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Should You Start a Newsletter?

We’ve talked a lot about building your personal brand, growing your blog, watching your stats, and engaging with readers. What’s next? Is starting an email newsletter right for you?

Darkened Image by Liz West (CC BY 2.0)

The web flows, each and every day, with or without you: a constant stream of news, status updates, and posts to bookmark and read. Alexis Madrigal once described the internet-as-stream beautifully in the Atlantic — a never-ending feed, and the source of our FOMO (“fear of missing out”).

 

As your blog grows, step out of this blogging stream and think about how to share your work, resurface timeless content, and promote yourself in a different way: email.

I love the way Robin Sloan describes the internet in terms of stock and flow:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

I like thinking about the web this way — I can’t read everything, and acknowledging this makes the labyrinth-ness of the internet more manageable. It’s worth thinking about this in regard to our sites, and figuring out what’s important — what we don’t want our readers to miss.

In the past, we’ve talked about unearthing evergreen and archived content. Let’s think beyond our blogs and consider how to use email as a way to feature our “stock” and best, timeless content.

Your reader’s inbox: where you wanna be.

Over the past few years, email newsletters have become more popular — consider a long-time favorite like Brain Pickings, and today’s many newsletters, like Caitlin Dewey’s daily roundup, Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things, and Parker Higgins and Sarah Jeong’s 5 Useful Articles, all created with Tiny Letter.

If you’re telling stories online in order to build an audience, you need a varied toolkit. But more importantly, you need to use the right tool for the job. Sometimes the right tool is social media. Sometimes it’s e-mail. You just have to learn which. — Mike Sowden

You can send email newsletters daily or weekly. If you’re a curator or avid reader, share your most interesting finds. If you’re a food writer, email your three best recipes of the week. You don’t have to send a newsletter regularly — maybe you’d like to promote a special event, your upcoming book release, or a special project to a list of subscribers you’ve built. Travel writer and storytelling consultant Mike Sowden, for example, created a five-day course on online storytelling, accessible on his blog, which he then emailed to subscribers over five days.

Mike has written about the challenges of using social media to promote our work. Who is reading our Facebook updates? How many followers really see our tweets? He talks about experimenting with email and using a service like MailChimp to build an email list and deliver his course to subscribers. He found that while social media helps us to build an audience and connect with others, email is a way to make people care about what you’re doing.

But is an email newsletter right for you? Here are possible ideas:

  • Send exclusive content not published on your blog.
  • Share your work across the web that your followers might not see.
  • Deliver behind-the-scenes news or project updates.
  • Send special tips or complementary material on topics you’ve written about.
  • Compile roundups of your best posts or favorite reads on the web.
  • Send more personal notes reserved for email-only followers.

The pros and cons

Email might be a key tool to reach your readership — it works for big companies delivering news, or businesses connecting with customers. It may be worth exploring for artists who’d like to promote their work, or authors who want to connect with fans.

 

At a glance, a newsletter has benefits:

  • It can be both personal and professional.
  • It can feel more transactional and business-like (if that’s what you’re seeking).
  • It’s direct, sent straight to your reader’s inbox.
  • It can be targeted to segments of your subscribers.
  • It sends more traffic to your blog or website.
  • It deepens ties with your most loyal readers.
  • It is “finite,” as Madrigal notes in his Atlantic piece, and has a beginning and end.

On the flip side, a newsletter might:

  • Feel impersonal, if content isn’t thoughtfully created.
  • Feel one-sided, without public engagement/comment discussions.
  • Feel like extra work, especially if you’re promoting yourself across social channels.

Newsletter services to try

A simple subscription page, built with Tiny Letter.

A simple subscription page, made with Tiny Letter.

In addition to Tiny Letter, which has a familiar-looking dashboard, you have a number of services from which to choose. Here are a few options:

MailChimp: Create email campaigns with professional templates and powerful features.

AWeber: An email marketing tool ($1 to sign up for an account).

Campaign Monitor: A service to send newsletters and monitor reports. Our Daily Post Digests are created with Campaign Monitor, as well as WordPress.com Weekend Reads.

We encourage you to click the links in this post, subscribe to and study other newsletters, and consider if email is right for you. For further reading, check out Flippa’s tips on starting a newsletter and KISSmetrics’ post on email versus social media marketing.

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  1. The biggest obstacle I have found concerning newsletters is actually getting people to sigh up for ‘em. I’ve got one on my recipe blog at http://hillbillysrecipes.com/ and it’s been there for a little over a year and there are only 300+ subscribers. I’m not sure if that’s really good or really bad lol.

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    1. It takes time to build a list. I should have set up a subscribe form a long time ago to at least collect contacts over the years — I missed that opportunity. At least you’ve got one going, which will continue to grow. People in general are picky about their inboxes, and what they allow in there — it’s a good sign to have 300+ subscribers — you might find your most loyal readers among them.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s 300 people you can contact in one go. That’s also around the number of people who have Liked this article within WordPress.com so far. :) It’s a good number, I reckon.

      The always-super-smart Buffer blog have just published a post about good strategies to use when you’re building your e-mail list: http://blog.bufferapp.com/email-list-building Number 4 is the key one, I think. If you want people to sign up, make it irresistible by offering them something of value that they can *only* get by signing up. Yes, it’s sorta-kinda bribery, but it works really well, and it demonstrates your value to them up front, for free – which will encourage them to sign up. It’s good psychology.

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      1. I have seriously thought about that but I can’t come up with anything suitable for a give away, I’m still workin’ on it though. Thanks for the link, I’m gonna read it and try to apply it to the recipe blog. :)

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  2. Thank you Cheri for the info. I appreciate it even if it was FYI for many. I often read and need to comment more since I have enjoyed many of your blogs.

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  3. Thanks for the mention, Cheri!

    I’ve only really been turned onto the power of e-mail since just before Christmas, when I started reading about writer Jeff Goins. He’s spent 4 years doing everything he can to get people on his e-mail list: http://goinswriter.com/build-email-list/ He now has 100,000+ subscribers (that’s not a typo) and he uses e-mail partly for delivering newsletters, partly for serving readers with a kind of supplementary-blog-by-e-mail, and partly to make people aware of what his commercial work is – all done in a conversational style. And the result? His blog has exploded into an engaged, committed community of readers. It’s an enormously powerful approach. He’s a smart guy to watch.

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this! I want to start a newsletter but haven’t been able to find a decent service. I am definitely going to check out TinyLetter and give it a try.

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  5. I have only just started blogging, and need to establish myself within this forum first but it is something that I would really like to consider further down the track for me. I can see how it could work even though it would mean more work.

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  6. I liked this article; the idea of starting an email newsletter had never crossed my mind, but I could see it as something I might want to try in the future.

    As @Mike Sowden says, I’ve only recently “been turned on to the power of email” (great wording, Mike). Signing up for some choice newsletters such as Death to the Stock Photo and theSkimm (both of which apparently everyone knew about but me) has been some of the greatest decisions I’ve made lately. Interesting content effortlessly curated is a win in my book.

    I’m pleased to see the migration of more substantial content over to email. It does indeed seem more manageable, somehow, to read a few emails over tea instead of wading through the never-ending Stream.

    I’d love to see more articles on WordPress about newsletters in the future.

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  7. Thanks Cheri. Ever since joining Word Press in March, I’ve been so impressed with all of the support you folks provide. I really get a sense that you all care about the people in this community. I didn’t expect it. Your ideas and suggestions are so useful and so well written! A big thank you to all of you.

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  8. Thank you for the information I haven’t consider a newsletter option until I read this post. Tiny-Letter seems like the perfect option for targeting our blog readers. Thank you again for the detailed information.

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  9. Thanks for the great information and links. I have a newsletter sign up form on my self-hosted site, but have not been able to figure out how to set one up on WordPress.com (I actually thought that wasn’t possible). Can you point me to instructions on how to add a newsletter sign up form (for MailChimp or any of the others you’ve listed here) to a WordPress.com blog (I’ve searched the support forums to no avail)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As far as I know, I don’t think we have support/instructions to integrate a newsletter sign up form from another service.

      You might consider just creating a custom link in your menu that leads directly to the sign up form/subscription page URL on the service itself (MailChimp, etc.). Check Cristian Mihai’s site — he’s created a “Newsletter” tab in his menu, which goes to his MailChimp sign up form: http://cristianmihai.net/

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  10. There are many choices out there but we found the final decision is usually based on price and features. We also think that support is key, to help guide people through and help answer their questions. It pays to send an inquiry email and see how quick they respond.

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