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E-Newsletter Strategy: Bite—Snack—Meal - 12/15/2009 -

Provide members articles that allow them to regulate how much content they receive—depending on how hungry they are for the information.

By Jennifer J. Salopek

many association publishers are left with questions about how to convert their successful print newsletter into a viable electornic product. One presenter at Association Media & Publishing's December 1st Lunch & Learn in Washington, DC—titled "All the News That's Fit to Print (or Email)”—Carole Hayward, director of newsletters and special publications at ASCD, acknowledged that even the word "newsletter” sounds old-fashioned. "We have a real challenge to balance the needs of readers with our desire to use new technology,” she said. "It's something that we struggle with always.”

ASCD has been publishing newsletters for more than 70 years. In the past two years, Hayward said, every newsletter has been reimagined in some way. To evaluate a publication's potential for conversion from print to electronic, Hayward advised considering these questions:

  • Do our readers and members know how to use the new delivery technology?
  • Will our communications be blocked by their employers' email systems?
  • Will readers know what the expectation is for their involvement with the electronic publication?
  • Does existing association staff have the necessary skills to make the transition?

E-newsletters differ dramatically from print in the organization of their information. Hayward and her team have adopted a "bite – snack – meal” format, in which the reader continually chooses the depth and breadth of the information he or she wants. The initial email delivers "bites,” or short descriptions of the articles. Clicking on a link provides the "snack,” which is a condensed version of the article on ASCD's website. At the end, readers are provided with links to click for further information: the "meal.”

"What they will choose, and how far they click, depends on their hunger for the content,” Hayward said.

Daniel Brannigan, newsletters editor at the Community Associations Institute (CAI), made the strong case that much news is still fit to print. As he noted, print is still the best way to convey content; it's tangible, can be shared or stored, and provides a valuable way for associations to connect with members by putting something in their hands. Brannigan shared copies of Community Manager, the 16-page pubication CAI sends out every other month. CAI also issues three niche newsletters in electronic form, which has turned Brannigan into a delivery-statistic-analytic junkie.

"It's really interesting to see what people do when they receive the e-newsletters,” he said.

Brannigan identified several keys to making digital newsletters effective:

  1. Identify your association and publication carefully in the email sending address and the subject line.
  2. Give readers multiple points of entry into the content.
  3. Ensure delivery by keeping your email list clean and up-to-date. Also, choose the optimum day of the week and time of day, depending on your knowledge of your audience. Brannigan sends his on Tuesday or Wednesday around 2 p.m. to reach readers on both coasts during business hours.
  4. Allow readers to tailor content to their needs and to opt in or opt out.

He noted that you can make both print and electronic newsletters work through an approach that keeps them separate but coordinated and complementary. "Write to the medium and the audience,” he said. "Content shouldn't be diluted either way; communicate what's important.”

Avoid Spam-Friendly Words

Did you know that there are about 300 terms and phrases that will greatly increase your e-pub's chances of ending up in a spam filter? These include such innocuous words as "free,” "order now,” and "unlimited.” This wisdom and more was shared by Andrew Hanelly, manager of web marketing and social media at TMG, who noted, "The email inbox is a competitive battlefield.”

There are things you can do, though, to increase the deliverability of your communications:

  1. Use a reputable email service provider.
  2. Simplify the subscriber "whitelist” process.
  3. Require a double opt-in.
  4. Avoid spam trap triggers.
  5. Keep file size small, under 100K. Post full versions of articles on your website.

"No matter how great your publication is, it doesn't matter if it doesn't get through,” Hanelly said. He also shared three common sins of email communications:

  • One big image. If your recipients have images turned off, they won't see a thing but a small red "x”.
  • A lack of personalization. Don't ever let a message go out that says, "Dear [blank].”
  • Screaming. Don't use all capitals, exclamation points, lots of colors; these are just distracting. Rather, focus closely on the quality of your message.

"So much email drifts to the bottom of the in-box every day,” says Hanelly. "Compelling subject lines and ‘tastes' of the content are just more arrows in your quiver.”

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer and former association magazine editor in McLean, Virginia. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover the December Lunch & Learn for those members who were unable to attend.


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