David Hieatt, founder of Hiut Jeans, was stuck in a rut. The launch of his Welsh-made jeans had gone well but, after an initial soar in sales, the orders stopped coming in. Just stopped. What did he do? He started a newsletter, and his business grew and grew and grew.
“Stop!”, you say. “This website is about digital journalism, why are you telling me about jeans?”
Well, imagine consumers as readers and jeans as news stories. That business has just turned into a news organisation, and a newsletter has the same potential to make audiences grow, guide people to the website and build a relationship with them.
The Why of the newsletter
David Hieatt wrote a book about newsletters called How a simple email newsletter can transform your business (I’ve read it – it’s good). One of the first things he writes is that “email isn’t going anywhere.” It’s true. Nobody is panicking about email algorithm changes taking our readers away, or stocks in email crashing thanks to a tweet from a reality tv star. Apps and platforms can come and go, crash and burn – but email is just, there.
And it’s there wherever the reader is, sitting like a little gift in their inbox. Compared to the buzzing noise of social media, the inbox is a serene place to sit. The competition on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is fierce – rival newsrooms all fighting for attention. Delivering a daily or weekly digest is a far easier way to reach your audience, and they like it too. As a direct message, it feels more personal for readers and, as Hieatt notes in his book, it’s a chance to “have a slower conversation” with them.
The noise of social media comes with something else – an infinite amount of information. For readers, trying to catch up on everything in the morning is an impossible, overwhelming task. However, newsletters are digestible. They have a beginning, a middle and an end – leading users to a sense of satisfaction that social media channels just don’t deliver. Get your newsletter to the right people at the right time, and you’ll become an indispensable part of their day – building brand loyalty, trust and increasing the chance that they might just click ‘subscribe’.
The How of the newsletter
So, now you know why. But how?
Legacy outlets including the New York Times, the Guardian and The Economist, and newer digital-only players such as Quartz and Buzzfeed, have all embraced newsletters as part of their digital strategy. But the newsletter shouldn’t just be a one size fits all – each of their newsletters takes on a slightly different format depending on goals, purpose and audience.
So firstly, figure out what you want to achieve and then set your parameters (how often, how long, what content) based on that.
Morning briefings work well for big news organisations, but if your audience is more specialised consider a different approach. For example, if your brand focuses on feature articles, gather together the best longform pieces of the week, or send out one really good piece out in full, and invite users to your site to read more of them. Alternatively, if you’re an aspirational data journalist – curate a list of your favourite data stories from the week. It’ll be a great place to promote yourself too.
Logistically thinking, consider your design. Keep it clean, on-brand and small. Big images will destroy a reader’s inbox and give them a good reason to unsubscribe. And, finally, try to keep it regular. Delivering at the same time, each day or week, will encourage users to make you a habit – every weekday morning on their commute or mid-afternoon on their Friday coffee break.