I’ve been asked recently about whether you should use a newsletter or a blog to keep in touch with your audience. The first thing to recognise is that these channels can be used together to support each other, and that it shouldn’t be a question of either/or.
The other thing to be clear about is what kind of industry you’re in, and what your readership is for each of these communication tools. An organisation with a more commercial focus may have an email list of thousands of people, most of whom don’t have a personal relationship with anyone in the organisation. A community organisation may have just tens or hundreds of people on their list, most of whom have had personal interaction with someone from the organisation.
A newsletter is a targeted bulletin, quite literally, a letter of news. What has happened in your organisation since the last newsletter? Like the evening news, a newsletter is a number of small stories so that your audience can quickly get an overview of an update about you. None of these stories will require much background and the style of writing will be journalistic, using the inverted triangle of media releases to quickly orient the reader to the who/what/when/where/why/how of a story. As a newsletter is an update about existing work, or the first time that you’re mentioning a story, the time element is important – make sure you express the ‘when’ in your newsletter stories.
A blog post, on the other hand, is a place for a more in-depth discussion about a single topic. Think of the blogs you read: you probably come away from reading a blog post and tell your friends/colleagues/partner: today I read this blog post about the language of the Olympics, or about the Sahel food crisis. Each blog post is an exploration of a single idea, more in depth than you give in a newsletter. It will have more background, and may include personal anecdote or reflection – that will depend on the topic and the overall purpose of your blog, of course. The audience for blogs is more ephemeral than your newsletter audience because although the core people who are connected to your organisation will probably also read your blog, there is a group of transient onlookers who may sweep by and stay for a while, perhaps signing up for your newsletter, perhaps sharing your site or a particular blog post with friends or colleagues of theirs, perhaps commenting, perhaps passing on.
How to get these two communication methods to work together?
Each channel needs to link to the other.
In your newsletter:
- Provide many links to your website. The stories should be able to stand on their own, but make the reader want to find out more. Tell them where you’re sending them: to a page about a project? a profile of a person? a blog entry on a particular project? Make sure they can get more information about aspects of your work they find most interesting.
- Post your newsletters on your website so that people who sign up to your newsletter know they can get back issues at a single spot.
- Make sure people browsing your website can sign up to your newsletter if they want to. And when you meet people and exchange business cards, ask them if you can add them to your newsletter now that you have their email address. They should be able to get off your list easily if they want: web standards these days require that people can unsubscribe to a newsletter in a single click, so make sure your newsletter software complies with this.
In your blog posts:
- The blog items should also have cross-references to your newsletters (which will be linkable on your website, remember?). Work in a way of saying, ‘Following up from our news last month ….’ and link to the relevant spot in the newsletter (not to the whole newsletter, so you’ll need anchors).
- Remember to talk about some other aspects of your work in each blog post – you don’t want to irritate people with the cross-promotion, but if someone is reading about your views on word choice, perhaps they’ll be interested to know you also wrote about cohesion?
- Provide options for readers to subscribe to your blog posts so that they are delivered direct to readers’ inboxes. Give them options to share your posts on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest … if you use these social media you’ll know how much material you read that you found through someone you’re connected to, not direct from the organisation.
Some organisations are just not newsy, and some don’t have people going to their website to read 500–1000 words of a blog post. But if you work for an organisation that does have a news cycle, and that also has interesting commentary about aspects of its work, do the newsletter and the blog.