Newsletter Series: How to Write a Newsletter People Want to Read

3 April 2009, Comments: Comments Off on Newsletter Series: How to Write a Newsletter People Want to Read

Imagine going to a party where a stranger walks up, introduces himself and immediately begins telling you how great his products, Best Widgets Ever, are.  No doubt you’d be turned off by this approach. After all, you had no relationship with him, he wasn’t interested in you—he just wanted to make a sale.

Too often, email newsletters have the same heavy-handed approach. You don’t want your newsletter to be like this. Readers have a simpler solution than dodging the obnoxious salesman at the party—readers can just hit the delete button.

A newsletter is written to foster a relationship between an organization or business and an audience.  The more you build and nurture that relationship, the more the audience (or customer) trusts you, and becomes more likely to follow your suggestions, use your services, and/or participate in your events.

How do you make a newsletter people want to read?  A study by the Nielsen Norman Group indicated that people typically spend only 51 seconds scanning an email newsletter.  With so little time to reach an audience, the content needs to be compelling, interesting, clear and useful.  In this two-part article, we’ll discuss some tips to make your newsletter effective.

Create a Good Newsletter Name

Mystery titles don’t have a place in an email newsletter. Instead, select a name that represents who you are.   The WhitePaperSource, a writing company that creates white paper reports for businesses, transparently named their newsletter “WhitePaperSource Newsletter”.  When it hits a mailbox, readers have no doubt what is, or who it is from.  While clever names may have a meaning that only the insiders understand, if the purpose is to attract people from outside the circle, your name may just add confusion.

Make sure the name you choose coordinates with your organization’s name or topic.

List Your Contents

Just as a magazine has a table of contents to help readers quickly find articles of interest, you can add a short summary of the main articles near the top of the newsletter so your readers do not have to wade through the entire newsletter to find the part that most interests them.  Remember, since readers tend to scan the information, making it easy for them to find what they need makes it more likely they will stick around and read some more.

Develop Useful Articles

First, know your audience. Who are they? What drives them? What are their challenges?

What do your readers want to know about?  Maybe it’s the new products your business will be introducing next month.  Maybe it’s links to more in-depth information from the sermon last week.  Perhaps it is about an upcoming fundraiser.

By providing your audience with information they want (and not just information you want to give them), you provide a service to them.  Take a pulse of your audience by talking with them or polling them to find out what they need. We use our annual survey to plan the topics for our blog and newsletter.

Even if the information is not specifically about your business or organization, it could still benefit your readers.  Are there trends, new studies or upcoming legislation that affects them? Information that educates, saves time and/or money, or provides entertainment can be useful to your audience. In our experience, these links are the ones that get the greatest number of clicks and visits.

As a newsletter writer, start book marking websites and blogs that are relevant to your organization (see our list of Resources bookmarked using Delicious as an example).  You can also set up a Google Alert based on certain words (i.e. “white paper”) so that when certain phrases are used in an article or blog, you receive an email with a link to that article.  These sites will provide you with a plethora of resources for more topics.

Call to Action

While a good newsletter provides useful information, it is, after all, a marketing and outreach tool.  At the end of the newsletter, be clear about what you’d like your audience to do.  Pass the newsletter on?  Call your customer service department for more information?  By this time, having shown your interest in your audience by giving them information important to them, their trust for you has increased, and they are more likely to reciprocate by responding to you.

Coming up next week: Part 2: While newsletter content is king, the layout is important too.  Tips for making a newsletter easy to read.

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