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Because We’ve Always Done it That Way: Why Newsletters Must Die

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Why Newsletters Must Die

It’s often tough to break old habits.  Smoking.  Biting your fingernails.  Paying attention to the Westboro Baptist Church.

Organizations large and small seem completely unable to break themselves of the habit of newsletters; particularly for employee communication.  Even though it’s 2011 and technology is enabling video gamers to make unprecedented advances in AIDS research, we’re stuck on delivering static text in columns – sometimes sacrificing trees (and staff time) to circulate it.

Newsletters need to die – here’s why:

They Make it Difficult (if not impossible) to Track Readership

Once something is published in an electronic format, there are a wealth of ways readership can be measured – from unique visitors, to the bounce rate (how long people spent on the page before leaving for something else), comments, ratings, shares, etc.

None of those metrics are available for print documents and it’s a challenge to measure them for electronic documents like PDFs.  Even bulk email newsletters rely on the downloading of images from the email to track readership – and if someone reads the content without loading the photos (which is a common bandwidth-saving measure on most mobile phones and even most email clients/providers due to the security risks presented by embedded content) – those views aren’t counted.

They Create a Barrier to Feedback

As anyone in the communications field will tell you – feedback is an important part of any communications process.  With a blog or any other social media platform, feedback is built in and it’s usually a single click away (sometimes not even that).  Readers can comment, rate and share the information easily.

This is markedly unlike most newsletters where feedback becomes a tedious process of emailing (or worse, calling) the publisher and sending it in – which removes the feedback from view of other readers who may be able to benefit from it.

Collaboration is a Challenge

Whereas users of social media platforms can be granted access to publish (and blogs in particular have workflow processes built in if it’s important to your organization to vet content before it goes live), static newsletters tend to involve an excruciatingly-painful process of managing multiple versions of a document (or synthesizing multiple documents into a single file).

Another advantage of blogs in this arena is that they typically allow “versioning” – so that previous modifications of an entry are saved and can be re-published if necessary.

They Absorb More Time Than They’re Worth

The online world has moved to Content Management Systems (CMS) for good reason.  Once the template is established, laying out the content becomes irrelevant aside from the minor formatting that is done with the text editor (usually a WYSIWYG – ‘what you see is what you get’) that looks very similar to Microsoft Word (something most people in the office world are familiar with).

With a PDF or print piece, each iteration must be laid out individually by the graphic designer so that it’s aesthetically-pleasing and easy to read.  Given that newsletters have a short shelf life – this is squandered effort at a time when we all could use a few extra hours in the day (AmIRite?).

Making Changes is Harder Than it Needs to be

Newsletters, like all static print publications, require extensive proofing to make sure that everything is accurate and correct.  With a blog, you can edit on the fly and correct errors and typos.  Not only that, but you can update content or post revisions whenever you need to.

Information is Less Timely

Blogs and social networking platforms exploded in popularity in part because they allow people to communicate NOW, when they have something to say.

Here’s an equation for the timeliness of news delivered by mass media channels:

Print < TV/Radio < Websites < Blogs < Twitter

Static documents require deadlines to collect enough content for publishing – and in that time, that information becomes dated (especially when one considers that even after all the content is assembled in one place, it still has to be reformatted by a designer).

The next time someone proposes doing a newsletter, try like hell to convince them to publish their information electronically instead (ideally as a blog).
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