Four months ago, we launched the first edition of our new daily newsletter The Media Roundup. We previously had a longstanding weekly newsletter that listed the stories we’d discussed on that week’s episode, but by the time the newsletter went out post-podcast, those stories were old news. Media moves too fast, and without the added context of our discussion on the podcast, there was little value in the newsletter.
Putting together a daily newsletter has made a huge difference to the way we work together as a team, and more importantly, has helped us get to know our audience. It’s almost impossible to tell from our weekly podcast which stories people do and don’t care about, but the newsletter has given us a valuable insight into this.
Here, we’ve pulled out some of the lessons we’ve learned from doing a daily newsletter. Some of them are quite specific to us as a niche media business, but we hope there is something newsletter writers (and aspiring newsletter writers) of all sizes can use.
1: Be clear on your mission and what sets your newsletter apart
It feels like everyone has a newsletter these days. Or a podcast. Or even both! As with all media products, before launching a newsletter, you have to be crystal clear about why you’re doing it and who it is for.
We discussed at length how the newsletter would fit into our wider mission at Media Voices. Our goal – like all the best B2B media – is to help people working in media and publishing to do their jobs better, whether that’s through analysis of the news, interviews with guests at the top of their game, or resources from other outlets. The Media Roundup had to contribute to this goal.
When researching other newsletters we liked, we came across a common problem. Many were incredibly long, often surfacing 10 or more articles. If someone has signed up to four or five key media newsletters, they’re being bombarded with hundreds of stories each morning.
Our mission for the newsletter became clear: distil this into just a handful of stories that really matter.
This is now our tagline for The Media Roundup, and our ‘elevator pitch.’ For anyone with a newsletter or thinking of setting one up, nail down what you want it to be and who it is for in just one sentence. Then potential subscribers are clear on exactly what you are offering.
2: Curation is still a valid newsletter model
Curated email newsletters – where you’re not relying on any of your own content – are easy to do but difficult to add value to.
We’re a small team and Media Voices work has to fit around our full-time and freelance jobs. Researching and recording the podcast takes precedence and that means we can’t always write new content every day, or even every week. There are also some very talented writers in the industry who are doing a better job of breaking news and publishers’ resources than we can by ourselves.
Rather than stick simply with curation, we’ve taken a hybrid approach with The Media Roundup. The editor for the day chooses a top story, and writes a couple of hundred words on what the story is, and why it’s important. This extra context and commentary is then what adds the value, without making the newsletter too long.
We also use the newsletter to highlight our own media analysis work for other outlets, and our weekly podcast. But we are careful to cap this so it doesn’t become all about us!
3: The workflow is just as important to get right
For curated newsletters in particular, there is more that goes into it than simply picking an email newsletter provider and a few articles to go in it. Because the three of us on the Media Voices team take it in turns to edit the newsletter, we needed to get a proper workflow going behind the scenes for sourcing stories each day.
To ensure a balance between the types of stories we chose, we created an account with Pocket, a bookmarking tool which also integrates with our email provider Revue. If we see an article on Twitter, on a website or in another newsletter which we think would be of interest to our readers, we bookmark it to a joint Pocket account. This means when it comes to putting the newsletter together every evening, there is a bucket of content for us to choose from.
Getting into the habit of using Pocket has also improved our weekly podcast process. Rather than scrambling to remember stories we’d read earlier that week when it comes to putting our news round-up together, we have a selection that all three of us have flagged at our fingertips, which in turn makes it a more balanced mix. Revue’s email builder offers a simple drag-and-drop for links, so there’s no need to worry about making sure all the pictures and text are hyperlinked properly.
Finally on a workflow front, whoever is editing that day’s edition sends a test to the other two. This is for more than just catching typos (of which there are plenty). It helps keep a crucial balance of stories, and we will sometimes challenge each other on the stories we have chosen or the analysis we’ve written about them. If the justification isn’t clear to two of the team, it won’t be clear to the audience either.
4: Be informed by the analytics, but not blinded by them
The newsletter has given us a far deeper level of insight into what our audience likes than our podcast ever has. We can see who signs up and where they’re from (sometimes), which stories they’re most interested in, and how much they engage with the newsletter.
This has really helped when it comes to informing the topics we discuss in the weekly news round-up. There are stories that we might think were big and interesting that simply didn’t pique the interest of our readers that week at all. Similarly, stories that we don’t anticipate appealing to many people actually end up with high click-through rates. It’s been eye-opening.
Saying that, we have almost fallen into the trap a couple of times of prioritising stories because they got a lot of clicks in the newsletter, not because they are good stories to discuss on the podcast.
One example of this is ‘How-to’ articles and case studies. These are by far our best-performing stories in the newsletter, because our publisher audience likes reading things that will help them at work. But we cannot make the whole newsletter about these types of articles, because there are news stories that will also be impacting media organisations.
How-to’s and case studies are also trickier to discuss as part of a news round-up. Instead, we look at what the themes are which particularly resonate with readers, and make sure to get in touch with guests for the podcast that will be able to talk about how they tackled a particular area.
This way, we are letting the audience and the analytics inform our work at Media Voices, not drive it.
5: Set goals and KPIs
Getting a newsletter started is just the beginning. Deciding what you’d like it to do next, and then working towards that is a bigger challenge.
Subscriber numbers are an obvious KPI for many newsletters. For us, we know that a daily newsletter is a big commitment, and so we’re not expecting huge numbers (although that would be nice!). What’s more important is how engaged our subscribers are with the newsletter.
Our newsletter provider Revue has got a neat tool which we use to measure this. It lets us know how many of our readers have high, medium, low or no engagement when compared to the same time a month ago.
This is a far more valuable measure to us than numbers. Thousands of people could be signing up to the newsletter, and if they don’t open a single issue, that’s no good to us or our mission of helping them.
Instead, our approach is to see our newsletter subscribers as a part of our wider Media Voices community. If they are interested, opening emails, reading content and responding, then we in turn can work on being as helpful to them as possible. The newsletter is a stepping stone to bringing them in closer to our podcast, which is the beating heart of Media Voices.
Our own goal for the newsletter is to maintain those levels of high engagement, minimise the low engagement and make ourselves as valuable to our readers as possible. Which brings us neatly onto the next lesson we’ve learned.
6: Encourage feedback, and respond to it
For so many publishers, newsletters are a one-way communication system. But for a growing number of outlets, us included, the newsletter is a way of inviting readers to join the conversation.
For readers to know they can share their thoughts and comments, they need permission, and sometimes some instructions on how to do so. With our newsletters, readers simply reply to reach our shared inbox, or they can respond quickly with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down function at the bottom of each edition.
We also want to make sure we respond to all readers who take the time to email us. Fortunately that’s a manageable number; this would be more difficult for a large publisher who may potentially attract hundreds of replies a day. But at the very least, if you can’t reply to everyone, reassure them that you value the time they have taken to respond to your newsletter.
This is an area we want to work on more. Some days prompt lengthy emails from readers about an angle we may have missed, or an alternative perspective (we very much welcome this!). Some days we get asked for additional context or get questions about a story, and sometimes we get nice feedback. Most days, our inbox is fairly quiet, which means we either have more work to do with encouraging that dialogue, or we’re doing a perfect job. It’s safer to assume the former!
7: Make it work for other areas of the business
This is perhaps the most obvious lesson, but also one that can be easily missed by smaller newsletter writers. People who choose to receive your newsletter are also (hopefully) interested in the other work you do.
We use the daily newsletter as a way of promoting our podcast episodes, with the aim of encouraging our newsletter audience to become regular listeners. The three of us also do a great deal of writing for the wider industry, and the newsletter is a useful vehicle for reminding readers of our individual expertise.
There is a balance to be struck here. We cap our ‘self promotion’ slots, and will sometimes use them to shout about events or projects that our industry friends are doing. But we also can’t be shy about promoting other work we do, or reminding readers of ways to get involved with or support Media Voices.
Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world