What I learned at a masterclass on email newsletters

I have a low-key email newsletter that gets sent out on Friday mornings, aimed (for now) at promoting the weekly blog post that I write. 

My subscriber list is small, and I often wonder if I am doing the right thing, if the newsletter meets the needs of its recipients, if I’m using the right platform: you name it, I second-guess myself.

For that reason, and many others, I was excited to spend a day at a newsletter masterclass. The workshop followed the inaugural African Media Perspectives (AMP) Conference, which was held in Stellenbosch. The AMP conference was organised by the South Africa Media Innovation Programme (SAMIP) and was held at a mountain-top venue near Stellenbosch

The bulk of the newsletter masterclass was delivered by members of the Daily Maverick team, with a late afternoon session by The Outlier

My presence at the event was thanks to the work I do for Quote This Woman+, one of the projects supported by SAMIP. (A huge thank you to SAMIP for including me in the event).

Key takeaways from the newsletter masterclass

Apart from the delight of spending time with people that I usually only see on video calls, there was a lot to be learned. My key takeaways, some of them technical:

Define what success looks like: this came up again and again. There’s no point in sending out a newsletter for the sake of it – a clear idea of the purpose of the newsletter and how it fits into your business strategy is paramount. For Daily Maverick, for instance, a key objective is community building. They use their newsletters to bring people into the DM fold, and to channel people into their Maverick Insiders programme.

Building a successful newsletter takes time: Both the DM and Outlier teams noted that creating a newsletter audience can take a long time, with a lot of experimentation along the way.

Open rates: The open rate on any newsletter is always a key metric. The global recommended open rate is 40%. It’s also important to have a process for removing inactive subscribers, because their lack of looking at a newsletter will affect the open rate negatively.

Other important metrics to track: In addition to open rate, the number of subscribers and engagement rate are important.

The size of a newsletter is important: Gmail doesn’t like emails that are larger than 102kb in size – if they are larger, they will “clip” them, meaning that some the email will not be displayed. An email sending provider that tells you what size a newsletter is, is a valuable thing to have.

You can never promote your newsletter too much: Give your readers as many places as possible to sign up. And if you have multiple newsletters, create a page where they are all visible. 

The single most important thing in a newsletter

As always in publishing, this one thing that takes precedence: you need to make sure that your newsletter meets the needs of your audience. Your reader is allowing you to send your content into their personal space, and so a newsletter needs to address that person, human being to human being. The more personal you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

NOTE: I’ll be taking a break in the first week of August; my next post will be published on August 10.

Main picture: Brett Jordan, Unsplash

How to reach me

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media). I also help small businesses and organisations with project and operational management. 

I write a post every week, some about my professional life and work, and some about broader issues. You can get either of those, or both, in your email, by subscribing here

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