A Dime A Dozen? Eleven Reasons For Starting An Email Newsletter

How many reasons does it take to start an email newsletter? Only one if it’s the right topic. Take Future Tense, a new offering that “explores how emerging technologies will change the way we live.” It’s a partnership between Slate, New America and Arizona State University. This week’s issue rambles on privacy — a worthy subject.

Then there’s Quartz. Its Daily Brief has 350,000 subscribers and a better than 40% open rate, according to Daniela Gerson, senior fellow at Democracy Fund and Jacqueline Boltik, consultant and educator, writing for Local News Lab. On its Web site today, Quartz notes that the “insidious gender pay gap in office begins at university.” It has 350,000 subscribers.

That’s a battle worth fighting, but is it cause for starting a newsletter? Sure. But there are business-related reasons, too, and here are five benefits you’ll get from your email product, as presented by Gerson and Boltik.

  1. Ownership — The authors makes the point that Twitter owns your Twitter followers, and Facebook your Facebook friends. Soleverage an asset you do possess -- your email list.
  2. Connection — You can use your newsletter to build that email list we just mentioned. Let’s say you have 100,000 followers on Twitter. Maybe 3% will see your tweet. But an email newsletter with the same number of subscribers will pull a 20% open rate, the authors write. That’s 20,000 people.  Our problem with this is: Where did Gerson and  Boltik get those numbers?
  3. Data — Newsletters can collect a “combination of micro and macro level data” about your audience, Gerson and Boltik write. For instance, you can determine who is on what social network, along with their age and gender. And on a micro level, you’ll learn who opened your email.
  4. Cross-Platform Compatibility — This means you can exploit your email data in other channels. Remember when we knocked Twitter before? You can still hit those Twitter followers with a targeted email note, or create a lookalike audience on Facebook, our writers and reason providers continue. 
  5. Low Barriers To Entry — Gerson and Boltik claim that it’s inexpensive to launch a newsletter. And they add that some providers will work on a fremium basis (really?). Plus, “browser plugins and note taking apps can also help cut down the time it takes for you to compile content, write your newsletter, and check your links work before hitting send,” they continue.

It all sounds reasonable. But remember that you can’t do a newsletter only when the CEO feels like it. The most common newsletter frequency is monthly, but many firms have weeklies. Don’t bother with quarterlies -- out of sight, out of mind.

Here are some lessons that have been handed down, based on bitter experience:

  • Get your newsletter out there — That is, don’t hold it up until your lawyers, PR flacks and 20 other people sign off on it. Give your writers the creative freedom they need.  
  • Don’t mix and match — Avoid combining product offers with content. As experts have noted, content will always kill your offer response. Rather, help your readers solve a problem (one that your product or service will help them do). Your newsletter should entertain — and inform.
  • Watch the numbers — Start by tracking bounce-backs, reads, unique clickthroughs, shares, unsubscribes and other metrics that tell you if your newsletter is a drag on the market. Advanced reporting and analytics can also alert you to the products your customers want.
  • Start Broad, Go Narrow — Email versioning is hardly new, but not all newsletters publishers have discovered it. Do you have multiple constituencies in your audience? Start with a broad newsletter, then create more narrow ones, based on who is reading what. And use machine learning to create these variations.
  • Let ‘Em In — Don’t start a newsletter unless you’ve done what magazine circulation types call audience development. There are several ways of driving newsletter subscriptions, including SEO, paid search, advertising, affiliate programs and promotion on social networks. Require a double opt-out, but don’t demand too much information from readers when they subscribe.  
  • Let ‘Em Out —The Can-Spam Act requires that you let people opt out. Quickly honor those requests. 

Now it’s time to mention the “R” word: resources. Many companies dump the job of writing email newsletters onto an overburdened staff writer, or on technical experts who lack writing skills.

One way around this is to outsource your newsletter. Do you have a big budget? A good content agency can handle every aspect of newsletter production, from technology to creative. Can’t find the money for that? Hire a freelance writer. You can have your pick of the many unemployed reporters walking around, and they’re bound to cost you less than a full-time Web copywriter.

Which brings us to a list of six reasons for starting a newsletter. Published in Forbes today, this article by Abdullahi Muhammed is aimed at freelancer writers who crave your patronage. Here are their six reasons:

  1. It makes you look professional.
  2. It keeps you in front of your target market.
  3. It’s a great reminder.
  4. It helps you keep relationships.
  5. It keeps your clients in the know.
  6. It saves time.

Email newsletters serve marketers in several ways. They educate customers, create brand value and generate sales even when there is no direct offer. And they are even stronger when paired with social media and other channels in an integrated marketing program. You’ll learn, in time, if that old, clichéd belief is true: That the highest open rate you’ll ever get is for the first issue. 

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