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The Golden Age of Newsletters

Written by Molly Talbert | on January 19, 2016 at 8:30 AM

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Remember how email is supposed to be dying? Turns out it’s a little more resilient than anyone thought. In fact, good old fashioned email newsletters are having a bit of a renaissance. Powered by what? The desire to connect with communities online.

I noticed this trend in my own inbox. I used to get most of my reading material from social media (a place I still go) but am now often guided by newsletters -- everything from 730DC to Buzzfeed News to Lena Dunham’s Lenny and more (who knows how many newsletters I’ve signed up for recently). I like the commentary and specificity of each newsletter. Email also helps me engage with our Higher Logic Users Group (HUG) -- the consolidated digest sends me updates every morning on the latest discussions so I always know what’s going on (with minimal effort on my part).

What is it about newsletters that’s becoming so trendy?

In some ways, the very forces that conspired against email -- namely, social media and instant messaging -- are partly to thank. It’s hard to keep up with floods of information, and email is direct, controllable and private. Facebook and Twitter get jammed full of unsolicited information -- everything from your great-aunt’s political views to a million articles not relevant to you. For some users, even your community can feel like an information overload. An inbox is different, though. For the most part, you choose what emails you want and enjoy receiving the non-spam messages you signed up for. Even though it’s old school, it works.

That exclusivity is also a huge plus if you produce the newsletter -- you know the people receiving your email actually want it. Signing up for a newsletter is almost like a mini-magazine subscription where readers look forward to the next issue. You may not have tons of email addresses, but your audience is relatively captive, whereas posting on Facebook can be a shot in the dark -- who knows who will see your post?

Help you cut through the clutter

The internet feels vast and scary at times, and newsletters counter that. Rather than being wide open and volatile, newsletters feel cozy and intimate, like you’re sitting down to chat with a friend or reading your college newspaper. They’re not necessarily for universal, public consumption or approval -- it’s for a niche audience who want to share ideas and support each other.Information is consolidated in a readable, easy to skim way -- whether it’s from the New York Times or our HUG consolidated digest. Rather than searching for news and coming up short, it’s delivered directly to the reader without much effort on their part.

That’s why newsletters are so effective for engaging with a community. They cut out unwanted noise -- from information overload to trolls. Newsletters also benefit everyone from the sender, who needs their audience, to the receiver, who needs the right information. Newsletters fix that gap -- a gap that can even exist in your community. If your platform doesn’t have a consolidated digest like ours, you could still easily create a valuable newsletter for your members/customers. Each week, mention top discussions or the most downloaded resource from the wiki-library. Be creative and relevant to your members.

Not your traditional newsletter -- plenty of room for creativity

Not all newsletters are super niche, exclusive or underground, but that doesn’t mean they’re mainstream or predictable; people are very creative with an old school medium. Sure, there are a lot of list-type newsletters -- basically carefully curated news aggregators, which I love -- but there are also alternative newsletters, like Everything Changes. This newsletter changes format, theme and frequency every week so subscribers never know what they’ll get. It’s more an experience or an artform than a news source.

There are also interactive newsletters, built by the community readers themselves. In The List Serve, every day one random community member gets to write whatever they want. The whole community (around twenty three thousand people) receives it. Sometimes these emails are personal or they’re broad and talk about the news or general thoughts. Recently a man wrote about the book that saved his marriage. He, like many people, left an email address at the bottom so someone could reply to him if they felt moved. Other times people sign off anonymously, leaving the reader wondering who was behind the message. When one comes in my inbox, it looks and feels like an email from an old friend.

Another newsletter with a similar idea is called Hello Prompt. Every day members receive a prompt and have 24 hours to respond. Each newsletter also has replies to the previous prompt so you can see what other people came up with. Although it’s all anonymous, it feels collaborative and collegial.

More than cutting through the clutter

Newsletters and digests help us cut through the clutter, but they go beyond just organizing information. They help us connect and stay connected. I certainly do not read every newsletter every single day. But I don’t unsubscribe, either. When I have the time or when a headline catches my eye, I’m always glad they’re there and feel welcome when I read it.

There are so many ways to engage members -- from the desktop to mobile -- and the trick is finding the right outlet for your community. Some people will only log on when they’re at work. Others will really enjoy your app or responsive design so they can connect on the go. Accessibility is key, and if your members are email driven, then a newsletter could be the perfect way to gain their attention.

Topics: Engagement, Social Media

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