Tips for Successful E-mail Newsletters

If your business or non-profit organization possesses a database of loyal customers or faithful members or volunteers, consider sending a periodical e-mail newsletter alerting them of upcoming events, opportunities for participation, or promotions. More accessible than standard newsletters or direct mailings that can easily be tossed aside and forgotten about, e-mail newsletters can be saved for later viewing. Many e-mail programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, also include a calendar program; special events of interest to readers are much more likely to be added to their electronic calendars if they arrive in electronic format.

There is a fine line, however, between a polite, informative newsletter with good potential to benefit your organization and one that your readers will view as little more than inbox clutter. We all receive so much e-mail each day, and unfortunately most of it is simply junk. Make your message heard by keeping these tips in mind as you compose your newsletter:

1. Less is more
Many reputable organizations give interested people the opportunity to sign up to receive e-mail communications. Unfortunately, many potential readers find that the e-mails they receive are too lengthy or frequent for them to “keep up.” As few people have time to sit down and read a 2,000 word tome over e-mail every week, make sure to limit your newsletter length to the equivalent of one typewritten page. Variety is also a key factor in attracting readers each and every time. Your newsletter should most likely consist of several paragraph-long articles, each about a new event or topic. Do not repeat articles from issue to issue; if possible, write about upcoming events only a reasonable timeframe in advance. A reader looking for new and exciting happenings will not be thrilled to see that you ran the exact same article about next month’s bake sale for the third week in a row. If you find yourself struggling for material or you receive many requests to be dropped from the mailing list, it may be a good indication that your e-mails are being sent too frequently. Once per week or once per month are considered the norm depending on the schedule of your organization, but this can vary. When you find a good schedule, however, be sure to stick to it: you want your recipients to know when your e-mail is coming, and look forward to it.

2. Keep it simple: no annoying graphics or complicated layouts
There are some desktop publishing programs that will help you design an e-mail newsletter full of graphics, twenty different fonts, and other bells and whistles. While you certainly want your newsletter to stand out, beware of possible glitches and hang-ups from these programs. For example, most e-mails can only be sent and received in HTML layouts, which include certain spacing and font requirements. Creating an e-mail in a program such as Microsoft Publisher may look good to you, but it might arrive in an inbox incapable of viewing the e-mail exactly as you had planned. Also, using lots of different colors or fonts can be distracting from your message and might also appear amateurish. It might be best to create your e-mail within your actual e-mail authoring program, and insert a logo or occasional picture as you deem appropriate. A simple, polished e-mail will almost certainly be more effective than one that’s too fancy.

3. The “grocery bag” rule: heavy items first
When opening an e-mail from a group you belong to, the first several lines will often determine whether or not you will continue reading. (This translates to and from other media as well; if the headline of a newspaper reads “Cheese-Eating Up Twenty Percent,” chances are it’s a slow day for news.) Be sure that you list your most important articles or announcements at the top of your e-mail. They will serve as the “hook” for the rest of the newsletter and will show good organization and planning on your part. After you’ve listed your one or two very important articles, you might want to arrange the rest based on department or scheduled date.

4. Invest in professional language and presence
Nothing will damage your credibility quicker than a misspelled word or misused phrase, except perhaps for annoying punctuation after a clichÃ?©, i.e. “Save, save, save!!!!!!” Enthusiasm can and should be conveyed in a professional manner; develop a clean, consistent, and correct voice for your organization, treating your readers with the respect they deserve. Invest in a style guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style, read your e-mail out loud to see if you catch yourself rolling your eyes, and pass a draft to your colleagues to proof for errors. The art of persuasive writing may also come into play here: use active, interesting words in your headlines, provide details you think will attract or interest readers, and use numbers or statistics to provide some back-up for your statements. Also, be sure to provide your organization’s contact information and website URL in the body of the e-mail; you want to be sure people can come to you for more information.

5. Maintain an accurate, up-to-date database and add to it only with volunteered information.
Your primary objective in sending your e-mail newsletter is to broaden the base of participants or customers for your organization. Be sure, however, that you follow through on removing e-mail addresses from your mailing list upon request and only send e-mails to people who have requested them. Obtaining records from other means and sending unsolicited information may not only waste your marketing time, but it may also damage your reputation. If you have forms for your customers or participants to fill out, make sure you include a blank for e-mail addresses so that they have the opportunity to provide that information to you.

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