Email Newsletters: One Piece in the Online Content Strategy Puzzle
If you’re overhauling your online content or developing your online content strategy for the first time, email newsletters might be part of your plan. Here are some questions to ask and tips for e-newsletters:
- Purposeful—How will you use the newsletter? How will it be consistently useful to readers? Clarify exactly what you’d like to achieve with your newsletter—e.g., not just “engage more stakeholders” or “drive sales higher” but “ensure that donors hear regularly how their donations are used and how they can continue to give toward specific needs” or “introduce new products, showcase features, profile personnel, and personify the company to encourage customer loyalty.”
- Periodical—How often will it be sent out/published? Newsletters are periodical publications. How often is there news that will help you achieve your goals? Making the publication regular (e.g., weekly, fortnightly, monthly) can make your publication both effective with the targeted reader and anticipated. It also makes it easier to devote resources to its production. State in the newsletter how often the newsletter will come out; build expectations and live up to them.
- Newsy—Differentiate between all that you (the company/organization) want or need to say versus what is “news” and needs to go in your news-oriented publication. What is time-sensitive? What is timely? What is news versus over-the-top sales pitch? What is required for new readers? old readers? for legal purposes only? What should go in the web site’s FAQs? What is news but could also be archived elsewhere for future reference and access? Repeating your vision statement is not news. A newsletter story about how the vision statement is illustrated by a certain new product development or a giving campaign is newsletter-worthy. An event in 2 weeks for stakeholders is newsletter-worthy.
- Subject-Line Savvy—A strong, clear subject line can separate your email from the tens or hundreds of emails in the recipient’s inbox. It can also help you avoid spam filters. Avoid spam-alert trigger words in your subject line, such as “free”; test-drive subject lines to various email addresses to see if they get through spam filters. Try a subject line that has 2 parts to
a) identify the sender’s name and/or newsletter name in every newsletter consistently AND
b) hook with a key new subject for each distinct newsletter
E.g., Laura’s Editorial Tips: Reel Them in with E-Newsletters, Karma Connections News: Thames River Outreach Successes.
- Overview and Headlines—In each newsletter, provide an overview for readers of what they will find (a list of the headlines) and strong headlines for each news item. Headlines that are easy to locate (e.g., in capitals) in the simple design of a newsletter help the reader skim ahead to content that appeals most to them.
- Reader-Oriented—For each and every aspect of the newsletter ask what it does for the reader or asks them to do.
– Rigorously ask: So what? Why does this matter to the reader? Why does it matter to the reader today? Should this go in the newsletter or in a different publication?
– Ask the reader for comment and streamline the way to give comments.
– Promote the newsletter in other publications and encourage subscriptions to the newsletter.
– Ensure that subscription is voluntary and that readers can easily unsubscribe.
- Clear, Consistent, Error-Free—In preparing a newsletter for publication, plan for a break between gathering and publication. After that break, read (and have a hired pro read) the text looking for errors (in fact, spelling, grammar), ambiguity, and possible confusions or gaffes. What could be misinterpreted? What has an unfortunate, unintended association (e.g., “Natalie would like to go swimming from the new yacht.”)? What facts need to be double and triple-checked? Pay particular attention to dates, prices, and terms. For dates, give the full information (day, date, month, year) and check it to a calendar: e.g., Thursday September 1, 2011 not this Thursday. Keep a style sheet and note on it common expressions used in publication, decisions made about wording, and ways to avoid common errors. (For more about style sheets, see an upcoming blog.)
- Devoted Resources. Ensure that one team or one person (with a designated back-up) is responsible for the newsletter, the publication schedule is agreed upon internally and communicated, and that resources are devoted to it (e.g., the pro hired for a last edit). In conceiving and starting up the newsletter, as well as in planned reviews of publications, devote extra resources to the newsletter. This could mean hiring a content strategist to develop a proposal for the newsletter and develop the template, and having the newsletter team pass the story ideas or penultimate draft by the strategist for each publication.
- Evaluate and Improve. Look at your reader and internal comments, any analytics available, and frequency. Pay careful attention to what readers and staff thought were the best features and what was forgotten. What does the team or person responsible think should be improved? How does the newsletter compare with other newsletters? How can it be improved in the overall online strategy? Is it too frequent or not frequent enough? Should there be seasonal or business cycle variations? For example, a ski resort might have more frequent newsletters leading up to the season and throughout, but just enough in the off-season to keep in touch.
For more resources, here are some links:
- CharityVillage.com’s “Ten Tips to Get the Most out of Your Email Newsletters”
- Frugal Marketing’s “That’s Not Spam, That’s My Newsletter!”