Writer's hands typing on laptop, with notepad and discarded drafts nearby

Just about everyone in your office thinks it would be super-fantastic to have a company newsletter. Except you… the person who has to write it. Sound familiar?

I am all for communication. But employees don’t want to be talked at. They never did, of course, but now that we have better ways for two-way and real-time communication, what’s the point of a newsletter that’s outdated before it’s even published?

But, newsletters (of the digital variety) can be especially useful for your external marketing, if you focus on providing useful information instead of sales pitches. (Hint: it’s not all about you, or your company. Would you subscribe to a newsletter that was nothing but a sales pitch?)

In either case, you’re the person who’s going to be stuck writing the newsletter. And even its most enthusiastic proponents are conspicuously silent when it comes to providing content. Why? They’re not like us. We–the communicators–create content almost as naturally as breathing. But we’re a minority. Only about 23% of social media users create blog posts or other content, and that number is dropping. (And remember, it’s unlikely that all your employees even use social media.)

But, you don’t have to be stuck for content. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Find a way to measure readership. Tracking clicks is a good way. Provide small snippets, and link to the full content elsewhere. (Tip: Use bit.ly links for internal newsletters to measure clicks, if you’re using a regular email program like Outlook to send.) After 4 to 6 issues, look at readership trends. If people aren’t reading the newsletter, you have a valid reason to stop writing it. Also, track how much time you spend writing each edition, so you can provide examples of more effective things you could be doing with your time, if you need to. [Note: for external newsletters, give it more time–you have to provide a reason for people outside your organization to care about your content.]
  2. Keep a running log of possible content for every issue. I create a Word document for each edition I need to write, and create section headings. Then I make a shortcut to it from my desktop. As I sort through industry email and RSS feeds each day, I put interesting content or events in my newsletter file, with links to the source. I always have to prune the content before publishing, but it’s much easier to cut from too much than find more at the eleventh hour. This process is easier for industry news-driven newsletters, but you can use the same method for internal newsletters by keeping running notes on intranet postings, email announcements and so on, with a focus on processes that are changing (people always need reminding about those).
  3. Look at what people are reading. (Again, measure clicks.) Add more of that type of content the next time. Don’t be afraid to switch your format around to focus on what your readers find most interesting. Feature that type of content in your subject line, to improve your open rate. (And please, PLEASE, don’t use the subject line “Company ABC Monthly Newsletter” alone.)
  4. Do a survey, especially for internal newsletters. What kind of information do people need? Want? How often do they want to receive it? Would they like to write a regular feature? (Don’t laugh–I actually had a volunteer when I tried this! You never know where you might find aspiring writers within your organization.) Be wary of surveying external newsletter recipients. For this audience, try a subset of people who clicked something in your last newsletter–those who are engaging with your content. You don’t want to prompt others to unsubscribe, and a survey request might do it. Think about it: how many survey invitations do you receive vs. how many you take?

This isn’t the only way, of course–just things I’ve found so far that make wrangling content a little easier. Maybe you already have really engaged employees who love to contribute news and features (lucky you!). Do you have other tips to share? I’d love to hear them.