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A dozen ways to engage newsletter readers

A dozen ways to engage newsletter readers

By Kieran Cooper, Managing director, Lyris UK (

A newsletter that gives its subscribers many ways to interact with your offering and content is one that they will anticipate and welcome. By extension, they’ll find more value in it, spend more time reading it and ultimately buy more from you through it.

Look at your newsletter, and count up the ways your readers can interact with you. And, don’t count your unsubscribe link. Instead, look for any way that you can get readers to get involved with the newsletter, your products or your company. If you found only one, or even none, then check out these strategies for ideas on how to add more ways for your readers to interact with your emails.

Great emails find a balance among interactive content, entertainment value and purchase behaviour. However, not every email message needs to follow this content-heavy format, nor does every reader seek it out.

Still, you should strive to add a little value to each email you send, whether it’s your regular customer newsletter, a one-off sales announcement, company news, or transactional emails such as subscription, registration and order confirmations or updates.

Offer content that is of specific interest to specific parts of your readership

Providing more in the way of bespoke content to match subjects of interest across the readership of your newsletter will take more time and effort, but will help the newsletter be much more successful.  Many newsletters are guilty of being too generic in order to give something to everyone, ending up as rather bland publications, lacking depth for some subjects which are very important to part of the readership.

This can be achieved through audience segmentation – gathering data on their preferences and interests, and can quickly lead to considerably increased interest in the newsletter and more scope for sales activity as a result.  The mistake made by many at this stage is to collect the preferences and then not act on them

Carefully consider newsletter length

This remains a matter of some considerable debate among newsletter experts.  One school of thought is to make them short, very relevant and suitable to be consumed in the work environment where people generally don’t have a lot of time to immerse themselves in a lengthy publication.  Others advocate that the overall quality of the content has a greater impact on success, even if this inevitably results in a longer newsletter.  Both arguments have merit, and in making a decision it’s important to understand both your objectives and the likely habits of your readers.

Add more channels to collect feedback

You should already have at least one Web link and an email contact address in every email you send (along with someone on your end monitoring those locations in order to reply in one business day or less), as well as postal and telephone data. But, the more, the better.

Some creative avenues for feedback:

Short surveys: One-question quizzes relating to your product or market niche rather than statistically valid queries. Introduce the quiz in the newsletter, then link to the actual quiz on your site. Use a quiz module that shows a running vote total.

Perennially good topics: Ask how to improve the newsletter or Web site; solicit new product ideas; ask how a product solved a problem or improved the user’s life. Publish good replies in the next issue.

Tell your story

Everyone likes to peek behind the curtain to see how the company works and who the people are behind the email addresses or the telephone voice. Add a little storytelling to your newsletter as appropriate.

The company picture: Launch new products, announce news or highlight email-only peeks into company operations, especially fun facts, history, personnel changes and the like.

Give your newsletter a personality

This isn’t the same as personalisation, where you mail-merge your subscriber’s name into the subject line or Dear Whoever line in the message body.

If your newsletter were a person, would it be male or female, a serious authority or the fun person at the desk next to you who’s always working an angle? It should reflect either your customer base as it is or as it would like to be.

Once you know that, you can adopt a distinctive tone and personality that guides your copywriting and topic selections. This is mainly a newsletter initiative, although you can continue it in broad terms through all of your email.

Add customer reviews or publish the best recommendations

This one can be tricky, because you risk customers filing negative comments along with the glowing ones. To counter that, pick the most useful of your good comments and feature them in a product spotlight, on your site and in your emails. Publish and promote the link to your review site to encourage readers to file their own comments.

Get blogging!

Got a blog? Link to it. Also, create a blog just for your customers and subscribers, and publish a good comment in the newsletter.

Choose anecdotes or comments that highlight problem-solving or premium quality or praises an employee. If one post generates a lot of good comments (no flame wars!), publish those to keep the conversation going.

Create mini-sites around specific topics or seasons, and populate them with reader-generated content. Be clear that the content comes from readers. Highlight the link to the form or email address where readers can send their content.

Add video content to your Web site and link to it from your newsletter. Also, patrol video-sharing sites like YouTube and promote any that relate. Promote the link and provide detailed instructions on how to upload content.

Add a small bit of editorial content to your commercial email messages (not transactional emails)

This could be the reader-generated content we saw earlier in this article, or something you write to bring the company closer to your subscribers, such as an editor’s note, inspirational quote or reader comment.

But, proceed carefully. If your sales messages previously have taken the hard-sell route, introduce the content gradually and watch your feedback addresses and delivery reports to see if people love or hate your new approach. After all, you may be taking a much different course from what your readers want.

Give away a prize in each issue and then spotlight the winner

And not just any prize either, but something you know your readership would want, either tied to your regular promotion, a new product introduction, a paid download, a subscription or the like. So, no free iPods unless your newsletter caters to Mac fanatics, and then make it an upgraded version.

Post job openings

Are you one of the fastest-growing companies in your area? Is business booming and product flying off the shelves? Every company needs product advocates, particularly employees who use the products and services, and can evangelize effectively.

A few Caveats

As important as it is to build value by making your readers active participants, you do need to watch out for four big traps:

Keep it relevant

Anything you add must relate to your business, goals or newsletter topic. Don’t just stick in a joke of the day or a trivia fact to fill space. Also, remember what your message is supposed to do. If your standard email message is a deal of the day, or you send three times a week or more often, keep the content short. On the other hand, if you contact subscribers weekly or less often, your added content might well give your newsletter more shelf life.

Once you change your format, commit to it

Adding editorial content and features to a sales message will require time and money, two resources that often are in short supply for email marketers. The time comes in researching, writing and producing the additional newsletter copy. The money comes in paying that person or staff people.

Do readers want it as much as you do?

Test and retest before you launch a major change. Survey a sample of your newsletter base for reactions and suggestions.

Then, when you go live with your new format, scrutinise your feedback emails and watch your delivery reports, in case you start generating more spam complaints and unsubscribes. Don’t pull back immediately, but listen carefully to what your readers will tell you.

Changing your newsletter format can be tricky, and it will require a greater time and money commitment. But if you keep the content relevant and include readers at every turn, you will most likely deliver messages with greater value for them. That, in turn, can help you recover your costs with more sales and lower address turnover.

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