October 26, 2011

e-Newsletters: Tips and trends (or How to get people to read your stuff)

I’ve been using electronic newsletters for almost a decade, and, just like any tool of technology, they have changed dramatically over time.

In the early days, the newsletters were little more than text sent to bulk e-mail accounts. Our main goal then was to pass along prayer requests and deadline reminders.

Today, the electronic newsletter is a central tool in any communications plan. It offers an opportunity for you to “push” your information (a website is more of a pull-tool … you have to pull people to the site to get them engaged in content; newsletters allow you to push your information out to the stakeholders). Good newsletters deliver content in bite-size pieces with links to more information – including the push to your website. They also should have a shareable function so that readers can forward easily to friends and post on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.

Those are the basics of building a good e-newsletter.

Now, let’s delve a little deeper. For instance, do you thoughtfully consider what’s in the e-mail subject line for your newsletter? People are inundated with e-mails and often bulk delete. If the subject line isn’t catchy or engaging, it’s probably going in the trash folder. Try an experiment over the next month: alternate between using inspired subject lines and generic ones, like “News from your church.” Then compare your readership statistics (most good e-newsletter programs offer this type of analytics). Do your open rates change, depending on the subject line? Or are your parishioners so committed that they’ll read everything that comes from the church? (That would be a dream – no more “I didn’t know about this”).

Another thing to consider is how your e-newsletter appears in the preview panel of e-mail. A poor preview of your e-mail is a quick route to the trash folder. After folks do an initial scan of subject lines, they often peruse their e-mail using the message preview. This is partly because of e-mail saturation and, in some cases, because people are reading the newsletters on their mobile devices and can’t (or don’t want to) upload the whole newsletter without checking first to see if there’s valuable content.

This leads me to my final point (for today): e-newsletters and mobile devices. Send yourself an e-mail newsletter and read it on your smart phone and/or tablet. What does it look like? Does the design translate well onto the smaller screens? What’s the upload speed? As more and more people use mobile devices for information, we need to make sure our content and presentation are just as engaging on the iPad or a Droid phone as on the 15-inch desktop screen.