Sunday, July 18, 2010

Newsletters, snoozeletters?

This week seems to be all about newsletters for my clients. Email marketing is great, but what if no one's reading it?

Businesses and organizations of all sizes need to make sure their resources are being expended to bring results. Sometimes we keep doing things because we always have and it's hard to remove a communications tactics once it's established. There is a fear that stopping could be detrimental. So what's a business to do?

First, do your homework. What is your newsletter readership? Who is reading it and what parts are they most interested in? Whether it's on-line or hard copy, finding out this information requires asking them and gathering data. Emailed newsletters make gathering some data a little easier because you can track click-through rates and readership. However, even if we know what people are/aren't reading, we still need to find out why readership isn't all that you're hoping for so ask them.

Surveys through Constant Contact and other providers can be used for free during a trial period, so even if you're not subscribing to that functionality of your E-newsletter, it's worth trying out over a test period. You can ask your readers about design, content quality, topics of interest, length of articles, use of photos, frequency, timeliness, etc and if they would prefer to receive info from you in a different way. Find out how many are using RSS Feeds, and Twitter for example.

Second, review your responses, analyze the trends, and consider what the options are. Basically there are two: do nothing, do something. In the do something category, you might consider changing the newsletter (design, content, frequency, format, functionality etc) or discontinuing the newsletter and replacing it with other tools.

Likely there is no consensus; that is, no one solution will meet all your readers' needs. Therefore a strategy for change is required. So, the third step is implementation. Come up with an organized approach to making changes or adding new products. Be sure to write down what results you're trying to achieve, how you will engage your audience, and when you know you're making progress.

If you've decided that your newsletter needs just a few adjustments, trying making them over the next couple of issues with just a portion of your readership (eg 900 subscribers, could be segmented into thirds), and follow-up on those new click-through rates to see if, for example, adding pictures, or changing headlines, or changing format, makes a difference to your readership levels. Research, learn, change and repeat.

If you decide that introducing some different tactics such as blogging and tweeting combinations, are required, start that in addition to continuing your newsletter. This approach gives time to develop your following on these social media platforms. You can use your newsletter to promote your new sites and communications tools.

As you prepare for changes: don't forget to consider if all content you need to share is open to the public, as that will help determine the best tools to use for each message type, or if your blog, for example, should be restricted to subscribers or if you need to adopt another strategy for more confidential or customized material to replace some newsletter content.

Time and time again, communications tools and tactics seem to get added and never taken away. If your organization is making significant changes, it is possible to completely revamp your communications and make significant changes. However in many cases, communications is an evolution, and establishing news tools and measuring effectiveness is important before removing any existing products.

The goal is not to produce a newsletter; it's to achieve your organization's goals through effective communications. There are ways to add new tools efficiently. For example, social media updates can be automated for posting across multiple platforms such as Twitter, Face book and LinkedIn.

The key to improving communication is to get started. Any new communications strategy takes time. Start with good research, develop your strategy, implement, and track for results. Oh, and have fun while doing it!