Sunday, February 4, 2018

Facebook Changes and the Rise of Newsletters (or, Back to the Future)

Remember e-newsletters? 

They were so early 2000s. But they are coming back.

Why are they coming back? Changes at Facebook have something to do with it.

As everyone knows, Facebook has decided to prioritize posts from friends and family over “public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The goal, he says, is to give “more opportunities to interact with the people they care about.”

What this means, of course, is that news from media outlet will be downgraded—and so will posts from organizations like non-profits.

Already, Facebook had been pushing organizational and media content to its Explore Feed.

The impact of this decision will vary; news and organizational posts that get a lot of response from friends will continue to be seen.

But the general consensus is that groups that relied on Facebook to share information will suffer.

Back to the Future

Which brings us back to the future—of newsletters.

Back in the early days of digital, organizations sent newsletters by e-mail—lots of them.

But then Facebook came along, and we dropped them.

Why write all that content when you could just post them on the social media giant?

But along the way we forgot the golden rule of Facebook: Facebook makes the rules.

And now that Facebook has changed the rules, e-newsletters look attractive again.

Why? For one reason, groups control them—no more worrying about whether Facebook will change the rules again.

For another, people who sign up are inviting us in—no more just hoping they see it in their busy social media feeds.

Unlike with Facebook, an inbox is a personal and private space. By signing up they are saying: “Come on in. I want to hear what you have to say.”

Newsletters are also good for A/B testing.

You can send one version to half your list, a different one to the other half, and see which style works best.

Finally, we can know our reach through services like Mailchimp; every time we send out a newsletter, we can tell how many people opened them.

A Different Kind of Newsletter

But today’s newsletters need to be different than the ones we made in the past.

Previously, we sent the equivalent of a table of contents—a number of short summaries with links.

Today the feeling is that newsletters need to be more personal, more like a letter from the executive director to supporters.

There can still be links to the website, but it may not be important people go there.

Getting a letter from the executive director may be enough.

As Brodie Fenlon of CBC put it: “It’s not critical that people go to website. It is not a way to drive them somewhere else. The newsletter is the destination.”

Audiences, he added, “hate it when you try to push them somewhere else. If this is their only news source, that’s fine.”

Needs to be Useful

Of course, none of this matters if people don’t sign up.

And why would they do that?

“It has to be useful,” Fenlon says. “That’s why people sign up for them, open them.”

For groups that make newsletters, it means being “clear about their purpose, and who they are for,” if they are to succeed, he adds.

What’s your experience with newsletters? Are you planning to do more of them?

Image at top: Canadian Foodgrains Bank e-newsletter. 

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