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Author Topic: newsletters - how to do them properly  (Read 2616 times)
vlastimil
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« on: August 10, 2012, 06:56:01 AM »

Hi all,

I am considering starting a newsletter for users of my software. After years of mainly coding, I find myself a bit disconnected from the users and it seems like newsletter is still a popular format.

So, what are the biggest obstacles I am about to face? Is it even worth it? I have email addresses of people who have created an account and kind of opted-in to receive news (it was opt-out many years ago), but I have never sent a single volume email so far.

Mouser runs a successful newsletter so I would welcome his advice as of course anyone's who is running a newsletter now, was doing it in the past or even considered doing it.

Thanks,
V.
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mouser
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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2012, 07:23:48 AM »

Great question.  I'm sure there are people who run newsletters for a living and have smarter things to say, so please don't expect my thoughts to be definitive.  However I will share what I've learned.

First things first, I think the number of people you are emailing is the most important factor to be considered.  Anything under a couple hundred and you probably don't have to worry too much about the rest.  Once you start getting into the thousands of subscribers, it gets much more hairy and the dangers go up in terms of risking that the big email providers will start blacklisting your email address, and risking that your mail server will start to freak out trying to send so much mail.

Ok so some observations:

  • Users need to be able to very easily unsubscribe from the list.  I like to give them a link to check to unsubscribe, and let them know they can just hit reply and say unsubscribe.
  • We use phplist to do our newsletter mailings, which is open source.  Phplist can be a bit clunky, BUT it is capable of sending 70,000 newsletter emails without killing the server.  It has been a bit tricky to figure out how to configure it and the server so that this can be done without crashing the server load.. (Generally we send those emails over the course of a 2 day period).
  • There are gentler programs for sending email newsletters if you only need to send a couple hundred emails, and you have other options when you aren't sending so many, like desktop applications for newsletter sending.  I don't have any experience with those but they are probably good options until you start needing to send tens of thousands.
  • On the other side of the coin, if you need to send hundreds of thousands, you may be better off out-sourcing the sending of your newsletter to one of these other services that specialize in that.  Again I have no experience with the bigger players in this kind of thing.  I hear mailchimp is one of the best commercial tools and services.
  • One of the main things that we worried about with the donationcoder newsletters was that some of the newsletter emails will inevitably be marked as spam.  That in itself is not a problem.  The concern I always had was that it would end up hurting the domain itself so that ALL emails from our site would start to risk being marked as spam.  Now that never actually happened, but it became such a feverish concern of mine that we ended up setting up a secondary domain name just for sending the newsletters, in the hopes that any catastrophe that caused the newsletter emails to trigger some severe spam blacklisting would not effect the main domain name.  That's another reason people who send large volume newsletters often outsource them to 3rd party servers.
  • As for newsletter content -- it seems to me that the newsletters that are really "successful" in terms of building a real relationship between the writer and the readers are the ones where there is a real personal connection.  I'm a pretty private person so that's not really something I feel that comfortable with, but I admire those writers who can make that kind of connection with their readers.
  • Having said that, if you're just writing a newsletter about your products, it's not like having a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend, and you may be better off not trying to make it something it's not, and just give a straightforward report on updates and news.  Still, I think if you are writing for a small product or company, it's better to write it from your perspective, signing them with your name, etc. -- as opposed to presenting the newsletters as coming from an anonymous press release.
  • Speaking as someone who received newsletters occasionally, but doesn't often read them much -- for me there is a threshold of frequency over which I will unsubscribe.  Occasionally some newsletter will start sending me updates every week, and that's just too much for me and i will unsubscribe.  Once a month and even if i never read it i don't mind.
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40hz
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« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2012, 07:52:52 AM »

MailChimp is very capable. Some really good management and analysis tools are provided if you need them. They also have several really good guidebooks available for download that go into some depth about things email and what you need to know about it. Worth a  look even if you don't open a MailChimp account.

I have a few clients that swear by MailChimp for their newsletters and marketing campaigns. MailChimp also  provides a very capable free service if your needs are relatively modest (maximum of 2000 subscribers-all lists/12,000 email items per month). You can try it out - or use their free account indefinitely if that's all you need. They don't even require a credit card to set up a free account. That's really nice!

Addendum: one additional thing. Doing a good newsletter, by which I mean one that's actually worth reading, isn't easy once you've written up your five or six favorite topics. If you want some inspiration, one example of a newsletter that really was worth reading can be found here. It was Iain Richard's old (and much missed) Gizmo's Support Alert Newsletter. It ran from 1998 to 2008. To me and many others, Gizmo's was always the model of how a tech newsletter should be done.

You can read all of the back issues online here. Or download the entire searchable archive here if you want to see more.

Note: I used to do a newsletter back in the late 90s which ran for 36 uninterrupted monthly issues. It became more and more of a chore starting around issue number eight. So if you do decide to do a newsletter, do what a magazine editor of my acquiantance told me to do when I started mine  - have at least five issues worth of material before you publish your first. Because you will get writer's slump sooner or later. And having half a year's worth of buffer between you and an uncooperative blank page goes a long way towards keeping you sane. smiley
« Last Edit: August 10, 2012, 08:30:46 AM by 40hz » Logged

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cranioscopical
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« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2012, 01:45:48 PM »

have at least five issues worth of material before you publish your first. Because you will get writer's slump sooner or later. And having half a year's worth of buffer between you and an uncooperative blank page goes a long way towards keeping you sane.
It's far too late to put my name into any sentence containing the word 'sane' but I heartily agree with this advice. I used to publish a monthly user-group newsletter and it was a royal PITA at times.

Vlastimil, if you decide to go ahead:
  • I'd start slowly — maybe 3 or 4 a year. If you adopt the advice above you may find that by your third in-hand copy you'll have decided to abort the mission.
  • Good newsletters are not all about a product or company. You have demonstrated that you have much to say that's interesting about graphics in general — too much emphasis on just your products could be counterproductive. Displaying your expertise in conjunction with your 'brand name' in a way that imparts useful information about the field might well be the better way to go.
  • Newsletters are not better for being longer.
  • If you decide to tell your readers what schedule to expect, stick to it!.

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Chris
vlastimil
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« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2012, 06:23:16 PM »

Thanks for the responses so far, they will definitely help me decide what to do. I guess I'll try to prepare 2 or 3 newsletters and if I manage to make them at least mildly interesting, I'll start worrying about the technical challenges. It looks like mailchimp has a free plan for up to 2000 recipients and that may be just the right number of people to test the idea on.
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app103
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2012, 06:25:17 AM »

Found this comparison of newsletter services: http://www.digitalfamily....-services-comparison.html

And there is a handy table comparing features: http://www.digitalfamily....ces-comparison-table.html

And then there is this review of AWeber vs MailChimp: http://wpmu.org/aweber-vs-mailchimp/

They seem to suggest that starting out, MailChimp would be the best option, but once you outgrow their free service, moving to AWeber would be the best option.

And some tips for running a successful newsletter: http://www.wahm.com/artic...n-E-mail-Newsletters.html
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