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Everything Old is New Again: Getting the Most Out of Your Email Newsletters


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The hottest digital platform today arguably isn’t Periscope, Snapchat, or Yik Yak. In fact, it was invented in 1972. Yes, I am talking about email, that erstwhile platform whose death has been asserted time and time again. It’s most definitely alive, and going through quite a renaissance thanks to new tools, new personalities, and renewed attention to substance and style. As fatigue with the social media firehose grows, publishers are rediscovering the one-to-one intimacy of electronic mail.

In higher ed, email newsletters are a dime a dozen. But the effort they require is not insignificant. And there’s a lot of competition awaiting us in the inbox. How can we make email work harder for our content strategy, and what can we learn from this platform’s newfound popularity to make it more effective for us? In this presentation, we will discuss tools, processes, and best practices for managing email products; examine examples of successful email newsletters (from higher ed and beyond); and explain how to connect email to your overall communications strategy.

Published in: Marketing
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Everything Old is New Again: Getting the Most Out of Your Email Newsletters

  1. 1. Everything Old is New Again Georgy Cohen Confab Higher Ed 2016 Getting the Most Out of Your Email Newsletters
  2. 2. “We just want to send messages to people.” Ray Tomlinson
  3. 3. “Consider this: the amount of traffic BuzzFeed gets from our newsletters is almost as much as we get from Twitter. Not just our own Twitter account, but all of Twitter. ” Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed, January 2016
  4. 4. Email allows us to not only engage a captive audience, but forge meaningful, influential relationships.
  5. 5. “Publishers seeking to stick out of the clutter have found both traction and a kind of intimacy in consumers’ inboxes.” David Carr, The New York Times, 2014
  6. 6. The Epistolary Novel
  7. 7. “[Newsletters’] recent renaissance is likely a result of the personal, customised experience they provide.” Todd Haskell, Senior Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer Hearst Magazines Digital Media
  8. 8. “An inbox is a personal space … By signing up for your newsletter, they’re saying, ‘Come on in; I want to hear from you.’” Kate Kiefer Lee, MailChimp
  9. 9. Current state of email on campus
  10. 10. Email is one of the most prevalent - and most neglected - content types that we manage.
  11. 11. Understand the landscape Who is sending email newsletters on campus? How many? How many email tools are in use? Are there established standards, guidelines, or templates available to email publishers? Do they use analytics tools to measure email effectiveness? Are email tasks supported with adequate time and resources? Do email publishers use editorial calendars or similar tools?
  12. 12. Where is email innovation already happening on campus?
  13. 13. Interesting news often gets trapped in department-level email newsletters.
  14. 14. Some new ideas about email
  15. 15. “The free-flowing newsletter formats allow outlets to experiment with content, take chances and try new things as they grow their list.” Tim Cigelske, Marquette University
  16. 16. Lenny 400,000 subscribers and 65% open rate (March 2016) Nearly 2,000 words (Oct. 7, 2016) Recent features include: Hillary Clinton, Sarah McLachlan, Amy Schumer, Gigi Hadid
  17. 17. “Newsletters are such an intimate medium, and they hold your attention in a way that I think websites deliberately don’t. ” Jessica Grose, editor, Lenny Letter
  18. 18. N.Y. Times ● Niche, theme-based newsletter products ● Dedicated editorial resources ● Less automated generation, more human writing/editing ● Social media promotion ● Attention to design Outcomes ● 14% growth in subscriber base in 1st half of 2015 ● 50% open rate
  19. 19. Being experimental does not mean neglecting the fundamentals of content strategy.
  20. 20. Being experimental does not mean neglecting the fundamentals of content strategy. In fact, they are more important than ever!
  21. 21. Goals, messaging, & audience
  22. 22. How important are each of the following email objectives to your university? June 2016 independent survey of higher ed web professionals
  23. 23. Newsletter Identity Exercise Who are your newsletter subscribers? Where does this audience spend their time online? What does this audience want / need in a newsletter from us? Where will subscribers be when they read this newsletter? What content and format will best serve this audience? Where will we recruit subscribers? What does success look like in 3 months? 6 months? What goal will a newsletter help you accomplish? Who is responsible for getting this newsletter done? How does this fit into your team’s workflow?
  24. 24.
  25. 25. Style, voice, and brand
  26. 26. Email from Louis C.K. January 26, 2015 “Hello. So below are my messy thoughts about my new special “Louis CK live at the Comedy Store” available here for 5 dollars, all over the world… So this is my sixth hour-long standup special. The truth is, I really love making these. I skipped doing one last year and I missed it. This one is different from the recent others. For one thing, it was shot in a nightclub instead of a theater. I love doing the theater shows. When I was a kid, my favorite thing in the world was Richard Pryor’s concert films. The idea of being a comedian and doing a “concert” was a real goal for me. Performing in a theater expands your material and opens you up as a performer. The pressure of playing to thousands of people, I found, always makes you better. And every concert hall I’ve played has made me feel like I’m getting a whiff of that city or town’s history. The whole thing can be very exhilarating. …” Brand CTA
  27. 27. “Louie manages to write to his fans in a way that seems far more personal than the marketing messages that promote other entertainers in his class. … [He uses email] with a level of credibility and authenticity that politicians never quite capture.”
  28. 28. Voice = identity Tone = purpose
  29. 29. Findings: ● Voice and tone matter ● Vast opportunity to get creative with layout ● Attention-grabbing subject lines drive opens ● Major stories get click-thrus ● Link liberally to provide context
  30. 30. “theSkimm sounds like your friend telling you what you need to know. It’s relatable and to the point.” Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, The Skimm
  31. 31. “We know that if we include content that doesn’t appeal to them, we will lose students’ trust.” Natasha Wetten and Kate O’Neil, Temple University
  32. 32. Can we turn system messages into touchpoints of delight?
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  34. 34.
  35. 35. “Thank you for receiving this email. If you hated it, or you hate me, feel free to unsubscribe. Keep in mind that I am personally informed whenever anyone unsubscribes and I cry very hard every time it happens.” Louis C.K., January 2014
  36. 36. Some messages don’t warrant personality.
  37. 37. Planning & process
  38. 38. Planning & Governance Ownership Content planning Visual, brand, and content quality standards Delivery tools Available resources (hours, budget, content) Scheduling (frequency, timing) Mobile-optimization
  39. 39. How are internal faculty/ staff email newsletters measured? (Other = mostly “not measured”) June 2016 independent survey of higher ed web professionals
  40. 40. How are internal current student email newsletters measured? (Other = mostly “not measured”) June 2016 independent survey of higher ed web professionals
  41. 41. How are prospective student email newsletters measured? June 2016 independent survey of higher ed web professionals
  42. 42. Measurement Process ● Define segments ● Use Google Campaign Tagging ● A/B testing ● Loop back into content planning What to Track ● Open, click-through, and conversion rates ● Bouncebacks, forwards, new signups, unsubscribes
  43. 43. Segments & personalization
  44. 44. “ Historically, the newsletter has just been based on our sections. We realized that’s not necessarily what people are interested in. So we’ve been exploring ... going beyond sections to lifestyles and different themes.” Dork Alahydoian, executive director of product, The New York Times
  45. 45. Email Personalization
  46. 46. “ In 2005, the year before it brought on Royall, [Ursinus’] yield was about 30 percent … But by last year, the yield figure had plunged to 13.5 percent. … So how did Ursinus manage to consciously slim down this year? For one thing, it ended its relationship with Royall last spring. The New York Times, February 2011
  47. 47. “ These e-mails are one argument among many for upgrading the quality of school's marketing offices and not leaving creative execution to admissions offices exclusively or to direct mail mills like Royall. Mark Neustadt, 2009
  48. 48. Closing thoughts
  49. 49. Thank you! @radiofreegeorgy Donate nowto the ACLU: