Everyone’s expected to be a social media expert nowadays, but research proves consistently that e-newsletters are even more important. Here’s why – and what you can do to make an e-news work for you.
Why have an email newsletter as well as social media?
- Email marketing is more effective than social media across all measures – see the latest statistics comparing e-newsletters to social media.
- Email is a direct form of communication from you, to your readers. Your e-newsletter will reach them (spam filters allowing) even if they choose not to read it immediately. That’s their choice – not the choice of a social media platform’s algorithms.
- It feels more like a direct relationship – for you and for them. They’ve given you their email address rather than simply clicked ‘like’. And there’s also a sense that they’re reading a private communication to them, rather than a public ‘post’ (and good copywriting should enhance this feeling).
- Their contact details and your relationship doesn’t rely on anyone else. Both can be at risk with social media, eg if the channel changes the way it works, or your account is hacked or taken offline.
- E-newsletters can be less overwhelming and give more choice and control than social media. A well-written e-news can be a ‘skimmable’ digest of content, allowing a person to dip into and choose which sections they read or links they click on to get further information, and when.
Yes, we all hate email overwhelm and most of us whizz through our inbox at times clicking ‘delete’ on as much ‘stuff’ as possible. But if you’re sharing genuinely useful content that people find helpful and interesting, that’s far less likely to happen to yours.
Six tips for writing an effective enewsletter*
Tip 1: Be clear who your reader is and what they want
An enews should be focused on what the reader wants from you. You may well have stories to share about the impact of your work, or want to sell new products and services, but your enews will be stronger if you think about:
- what s/he is like, her/his interests
- what problems/concerns are at the forefront of her/his mind
- how can you provide content that’s genuinely useful to them, as well as promoting what you do?
Think about this when writing: write as if you’re talking to one person where possible, use ‘you’ and ‘yours’ and write about the benefits to them/the people they work with wherever you can – where relevant, using ‘actionable’ language (eg learn how you can … help us to … make sure you …).
Give useful information that people will genuinely want to read. Include interesting links, industry/insider info or news stories – as long as you’re sure they will be relevant and interesting to them (not just you!). Tell stories (of success or impact): and in doing so, don’t be afraid to appeal to people’s heart/emotions as well as their head/intellect.
If you have different audience groups, make it clear who each item is for too. Ideally you’d send separate e-newsletters for each audience segment but this isn’t always practical.
Tip 2: Write an appealing subject header
Research has shown that this makes a difference to how many people open your enews. Keep it clear, direct and succinct, give a sense of what’s inside – people don’t really want you to be clever. Try to include what’s in it for them, and give a sense of urgency. Use the subject line to show how you/this e-news can solve a problem for them. It’s a wasted opportunity if you just write ‘(Organisation name) April e-news’.
Also, make sure to use the preview text – and make it equally enticing.
There are more tips on MailChimp’s blogpost Best practices for email subject lines. There are also subject line tools in many email newsletter programmes.
Tip 3: Create an enews / content schedule
It sounds obvious, but creating a quarterly/more schedule will really help. It means you can look ahead to see what new content you need to publish and when, in order to go out in the enews, and it’ll help you to align your content with other events/activities and even things happening in the wider world. Google Calendar is a useful tool – I create ‘all day’ events so that they show up in colour really clearly, and I have different colours for ‘Publish enews’ ‘Publish blogpost’ and other items leading up to that. You can also share this with colleagues and invite them to add to/edit the calendar. I’ll be writing more on the importance of ‘content’ in another post.
Tip 4: Make your content ‘scannable’
This helps people to skim-read the e-news to get a sense of what’s in it, and get to what they want more quickly.
- Break information up into small chunks – using short sentences and paragraphs to introduce an item, and then a hyperlink to more content on your website or blog
- Use headers, sub-headers, and coloured/designed blocks to separate different types of content and make it easy for readers to get to what they want, and ignore what they don’t want. If you’re sharing stories eg for fundraising, make the titles appeal to people’s emotions: include a name, and what changed for them (eg Sarah learns how to overcome her anger and find a new purpose in life)
- Use images, bullet points, hyperlinks, quotes to break up text
- Make sure to include links to your website, and social media channels – but not just at the bottom. If you have a photo or logo, make it ‘clickable’ wherever possible, so that people can get to the information they want in different ways
Tip 5: Give people every opportunity to sign up to your enews
Make sure you have an enews sign-up form placed prominently on your website – platforms such as WordPress and MailChimp make this easy to do using a ‘widget’. You can also do the same on your Facebook page. Mention your enews and include a link to the sign-up form wherever you can – on blogs, in printed materials like booklets, leaflets and programmes, and when you give talks or attend events. Have a sign-up form available at events, and email people afterwards with a link to your sign-up form (to ensure you have a record of their permission and are GDPR compliant).
Tip 6: Finally, find out how people responded
Adapt your next e-news based on what you learn. Most email programmes will tell you:
- who/how many opened your e-news and when
- what links they clicked on
You can also test (using a ‘split A/B’ test) how they responded to different subject lines (offers, times for sending).
If you’ve found this useful, sign up for my enews. As a thank you, you’ll also get six tip sheets, templates and checklists for: social media, communications strategy, getting more traffic to your website, copywriting, blogging and annual reports. You’ll also receive an occasional digest of my blogs, plus tips, advice and signposting to useful information and resources.
* This blog post is written with organisations in mind, rather than individuals. The trend for individuals/sole traders is to write more personal, letter-style e-newsletters. That’s relevant for them (and can be for you, at times, eg for a specific fundraising campaign), but the tips here are for ‘news’ style e-newsletters that organisations produce.