E-newsletters, when done right, are one of the most powerful communications tools out there for reaching your target audience and growing your online visibility. And yet, one of the most challenging areas in nonprofit communications is the (sometimes dreaded) e-newsletter. Over the last 10 years, I've seen so many misunderstandings of how this communications tool should be used, that I've finally organized this "top 12" list of the most common errors. Check it out and see if you're making any of them. Not only could you be wasting your time using a communication that isn't optimized, but in the world if high tech and marketing automation, you could leave your audience thinking you're in The Dark Ages when it comes to e-news publishing.
1. Standard subject line without customization
Using a boring subject line like "September E-News" each month is not going to help your open rate. Try to be creative when deciding your subject line, by either finding a fresh way to describe your content, or naming your newsletter with something catchy that will arouse your readers' interest enough to click on the link.
2. One size fits all approach
Not all your organization's members are the same, and this is true of your readers as well. Some of them may have been donors or sponsors, while others volunteered or had internships. Others still are on your Board of Directors or staff. Segment your list so that the appropriate content is aligned with your audience.
3. No personalization in the salutation
Statistics show that personalization in enewsletters has a great impact not only on your audience being more likely to read through your enewsletter, but to a greater response to calls to action. I know when "Dear Carrie" appears in an enews, I'm going to pay more attention.
4. Sharing only your organization's news
Newsletters are a great place to share a variety of content, not just your own news and events. Why not share a variety of links on articles and resources about your industry?
5. Not linking to your blog
Many nonprofit publishers often forget about the symbiotic relationship between blogs and enewsletters. You can use your newsletter to grow your blog subscribers, and your blog to grow your enews list. Both have different purposes, depending on how you want to use them. Consider a recurring department in your enews called "From the Blog," so you remember to link to that content in each issue. Better yet, name your blog, so you're linking to something catchy.
6. Asking for money only once a year
Enewsletters are a great place for fundraising, and most nonprofit audiences expect a solicitation or quarterly appeal. If you rely on a one-time publication such as an annual report to accomplish all your online fundraising goals, you're going to be disappointed, since you haven't been nurturing your potential donors all year long. You should be educating your readers year round on what your fundraising goals are, and who your donations benefit. The more you integrate storytelling into your content, the more powerful and impactful your "ask" will be.
7. Not growing or purging your list
Lists need to be maintained in 2 key ways: list growth, by publicizing your enews whenever you can, and purging subscribers who consistently don't open your emails. By keeping your lists clean, you're insuring that you don't get flagged for SPAM, and you can show off better metrics. The better your open rate, the more confidence you can have that you're meeting your readers' needs.
8. Using Gmail or Outlook Instead of Dedicated Program
Programs like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, Cooler Email, and Aweber, are specifically designed for e-news communications, providing templates, forwarding features, subscriber graphics, etc. Using a regular office email program is cheating yourself out of these features, as there is no automation, interactivity, or metrics. Not only that, but using email when you are sending to 50 or over recipients is considered SPAM.
9. Too few or too many images
Some publishers use no images at all, as a tactic for mobile optimization. Since the typical reader looks at images first, headlines second, and body copy last, this approach is basically taking a gamble, even on mobile. You want to have at least 2-3 small images to add visual interest. Conversely, you don't want numerous oversize images taking over your newsletter either --this is time consuming and unnecessary. One of the latest trends is to use responsive design, which adapts to whatever technology your reader is using.
10. Over or underpublishing
Some organizations think once a month is enough frequency, while others publish once a week, or even daily. Whatever works best for you is fine, but typically monthly is too infrequent, particularly if you're relying on your enews for event promotion, or deadline sensitive content. My observation, both as as reader and a publisher, is that bimonthly (once every two weeks) is about right.
11. Ignoring metrics and tracking
Too often, we press the publish key and forget that the behind-the-scenes tracking of our newsletters is one of the most important things about it. Make it part of your editorial calendar to review your open and click through rates about a week after you publish. What links did your readers click on the most? The least? If you see repeated patterns of low readership or click through rates, you should consider changing your contest, and the style you use to deliver it. Better yet, survey your audience to get their honest feedback on your enews.
12. Ignoring social marketing
Just publishing your newsletter and leaving it at that is only doing half the job. You should be sharing links to the entire enews throughout the week you publish it, using a different lead each time, and linking to your landing page for subscription sign ups. You can also repurpose enews stories into blog posts if they aren't already published there. Taking advantage of your blog post images on highly visual sites such as Pinterest (I have a blog Board on mine here) and Instagram, with a link to your blog, to add visibility. You can also highlight your social channels by linking to unique promotions or content there, such as e-books, giveaways, or specific campaigns, and encouraging Likes, Follows, etc. Just asking for the connection for the sake of doing so isn't as effective as highlighting the specific content you're publishing there. Starting November 5, Facebook will no longer allow Like-gates, so the pressure to produce even more interesting content there and on all your organizational platforms will be that much greater.
13. Not using an autoresponder
Taking advantage of your enewsletter program's autoresponder feature is a great way to enhance your brand, familiarize your audience with your offerings, and differentiate yourself from competitors. Some brands like to publish a mini e-course or "how to" in order to establish authority, and keep reader interest. Whatever you decide, be sure the content is relevant to your audience.
14. Not mixing it up
Publishing just text with images every issue is going to become monotonous after a while. Make an effort to include a variety of media links, such as videos, podcasts, photo galleries, etc., to keep readers interested.
15. Forgetting to cross promote
You should be cross promoting your enews sign-up on all your other online platforms, as well as in your print publications and at live events. Include the sign-up link on your e-mail signature, on your organization's flyers, in your videos, and on your business cards.
What tips can you share for e-news success? What did I leave out? Share in the Comments...