The mighty newsletter
Some content has a very clear purpose - it’s going to support a campaign, or be shown at an event, or something like that. But a lot of content will have a more general purpose, like building trust and/or overall engagement.
The problem with this second bucket of content is that it doesn’t have an intuitive distribution channel. Since there’s no event or specific purpose driving the content, it’s easy to forget about it and move on to the next thing. And that bit of content you put together just sits on your website. Forever.
A regular email newsletter is a great solution to this problem because it gets your content out to people who care about it. You don’t have to think too hard about how to distribute any specific piece of content; you can just dump everything new into your newsletter. If you want to add some more distribution on top of this, then go right ahead. The newsletter gives you a “base” level of distribution that ensures your content gets in front of people.
This is especially true if your organisation has a blog. If you’re writing a blogpost once a week, you’ve basically already written your newsletter. Just spend some time once a month writing short summaries of that month’s blogposts, then linking to them. That’s the bulk of your newsletter right there. Write a quick intro, and you’re good to go.
The Privacy Commissioner’s office does a really good job of this. They produce regular, interesting content. They publish two, maybe three blogposts a week. Every fortnight, they send out a newsletter that includes links to the last two weeks’ blog content, along with other bits and pieces of relevant content.
When I worked there, I would often be out and about, doing things like meeting with other organisations, giving presentations, or supporting the Commissioner while he gave (better) presentations. People would give me positive feedback to pass on about our content, and it was always framed in terms of the newsletter. People seldom said “you have a great blog,” but they frequently said “you have a great newsletter.”
This shows how useful a newsletter can be. People are busy. There’s a lot of content vying for their attention, and a newsletter cuts through this noise by going straight into their inboxes. A newsletter helps you connect with all those people who want to hear from you, but aren’t going to find the time to take the active step of going to your website.
A touch point
The other useful thing about a newsletter is that you can use it to remind people of basically anything you want to remind them about. Have an event coming up? Write a blurb and put it in the newsletter. Have a campaign running at the moment? Put a link to its landing page in the newsletter. Basically anything you want people to know about can be easily promoted in your newsletter.
Getting some data
The other great thing about a newsletter is that it gives you really solid data about how engaged your subscribers are. Are people opening your newsletters? Are they clicking on the links? Are they unsubscribing? All of this is valuable information - it tells you what people are interested in hearing about, and whether they’re interested in hearing from you at all.
The dark side
This is all dependent on a steady stream of content. If you’re publishing stuff on a regular basis, then it’s pretty easy to populate a newsletter. However, if you’re not publishing that much, then newsletters become a bit of a millstone around your neck. It’s absolutely excruciating to look down the barrel of a monthly, or even quarterly newsletter, with no idea of what you’re going to fill it with.
In these situations, organisations tend to fill them with campaigns and offers. Fine for some organisations, (retail would be a good example), but for most organisations, people don’t get a whole lot of value out of a newsletter that does nothing but sell to them. So, if you have a solid amount of content that needs a home, then a newsletter may be great for you. But if you aren’t yet in the habit of producing content, then you should avoid putting together a newsletter until you have your content production sorted. Otherwise you’re putting the cart before the horse.
You can get started pretty easily. Here’s how:
Make sure you have permission. You probably have permission to contact your existing customers and prospects, but check to make sure. And don’t cold-email your newsletter - newsletters are best-suited for people who already know who you are and what you do.
Figure out your frequency. Once a week? Once a month? Once a quarter? It’s up to you, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Just choose a timeframe that will give you a decent amount of content in each newsletter. Monthly is a good option if you’re publishing one blog a week, quarterly if you’re publishing one blog a month, and so on and so forth.
Get some basic software. Mailchimp is popular, easy to use, and free for a list of up to 2,000 people. Squarespace has just added an email marketing feature too. You’re not doing anything fancy, so you probably don’t need particularly fancy software.
Keep your audience simple. I’ve seen many organisations fall into the trap of splitting their newsletter into a zillion slightly-different segments. This multiplies your work significantly, without giving you much by way of benefit. Keep it as simple as humanly possible - ideally one version, to one broad mailing list. That way, it’s much easier for you to get it out the door on a regular basis.
Don’t fret - just send. I once heard about an organisation that went back and forth for six months over what was supposed to be a quarterly newsletter. Had I been asked (I wasn’t), I would have advised them to just not bother, because they were spending so much time fretting, and so little time actually communicating with people. Remember that you’re just one email in your contact’s brimming inbox, so you don’t need to sweat over every single word. But having said that . . .
Proof, proof proof. If you make a mistake in a blogpost, you can always just fix it. Done*. Not the case with a newsletter, though. Once you press send, there’s no getting it back. While typos aren’t really the end of the world, they are kind of embarrassing, and very avoidable - just get every newsletter proofed by someone who’s never seen it before. Trust me on this one. If you wrote the newsletter, you are not qualified to proof it yourself.
Sign up for my newsletter
Midway through writing this, I realised that I should probably practice what I preach. So go ahead and sign up for my newsletter. I’ll probably send it out once a quarter or so, with a wrapup of this blog and maybe some exclusive thoughts on something or the other. Sound vague? Good. You’ll get more detail once you get your unmissable first newsletter from me.
*I get emails from friends gleefully pointing out my typos every time I post one of these blogposts, so trust me when I say this.
Image credit: PXhere.