Email is one of the biggest opportunities in the digital space — and most people aren’t talking about it.
That’s how Dan Oshinsky, a former New Yorker newsletter editor and creator of Not a Newsletter, opened his lesson at a recent session of the Facebook Reader Revenue Accelerator Program in Berlin. Oshinsky walked through his practical recommendations for publications to use email — specifically, newsletters — to engage readers and encourage them to become paid subscribers.
To create stellar newsletters, Oshinsky said, follow these four rules.
- Content is critical to your news business, but so is distribution. Pay attention to both.
Your publication is regularly producing high-quality journalism, Oshinsky said. Give distribution as much thought as you do to producing content. You’ll help your publication’s content reach readers as it should.
- Create habits and routines.
Give your newsletters consistency, Oshinsky said. Readers should know what they signed up for, when to expect it, and how it will be delivered.
- Start with a building block.
Each newsletter should fall into one of four core types:
- Identity – Emails that connect with a reader’s identity or passions
- Service – Emails that make a reader’s life easier or connect them to content they’re looking for
- Utility – Emails that help a reader do his or her job better
- Personality – Emails with a unique personality that readers follow, like an email from a columnist
- Respect your audience. Trust is hard to win and easy to lose.
Unsubscribing is easy. Earning an unsubscribed reader’s email again isn’t. Your newsletters shouldn’t spam or take advantage of the reader. Each newsletter should aim to deliver its optimal value.
Content wise, Oshinsky has a few tips to help make your audience feel like they’re part of your community:
- Welcome readers to your newsletter: Introduce yourself to the reader, tell them your story and what they can expect from your newsletter, and thank them for subscribing. Think about different people in your audience who will read this welcome message.
- Send a “Meet Our Writers” email: Introduce subscribers to your writers as if they’re now part of your family. You can also send “celebration” newsletters that highlight the work you’re most proud of — stories and cartoons that make your publication unique.
- Show readers the value of their subscription or membership: Remind them about the work you’ve been able to do because of their support.
- Send a super-clear offer to subscribe: Send a separate email with a special offer just for them to subscribe and pay for your content, but not right away — maybe as a third email. The offer should feel unique, not like you’re just looking for a credit card swipe. You can also use this moment to cross-promote other newsletters they can subscribe to.
- Focus on subject lines and pre-headers: Be creative and brief. Give people a little taste of what’s to come.
To grow your email list, you need to promote your newsletter on-site — in dedicated sign-up pages, story pages (place in the middle or at the bottom of articles), on your homepage, site menu or footer, and pop-ups. You can also try referral programs and paid growth strategies.
The Lenfest Institute for Journalism has covered Oshinsky’s email recommendations in more depth here.
The Accelerator Program
The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.
For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter.