You’ve Got Mail: E-Newsletters 101

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Mailbox with the word Gmail on it
(Photo by rovlls on Flickr)

Published on October 9, 2017, at 7:37 p.m.
by Grace Turner.

You might say email newsletters are “so 2008,” but that doesn’t mean organizations have stopped using them. In fact, many organizations have only recently picked up on the benefits of e-newsletters. If you’re given the task of spearheading an e-newsletter strategy, all you have to do is ask a few questions and follow some best practices.

First, ask why your organization wants to start using this tactic. What’s the bottom line, and what’s the goal here? The goals behind an e-newsletter will significantly differ depending on the sector you are in. Do you work for a national corporation and want to bring employees together in the hope of increasing employee engagement? Do you work for a nonprofit and want to keep your stakeholders in the loop by informing them of trending issues?

Next, ask who makes up your e-newsletter’s audience. You will likely target a specific market segment within your organization’s target market. The audience you want to reach digitally is not the same as the audience you would reach through direct mail. Are your stakeholders internal (e.g., employees) or external (e.g., consumers)? Are they consumers who must opt in and subscribe, or are they stakeholders who will automatically receive your organization’s emails?

By far, the most important factor behind an e-newsletter’s success is the ability to see this project from your intended audience’s point of view. People’s inboxes are constantly flooded with emails — how is your email worth the extra clutter, and what value can it provide? You don’t want users to merely open your email; you want them to read it through and look forward to the next issue.

As you learn your audience’s behaviors, your strategy will take shape. Gathering user feedback will yield the best results; the more research you do, the better your strategy. Focus groups and your website’s analytics can provide rich insights into your users’ interests and needs, which can lead to a more successful e-newsletter.

Finally, follow these best practices:

  • Be timely. From personal experience, I’ve found the optimal time to send e-newsletters is the early morning before people sit down to check their inboxes for the day. Think about your content type and the hour and day of the week the majority of your audience will engage with your content. According to MailChimp, the optimal send time is 10 a.m.
  • Keep it simple. If you use too many graphics, it’s distracting. Kelsey Weekman, a UNC journalism student and online managing editor of the UNC newspaper, researched and monitored the success of e-newsletters. She found that only 56 percent of participants wanted to see photos in newsletters and only 20 percent wanted to see GIFs.
  • Keep it brief. Bullets are easy to read and shorter paragraphs can link to more in-depth information, be it on your website or from an outside source. It’s not considered bad practice to send users away from your e-newsletter, because if it’s good enough, they will return.
  • Track analytics. Tweak your content, writing style and design by reviewing your metrics. Email-marketing services like MailChimp create reports that tell you what happens if and when users open your e-newsletter.
Graph of optimal send times
According to MailChimp, analytics have shown that retail and hobby content have many more subscribers with optimal send times after business hours. However, it’s still not enough to shift the peak from the morning.

If there’s one thing you take away from this intro to e-newsletters, it’s to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Go through the same steps you would in a public relations or marketing campaign and view the project as an opportunity to flex your diverse communication skills.

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