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Discussion: Email Newsletters – Relevant or Dying?

I’ll never forget the sudden needle-scratch and chirping crickets moment when Eric Murrell mentioned that “Email newsletters are dead” while we led a session at MinistryCom several years ago.

Funny thing is, several attenders actually referred to that comment on the feedback surveys at the end of the conference – Not positive either.

I might reget it, but I think it’s time to dive back into this polarizing subject.

Do you read email newsletters?

I feel that’s a valid question to kick things off.

For me? No.

I have every intention to read the ones I actually sign up for. However, before I can read it I get more in from the same folks, so then I just end up deleting all of them to avoid being behind – A vicious, vicious cycle.

My email reading habits make me skeptical about email newsletters.

Why all of the recent email newsletter invitations?

Please hear me out. I don’t believe all email newsletters are dead… yet. There’s definitely a time and place for them.

For example, they’re still the primary way most churches get the word out. Folks read these because they realize this is the best way to find out what’s going on.

But what about personal email newsletters? I’ve seen these grow in recent months. Are they making a comeback? What happened to blogs and other forms of social media to get your message out and engage a following?

When I asked this question on Twitter recently, our good buddy Tim Schraeder (and proud owner of a personal email newsletter) weighed in.

“A wise person told me social media is a way to interact with your tribe. An email list is a way to build your future.”

Interesting thought.

Tame the pitches down, tiger.

Eric Murrell says, “I think the problem is that the inbox is an intimate space; whether requested or not.” Indeed, my biggest frustration is with the email newsletters that always end up being a sales pitch. Honestly, it’s just about all of them for me.

Scott Stratten, author of UnMarketing, talks about this.

“I see people doing this all of the time. I sign up for their ‘newsletter’ and all I get are pitches for products. I want to learn from you, that’s why I signed up. I made this mistake years ago myself. I built a newsletter up to more than 300,000 subscribers and started my pitches. I lost more than 100,000 subscribers in six months. Ya, whoops.”

He goes on to say,

“It’s not about list size, open rates, or click-throughs if all you’re going to do is pitch them. It’s about engagement. It’s about when I see your newsletter in my inbox, among 400 other things in the morning, I say to myself, ‘I have to read this, it’s always great.’”

What say ye?

Where do you land on this subject?

Are you using email newsletters? Personal or organizationally? How are they working for you?

Or the flip side – Are you anti-newsletter? What brought you to that decision?

I feel like we’re just scratching the surface. Please comment below.

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  1. Eric Murrell (Reply) on February 16th, 2012

    Our strategy at Long Hollow? Use them as seldom as possible, and only for BIG, truly important events and announcements. Even then, we keep them brief, only mention the high points and link to the web for more details (where its easy to correct mistakes, typos, add new info, etc).

    I maintain that email newsletters are great for getting numbers, but those numbers aren’t making meaningful connections.

  2. David Tonen (Reply) on February 16th, 2012

    The reason most e-news gets thrown in the trash is that in addition to being too long, they are not well formatted. It’s like the titles of blog posts in your e-reader. The ones that get more than a cursory look are the ones that captivate my attention and make me WANT to read them.

    The Newsletter Title or Subject needs to be compelling and then its content has to be short, not wordy, with interesting sub-headers that I can click on which link me to your website for the full story.

  3. Will (Reply) on February 16th, 2012

    We use a weekly e-news and it has been very effective. We’re not very good at crafting attention-grabbing subject lines at this point simply because we haven’t had the time to devote to it. We used to send out far too many church-wide emails for various events, so we’ve consolidated those into one weekly email that contains important info for upcoming events. Seems to work well for our church.

  4. Steven Fogg (Reply) on February 16th, 2012

    Tim hit the nail on the head for the purpose he is using the email newsletter for which is completely different to say what churches would use them for.

    Bloggers want lists because its their future revenue channel. Maybe not for a while but eventually they will make a pitch to their list that involves asking for them to buy something.

    People have different gut reactions to receiving their regular church news to a pitch from a blogger. People are already positively disposed to what their church leaders would say to them. They MAY be less inclined to read it if its the same each week however and skim read it.

    The challenge for church communicators is how do we keep the content engaging.

  5. Katie Bennett Persinger (Reply) on February 16th, 2012

    I agree with everyone for the most part. A small church with limited communication outlets has a higher percentage of readership because the email is one of the only ways to get information – and it’s timely and relevant (as Will said). This is probably not as true for larger churches with more resources.

    I think people are also more likely to read emails if they are short-term or specific. For example, if you sign up to receive updates about someone’s illness or a short-term campaign – knowing the information is very relevant AND is going to end. So, it’s a matter of thinking about HOW we use email – both the reason (as Eric said) and the creativity of subjects and headlines (as David said).

    The emails I’m personally NOT reading (even if I signed up for them) are from industry organizations and people – like design or communications newsletters. Those end up getting deleted b/c I don’t have time for anything other than the “urgent”/timely information in my email.

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