Over the last few months, my speaking work has brought me into contact with lots of people producing online newsletters -- for companies, nonprofits, and academic institutions.
There is no doubt the design, creation, and delivery of online newsletters are becoming a great deal more sophisticated.
Useful information is being shared, links are taking readers through to more relevant site pages, and navigation within the newsletters themselves is becoming more structured.
It’s all good.
But, at the same time, I have noticed how this "sophistication" has also led to a gulf between the writers of the newsletters and their readers.
I see content being created or borrowed, then dropped into place. I see multiple tones and voices appearing within the body of a single newsletter.
I can understand how this happens. Internal pressures are pushing people to create almost cookie-cutter newsletter formats into which the week’s or month’s content can be placed. It’s more efficient that way. Delivery can always take place on time. People know what is required of them.
And I wouldn’t change any of that. Internal organizational requirements are entirely legitimate.
But be aware of what you might be losing.
Your subscribers’ email inboxes still provide you with a unique opportunity to get closer to readers than you ever could with a Web site.
Your newsletter still gives you the chance to communicate one on one.
Two Steps Toward Staying One on One
First, unless you already have the right person in place, find an editor for your newsletter. This editor needs to do more than simply put everything together and check for typos.
She needs to care for the audience. She needs to be the passionate guardian of the newsletter’s voice, content, and integrity. She needs to make sure the tone is true, the message connects, there is real value in every element.
This means your editor needs the authority to do her job well. She needs to be allowed to change wording, cut unnecessary verbiage, and rewrite introductions and closings.
Above all, she needs to create a newsletter that can connect with each individual reader in a way that is personal and credible.
Second, invite your readers to become the creators of some of your newsletter content.
This is by far the best way to get to know your audience and deliver content that is welcomed and read.
Invite your readers to contribute. Ask them to send in questions. Ask them to share relevant experiences. Set aside a part of each newsletter for a contribution from one or more readers.
In this way, your editor will truly come to understand the needs and interests of her audience. You will get a better, truer feel for the kind of content your readers are looking for, hoping for.
The increasing automation and sophistication of online newsletters is a good thing. But don’t let it stand in the way of the core value every newsletter provides.
Don’t let "sophistication" stand in the way of truly connecting with your readers, one on one.
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Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.