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Reaching your audience via newsletters
Writing an effective and informative media newsletter requires all the disciplines and focus needed when writing a news story.
The difference is that you have one page to try to grab the attention of readers with multiple pieces of information in a way that convinces them to invest time in exploring the links you are offering.
The skills needed are similar to those required for managing a news website home page.
1: Draw people in
Attract attention immediately. Think of newspaper headlines. Avoid aggressive, salesy subject lines, and be straightforward, personal and, above all, honest. Make sure the subject matches the message content.
2: Keep it personal
Write as though you are writing a formal email to one person. People react innately to well-crafted text, and it instills confidence in the reader. Avoid slang, abbreviations and overly technical language - you want your message to be forwarded to people who might not be as familiar with your field as you are.
3: Be visual
Use all the tools at your disposal to segregate the content of your newsletter in order to make it easier to digest. Use bold, relevant images to illustrate your content - use graphics to carry your organisation's branding into the newsletter, and maintain trust across all your message platforms.
4: Call to action
Feature one or two prominent calls to action. What's the purpose of the newsletter? To get to follow you on Twitter, to enter a contest, to download a document or to visit a webpage? Then give readers a big colourful button to click and transport them there.
5: Keep it short
If the subject line is your headline, think of each sub-section of your newsletter as article leads. You want to pique interest and then drive traffic through to the full story, probably on your own site so you can draw people into finding out more about you.
6: Test, test and test again
You'll want to spend more time on testing your newsletter than on writing it. Check it out in as many email clients and browsers as you can. Even the best messages will be lost if your newsletter is full of ugly html strings or oddly formatted text.
7: Keep it accessible
Bear in mind that not everyone has the bandwidth to download enormous amounts of data for your newsletter. A plain text option (or at least a newsletter that looks great when the html is stripped) is essential.
8: Opt in and opt opt
Maintain web etiquette by making your newsletter opt-in. Don't reuse old mailing lists and add huge amounts of contacts without permission. Also, make it easy for people to unsubscribe. Just because they don't want your newsletter, doesn't mean they don't value your brand. Frustrating them with lengthy opt-our processes will drive them away for good.
9: Evaluate and evolve
Measure your metrics - open rates, click rates, people unsubscribing, locations - and react to them. Identify trends, work out what changed and then adapt. If you can try A/B tests (splitting your contact list and sending them two versions of the same newsletter) to test out different subject lines or formats, that's even better.
10: Socialise your news
Allow people to easily distribute your news further than your list, either through pushing a web-archived version out to Twitter and Facebook, or by raising interest in the newsletter with a parallel campaign on your preferred social medium.
Adam Thomas is a communicator, producer, curator and writer, originally from the UK and now living in Berlin. He is the Communications Manager at Sourcefabric, a non-profit organisation promoting open source tools to support independent media. Adam tweets @Preslav and blogs at Dichterische Fragmente.
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