Newsletters: Not Your Dissertation

May 6, 2021

A wise woman once told me to stop trying to recreate the wheel – no matter how much work or how many hours go into your articles, if it’s not what your audience wants, they’ll simply keep ignoring it.

I tried explaining that my version of the wheel was brighter and shinier and, most importantly, mine, but the audience apparently missed the memo, too. The clickthrough rates proved it.

After a few months of sluggish newsletter engagement, we finally went back to the playbook and chose Ol’ Reliable: nuke the old plan and start from scratch. The new plan is a slender, listicle-style shell of the old format. It’s meant to be scrolled and is littered with hyperlinks, a choose-your-own adventure of opportunities for the readers. The engagement rates? Spiked.

From this, I learned two great lessons:

  • Don’t hold on to your plan so tightly. As communicators, our line of work dictates that we be agile, constantly rewriting and doodling in the margins of our own playbooks. Media and communications channels are continuously changing, so we need to adapt quickly to the evolving landscape. Be like water and stay fluid. Plus, it stings a little less when it’s time to hit the big red button and incinerate your beautiful little idea.
  • People want bites of content. Bite-sized information. Brain snacks for busy lifestyles. Everyone has opinions that, shockingly, they want to share. Fold in social media, and those same opinion-holders are trying to ‘go viral’ authoring the next great think-piece. You don’t always have to contribute to the noise. Read some great articles lately? Hyperlink those!

Your investigative journalism style think-piece was absolutely well written, well researched and made several great points, but what are the odds your audience is really digesting it in your newsletter? Cut it in half, divide by four, and finely mince – now you’re getting closer.

The thing is, communicators are usually competing for people’s attention, and the inbox is a messy battleground to contend with. People open your newsletter and scroll, looking for keywords to hold their attention. You have five seconds (or less) to hook someone in; otherwise, it’s off to the Trash – or worse – the Subscription Preferences page.

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