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The cockroach of internet marketing—Tips for getting the most from that old standby, the email newsletter


With all the new platforms emerging as the latest and greatest new marketing channel, email strikes many as old-fashioned. Other digital venues such as social media and mobile marketing may be stealing the spotlight, but email continues to grow, as well.

One reason email is so effective is because it provides a more personal connection than other digital strategies. It takes the conversation about your association out of the public domain, off your website or social media channels, for example, and into a very personal space — the in-box.

According to Jason Hirschhorn, chief executive of the digital curator ReDef, email is a "great place to get in front of people who are interested in what you have to say. Email is a 40-year-old technology that is not going away for very good reasons — it’s the cockroach of the Internet.”

News on the web or delivered via social media channels can too easily get buried in news feeds and lost in continual scrolling. A message delivered via email remains in the in-box until some action is taken. We hope that action is to open eagerly and read the content with interest, clicking links to our website for further information and even sharing information contained in the message with friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens.

Associations send regular newsletters as a benefit of membership, to keep members informed of association activity that may be of interest to them, as well as provide supplementary news and context that is relevant to them.

Members already have a natural connection to and interest in an association’s newsletter content. However, everyone’s inbox is overflowing. So, how do you set your message above the others to ensure it gets read?

Write effective subject lines so recipients open your messages. Many email services recommend against subject lines such as “Monthly Newsletter.” They suggest using this space to tease your top news. However, if readers know that your newsletter contains lots of relevant information that is of interest to them, that monthly newsletter may catch their eye right away.
Also, research shows that shorter subject lines, of fewer than 30-35 characters, result in higher open rates. Try different approaches and track your results to see what works best with your readers.

Write effective and creative headlines and subheadings. Your newsletter should be easy to navigate at a glance. Cater to skimmers (like me).

Consider how your message looks with images disabled. Because most people read email either on a device or by viewing it in their email’s preview screen, they won’t have images enabled. Design your newsletter to look professional even with blank boxes inserted where images should be. Images should not occupy overly large areas, especially near the top, and text should wrap neatly around those graphics.

All your images should also include “alt text,” which is the alternative text that appears when images aren’t loaded in an email. This can be done easily when using an email newsletter service such as Constant Contact.

Please also note that because use of email preview screens allows readers to read and review email without actually opening it, your readership may actually be quite a bit higher than your stated open rate.

Test. Your last step before publishing your newsletter should always be to send it to yourself as a test. Make sure it renders correctly, and check all links.

As with your friendly neighborhood cockroach, which has survived millions of years, through ice ages and nuclear war, email has demonstrated its staying power. Use the newer social marketing channels in conjunction with email, and the two can complement and strengthen each other. Encourage your readers to share your content by including social sharing buttons for key articles within your newsletter. And, including social follow buttons in your newsletter allows readers to easily follow you on those channels. Experiment to find a strong balance, and don’t give up your association’s monthly e-newsletter just yet.


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