Originally published September 9, 2015

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In this era of social media, short attention spans, and the increasing preference for images and video over printed words, what is the role of the good, old-fashioned newsletter? Should newsletters be retired and replaced with short posts (like those in Twitter), photos (like those in Instagram), or videos (like those in YouTube)?

If you take the time to publish a newsletter, will anyone read it? How long should it be? How often should it be published? How should it be distributed?

Here are answers to these questions, along with some additional suggestions.

Alternatives

  • Create a traditional document in Word, PDF, or as HTML within an email message
  • Post in a blog as a formatted message — internally, using a tool such as SharePoint or externally, using Tumblr, Medium, or any other blog platform
  • Post smaller, more frequent updates in an enterprise social network (ESN) or external social media platform (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
  • Periodically collect the individual ESN or social media posts and compile them into a nicely-formatted document, blog post, or email message

Basics

  • Publish once a month — more often is too frequent, and less often is not frequent enough
  • Keep your newsletters as short as possible (one page) to encourage people to read them — otherwise, they will be ignored, deleted, or set aside for later reading (which means they are unlikely to be read)
  • Provide news updates, success stories, event announcements, recognition of individuals, and other content which subscribers are likely to find useful
  • A newsletter can serve as a monthly reminder that there is good content being shared on a web site, in ESN or social media posts, or during events
  • Think about the content from the point of view of the reader, not the publisher — do people really want to know about this, or do you just wish that they did?
  • Solicit content from those who would like to reach your audience, and also from your readers

Distribution

  • Provide multiple alternatives, including email, RSS feed, and reading online
  • Allow opting in and out — use services which allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe easily
  1. Don’t subscribe anyone who didn’t request it — users do not appreciate receiving email which they did not request, and if they continue to receive unwanted distributions, they will most likely delete them unread, or set mailbox rules to do so automatically
  2. To avoid having your newsletter regarded as spam, provide a tool which allows those who do wish to receive it to voluntarily subscribe
  3. By automating this process, you can reduce the time spent manually adding and deleting names from a distribution list, automatically handle bounced messages, and quickly determine how many subscribers you have
  • Include clear instructions in each issue on how to subscribe and unsubscribe
  1. If an issue is forwarded from a current subscriber to a colleague, it should be obvious to that colleague how to subscribe
  2. If a subscriber decides they no longer want to receive your newsletter, don’t make it hard to unsubscribe
  • Don’t send newsletters to people unless they want to receive them, or you will be viewed as a spammer and your messages will annoy the recipients rather than please them
  • In each message you send, make it obvious how to subscribe or unsubscribe, and make sure the link really works

Publicity

  • Send a one-time invitation to subscribe to a wide audience, and then respect the decisions of the recipients
  • Provide prominent links for subscribing and viewing the archives from key sites, communities, and social media platforms
  • Include short promotional articles in other newsletters — include your newsletter’s topic, target audience, frequency, length, and links to subscribe and to view the archives (in order to check it out)

Archives

  • Store an archived copy of each newsletter — a blog is an excellent way to do this
  • In each issue, include a link to the archives, which will also allow others to link to your newsletter
  • Blogs can eliminate the need for newsletters, because they are an easily maintained chronological archive — news items can be entered as blog posts, and subscriptions can be offered as RSS feeds or email notifications

Enterprise Social Networks (internal) or Social Media (external)

  • Include links to important ESN or social media posts and threads in the newsletter — this can serve as a compendium or digest of the best posts from the previous month
  • When each issue of the newsletter is published, announce it and link to it from the appropriate ESN group or social media platform
  • Don’t blanket lots of different ESN groups with messages about your newsletter — this will be viewed as spam
  • If your newsletter is relevant to more than one ESN group, craft a brief, customized message which is specific to each group, explain why it is relevant, and include a link to the full newsletter which is posted elsewhere
  • Solicit feedback, suggestions for improving the newsletter, and contributions when posting in the ESN or in social media — then take action accordingly so that those who reply will notice that they have been heard

Content

  • If your newsletter contains multiple topic categories, try to include only one story per category in each issue
  • Keep each story short and sweet — link to longer articles, posts, and discussion threads
  • If you include images, make sure that they are actually relevant to the content, not generic, stock photos
  • Avoid attachments — post any necessary files to an easily-accessible site and include links
  • Include the name of the newsletter creator in each newsletter so people will know who sent it and whom to contact with feedback and suggestions
  • Leave out boring announcements and predictable leadership messages
  • Include reminders of upcoming events and recaps of previous events
  • Avoid jargon — spell out any acronyms, initialisms or abbreviations

Here is an example of a monthly newsletter that I used to publish:

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What gets you to read a newsletter? What other tips can you share?

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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