinkedIn Open Networkers, like the ones in this group. Once a few of these people connected with me, it was off to the races! By the way, I have no idea what benefit any of these LIONs gets from having 30K+ connections. It just seems like a pointless vanity metric to me, but I’m totally above all that *cough, cough*. I wish I could say I won the race, but I didn’t. However, I did end up getting to 500+ shortly thereafter and then it was back to just accepting connections from people I had actually met.

Fast forward to September 2014 when I thought it would be a good idea to start an email list to help people find out about new posts I write and to start to build a following. There was only one problem, I didn’t want to start completely from scratch. Since most of the stuff I write these days is related to business and tech, I figured at least some small percentage of my LinkedIn contacts would be interested in reading it. That’s when I discovered that all my LinkedIn connections could be exported into a CSV file from the connections settings page.

“So, then you just import them into Mailchimp and blast out emails to everyone with reckless abandon, I get it,” says the spammy growth hacker. No, bad spammy growth hacker, no. Hold your horses and relax, sheesh.

But first, a quick tangent…

You can probably tell from the title of this post that I’m not totally comfortable with the term growth hacker. Don’t get me wrong, I love frequenting growthhackers.com and I think Sean Ellis (the guy who coined the term) is the man when it comes to growth. I just don’t think many people working in growth marketing actually do much hacking at all, although I did make a Twitter bot using Python recently (with some help from an actual hacker friend). Of course this topic has been endlessly debated, so I digress back to the original point of this post.

Where was I? Oh yeah, how not to be spammy while spamming your friends and colleagues, that’s right. The trick is to send an initial email that simply spells it out for them. An email that looks like it’s written by an actual person, you know, with a personality and what not.

Here’s what I sent:

I expected to see about half the 1062 people on the email list unsubscribe. Especially with a few hundred LIONs on the list. Many did unsubscribe, but far more didn’t, and many even read my post! I also never received a single negative email response.

It was hard to see a few people I know well unsubscribe, but in the end I think it was a great way to seed my email list without being (too) spammy.

If you’re not already on my email list, signup over on the homepage of my personal blog at lylemckeany.com. I have a bunch of content coming out soon about some fun projects I’m working on. Stay tuned!!!

Thanks to Zack Onisko for inspiring this post by featuring my email list “hack” in his recent talk Gaining Early Traction by Doing Things that Don’t Scale (Hustling).

If you enjoyed this post, or if you didn’t but still want to help a brotha out, please click the recommend button below. I mean, it’s SO easy to click a button, if you’ve read this far it’s kind of ridiculous not to do it now. Seriously though, it helps a lot and you’re awesome if you do it.

Campfire Weekly

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Lyle McKeany

Written by

I hang out with my family. I work on startup-y things. I read. I write. I golf. I make music. Usually in that order.

Campfire Weekly

Marketing is all about telling the story of your business. What better place to tell stories than around the campfire? Each week, we’ll publish a new edition of Campfire Weekly with content curated from marketing experts on Medium and around the web.

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