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?
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.
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
MailChimp: Create email campaigns with professional templates and powerful features.
AWeber: An email marketing tool ($1 to sign up for an account).
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.