This article was originally published by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Email newsletters have become a primary engagement, dissemination and revenue-generating tool for modern newsrooms. With benefits ranging from reader loyalty to audience insights to new revenue, it’s easy to see why. What’s harder to see is the “why not,” though it’s equally important.
Email used to be a method for filtering the internet. Far from the infinity scroll or overcrowded stream of unvetted articles, email delivered exactly what we needed to know from a trusted source in a format that we could finish. For newsrooms, email allowed us to target exactly who we wanted with the content and branding we wanted them to see. Email has not only outlived and outshone other tools, it has remained the one constant in a stream of new technologies. As ReDef executive Jason Hirschhorn told The New York Times, email is “the cockroach of the internet.”
But our inboxes this morning have made one thing abundantly clear: The cockroaches have taken over. Inboxes are now that same overcrowded, unending feed of information we find on the rest of the web. We can’t finish it. Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic summed up the issue this way: “There is too much of it, and the wrong kind of it, from the wrong people.” LaFrance notes that around 75 trillion emails are sent each year, projected to reach 90 trillion annually by 2019. This looming saturation point may not kill off email as an effective tool for newsrooms altogether, but it is already increasing expectations and requirements from subscribers.
Relevance, authenticity and data-driven iteration are now more central to a newsletter’s success than branding, subject lines or platform. Disenchanted subscribers may simply ignore your emails, but they may also utilize blacklists, spam filters, inbox filters or social media to negatively impact your deliverability to the subscribers who do want to receive them.
So before you reassess your newsletter strategies or use our tool to launch your new-and-improved newsletter, we’d like you to consider one question:
Why is it that you want to curate a newsletter in the first place?
Don’t get us wrong, we’re wild about email and newsletters. But after months of surveys and case studies and digging through data, there was only one common factor amongst today’s most successful newsletters: Curators know what the primary intention of their newsletter is.
So tell us, what is the main goal of your newsletter?
- To increase audience loyalty to your publication or specific writers?
- To drive traffic to your primary news platform, thus generating impressions for advertisers or underwriters?
- To convert readers into paying subscribers or donors?
- To serve as the primary platform for informing your readers?
Whatever your intention, there are strategies you can follow to help build, iterate and circulate newsletters in order to achieve one or more of these outcomes. However, newsletters that are intended to achieve them all tend to succeed at none. Once you’ve identified the outcome that is your newsroom’s highest priority, begin by simply monitoring it through that lens.
For example, if your intention is to convert readers into paying subscribers or donors, how does each email deliver on that goal? What value propositions are built into the messaging? How does your newsletter curator work in partnership with subscriptions or membership departments to review subscriber engagement and iterate upon findings for the next email? How are your supporters or the role of members highlighted or rewarded? What calls to action are featured?
We’ll be back next week to begin highlighting a few newsletter models and intentions to help you consider new options for your email strategy.
Tamara Power-Drutis is the executive director at Crosscut Public Media and project leader of Crosscut’s 2016-2017 institutional fellowship at RJI. Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz is a research and editorial intern at Crosscut Public Media.