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Engage Your E-Newsletter Readers

  |  April 7, 2008   |  Comments

There are many ways to encourage readers to interact with an e-mail newsletter and just as many ways to use the resulting content. Four tips for getting started.

"User-generated content" (UGC) and "interactive marketing" have been buzz terms for a while now, but few marketers use them in reference to e-mail newsletters. Interactive marketing is prized for its ability to engage the reader. UGC's benefit is in its cost: inexpensive or free. Done properly, including interactive opportunities in an e-mail newsletter can produce UGC for future issues. With 44 percent of e-mail marketers citing "providing relevant content" as one of their biggest challenges, according to eMarketer, this one-two punch becomes even more valuable.

There are many ways to encourage readers to interact with an e-mail newsletter or Web site and just as many ways to use the resulting content. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Surveys, Polls, and Quizzes

I often recommend clients include a survey, poll, or quiz in each issue of their e-mail newsletter. The question can be based in fact or opinion; multiple choice questions work best, as this makes it easier for readers to respond. If you want to collect additional information, ask an open-ended question or two after readers have responded to gather more detailed information about the answer.

Results of a survey, poll, or quiz can be used in a number of ways. Some marketers report them in a future issue. If you have more resources, include the results in an article that delves further into the issue. Often, answers to the open-ended questions asked in addition to the original poll or quiz will be information you can include in an article or publish separately.

Discussion Boards

If you have discussion boards on your site, there's an opportunity to pull content from them directly into your e-mail newsletter. Including a particularly interesting post, along with a link to join the discussion on your Web site, is a great way to engage readers. It also drives more visitors to the discussion board to grow that community.

Many e-mail newsletters include a generic discussion-board link back to the site. This isn't an effective way to pull people in. The idea of a discussion board isn't interesting. The value lies in the actual discussions going on there. By pulling actual posts into the e-mail you provide readers with a reason to get involved.

Article Comments

Many e-mail newsletters feature a "comment" button at the bottom of articles, but I'm often disappointed when I click through to see what others have said. Too often, there are no comments at all. When comments do appear, they're frequently not substantial ("Great article, really enjoyed it.") or self-serving ("Great article, my company offers a service like this, contact us at...").

If you hope to get substantial comments, a link to comment isn't enough. Ask some open-ended questions at the end of your article. Make the article a jumping-off point to begin a discussion of the topic on your site. Even better if the author or another member of your staff helps to manage the discussion by chiming in with additional thoughts or comments.

Content From Readers

The holy grail of UGC is having readers submit entire items, articles, or stories for publication in your e-mail newsletter. People like to see their name in print, and more than you expect are willing to provide content. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for them.

One way to do this is to focus their efforts. Give them a situation to write about. If there's an industry event coming up, ask readers to write a synopsis of one of the sessions and send it to you. Or give them an open-ended topic, such as "your most successful marketing campaign" or "a time when you found the silver lining in a bad experience." Don't require a long piece. A couple hundred words is easier to write and can be just as effective. Response probably won't be overwhelming, but if you publish submissions the program will build on itself.

If it makes sense for your industry, you can also request visual input from your readers. If you make or sell cameras, encouraging readers to send in photos and publishing the best images in your e-mail newsletter with attribution is a great way to leverage UGC.

At their core, interactive and UGC help you build a relationship with readers, which is the true benefit of e-mail marketing.

Do you have an example of how interactive or UGC helped improve your e-mail newsletter? Are there other ways you've incorporated interactive or UGC in your e-mail newsletter? Let me know, and I may include it in a future column.

Until next time,

Jeanne

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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