&313/ The State of Email Newsletters. Join the Conversation!


One of the very few newsletters I keep receiving is The Economist Publisher's Newsletter. Two weeks ago, the April edition stated:

  • "Gulliver: Economist.com is pleased to announce the launch of Gulliver, a business travel blog delivering a combination of news, views and reviews to help readers get the most out of their business trips. [...] Starting this week, Gulliver replaces our Cities Guide newsletters and we trust you will enjoy the ride.
  • Sir 2.0. We now welcome your comments: You can now comment on any article published on Economist.com and we invite you to share your thoughts and opinions with fellow readers."

7 years after the Cluetrain Manifesto and 2 years after The Naked Conversations, mainstream media outlets finally seem to jump on the bandwagon. Markets are conversations - and so should be the professional publishing industries. Two-way. Not one-way.

Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, 2006: "If mainstream outlets were to engage and cocreate with their audiences in a more profound way, surely this could only accentuate positive attributes such as balance, fairness, and accuracy, while making the media experience more dynamic. For example, any serious news organization today should also allow its community of readers to join in the editorial conversation."

Here we are.

What is your opinion as a content customer/ content publisher? Make sure to have a look at my related LinkedIn questions

or directly comment below. Anonymous commenting is possible.

[Update May 7: I am manually transferring answers collected on LinkedIn to the comments section of this blog below.]

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26 Classic Comments

Depends on the quality of the feed.

Some places transmit an RSS feed that contains all (or nearly all) of the content of a newsletter, in a readable format. In those cases, it's easy to make the switch.

A depressing number of places either (a) give me no more than a headline and a paragraph, expecting me to go to their site to read, (b) format the content so that it looks like an EDI transmission or (c) add all sorts of extraneous nonsense to the feed. For those, I stay with e-mail.

It also depends on the tool you use to read RSS. I use Thunderbird, which makes it very easy to collect feeds and store them in separate buckets. There is very little practical difference for me between RSS and e-mail, hence I'm less likely to switch.

Timeliness is also an issue. For time-critical stuff (say, bug notifications or virus alerts), I would pick RSS so I can get them immediately, rather than wait for a daily or weekly digest. If not, I can wait.

And personal taste is an issue. I find it depressing to have an RSS bucket with 450 unread items. It seems less daunting to have 20 unread issues of a newsletter-- even if it has the same 450 items.

I occassionally rate them but it has to be simply and fast. If I have to register and fill in a lot of squares, I won't do it. I usually rate articles that are either exceptionally good or bad and leave the ones in the middle alone.

The e-newsletters I do for my clients are still done in more "traditional" ways -- that is, email push to employees usually with the newsletter embedded in the email. Linking them to the e-newsletter is less effective, of course, because it requires another step after opening the email and we've all learned how that stops people from making the effort.

Most, if not all, of my clients are still not ready for RSS, Twitter, etc. In fact, most aren't sure what to do about the direction online communication is going... we're striving to help some of them (the ones we think can handle it) understand the value and direction of social networking, podcasts, quick-hit online videos (the YouTube phenomenon) and the like.

Our LAO has traditionally sent bi-monthly email newsletters to a massive (opt in) database. However because it is a bi-monthly email, some of the information is no longer completely up-to-date. likewise not all of the information contained is relevant or of interest to all respondents. It's for these reasons that we have very recently started publishing a blog and subsequent RSS feeds that run parallel to the traditional email newsletter.

It is our intention to survey our readership towards the end of the year and ascertain which format they prefer and why.

No, while I use RSS, I'm still using Email more than RSS.

As in aside, in fact, I'm finding that I'm using more and more media merging technolgies like FriendFeed.com because by the nature of my roles and interests, I need to use every form of input I can get.

I usually do not. Most often because I am not near my computer when I read the articles then when I am near my computer I have forgotten about it.

I subscribe to both email newsletters and RSS feeds. In most cases, I'll subscribe to the RSS feed if it's available; if not, I'll sign up for the newsletter.

There are some sites, however, where I sign up for both. One example is BNET. I love the daily newsletter (the layout, the content), but I don't want to miss other news items that's coming through their feeds. Another example is Amazon.com.They understand the personalization concept well, so I don't want to give up on the newsletters. Their RSS feeds keep me up-to-speed on everything else. LinkedIn is another good example. I stay on top of my network action through the RSS feed, but I also enjoy the newsletters that come out occasionally.

Just recently, I upgraded to MS Office 2007 at work and imported my work-related RSS feeds from Google Reader. Outlook doesn't have all the bells & whistles of Google Reader (nor is it its intent), but it does allow me to manage the articles that come in just like I would with my email. I can share articles/feeds, categorize/flag them, archive them, etc. I still use Google Reader, though, to stay on top of all my non-work-related feeds.

Here’s my take on this. Clearly, Email marketing’s part of the mainstream - you know that you have reasonable loyalty from your customers when you email them, based on engagement statistics i.e. the open rate, click through rates and conversion numbers. So far so good. With email, you have a semi-casual relationship with your customers/potential customers and you provide them with relevant information to influence their actions with regard to your products.

RSS demands a higher level of loyalty from subscribers. Which means that anyone subscribing to your RSS feed wants to hear more about what you have to say or offer and allows a subscriber to "syndicate" news/blog/information summaries from web sites. These RSS feeds display the latest news/posts from sites that you subscribe to on your own web site, your desktop or read them on other sites collecting these feeds. The problem with RSS is that it’s primarily the digerati who use this mechanism to specifically obtain the content they desire.

Twitter’s a new phenomenon and most folks are scratching their heads wondering what it’s all about. You can open a twitter account and have subscribers to your account just like an RSS feed. In fact, some business are using their twitter accounts as RSS feeds and it doesn’t really add much value to the community. A twitter account needs to be nurtured and built up to the point where it’s more than just an account. Branding’s important here as is credibility. You need to build a twitter personality and then build a fan base that want to hear what you’re twitting about. And you have to maintain your account regularly and ensure a consistent stream of content, interact with the community and build loyalty around your twitters. And yeah, unlike emails where you can propagate your products openly, you cannot do that on twitter just yet as any overt commercial plug will drive a potential subscriber away. I’m bearish on this trend. Twitter’s a lot of fun once you get used to it, but that’s my inner-geek speaking. Realistically, I think it will gain prominence among micro-communities and remain a strong niche player but will take ages before the mainstream warms up to it.

In conclusion, if I were to look at the various segments that we’ve serviced over time including baby boomers, B2C, B2B, youth markets etc by email, I’d use RSS or Twitter to complement my email marketing efforts to these segments rather than just replace email with them.

I am moving as many of my email newsletters to RSS feeds as I can. The risk that something is not captured properly is outweighed by the convenience and efficiency of RSS. I can organize feeds and scan quickly. Having said this, there are a couple newsletters that I feel are critical to my business which I continue to receive in email format.

My clients prefer both. The ones who are tech savvy understand RSS feeds and the ones who aren't enjoy our monthly newsletter (which always gives them a subscribe option and links to our site and blog!) I think you need to look at your customer base to decide which way works for you and your customers.

Short answer: No.

Reason: RSS removes context, warmth and design. There is no relationship possible with a newsfeed. OTOH a well-written, well laid out newsletter can add value beyond the pure "content" and can even be something that one gladly anticipates!

I use RSS where I can find it. I have targeted my surveillance to sites that provide RSS just because it's so darned convenient.

RSS, for those of you not in the know, stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a method of delivering/publishing frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and other such items.

The major browsers support RSS, and can make using RSS quite easy to use, however, what if I am usnig another computer? My RSS feeds are setup by site and by computer. Oops - I may not be able to read my feeds.

Some sites allow you to log in and then recall/save all your RSS feeds and use their site as the RSS reader source.

Email allows me to open the news on any computer without logging into another site. Email just still seems a bit more convienent, though I do subscribe to a couple RSS feeds - on one computer.

I have switched to RSS feeds for all of the mailing lists that I am a part of that offer RSS. There are two or three that I get via email still but the majority are on my Google homepage.

I still receive some newsletters, but in the last few months I have switched the majority of my subscriptions to the RSS format. I love it, and am subscribed to almost 40 feeds - many of which are focused on the online marketing industry. My reader of choice is Feed Demon found at www.newsgator.com.

I'm considering at least a substantial switch to RSS.

Yes, I have unsubscribed from all email newsletters where a RSS alternative is available. I found myself reading more this way.

For email newsletters, if I didn't have time to read it within the week it arrives, I just don't bother anymore, I simply delete them. But for RSS feeds, I keep going back to read my old feeds as soon as I find time.

There are a couple of web sites (that I subscribed to) that still use email newsletters and have no (or poorly categorized) RSS feeds and it kinds of annoy me.

Still an email dinosaur. As the tide changes I imagine I too will migrate in that direction.

Email is still my method of choice - more companies use it and also there are a lot of heavily personalised email newsletters (Amazon and Boots being good examples) which try to only send relevent content to me and use my demographic details and past purchases to weed out content I don't want.

For this reason I am sticking predominantly on the email side for now.

Short answer - no. Reason - not all of the good news is available via RSS. RSS is good for some, but not for a lot. Most of the time, the RSS posts do not abstract correctly and I tend to dismiss a lot of good information whereas email does give me the ability to scan quickly and get what I need out of the content. Google news is ok, but the ability to manage the volume by a decent filter mechanism is lacking.
So the bottom line is I use a number of methods to keep up with current events in any given realm.

The use of RSS by end users who typically read the content contained within a newsletter will vary.

RSS for many non-technically inclined folks is still confusing and less convenient than simply opening an email message (click on an orange RSS button and you'll just see code - if you aren't expecting it you will be under the impression it's 'broken'.)

Using an RSS reader wont make the content any better or the source more valid, but it does give you some flexibility as an end user to create your own edition if the method suits you.

An e-mail message comparatively speaking, can be read easily by anyone, assuming its a newsletter you subscribed to and are therefore receiving it from a trusted source.

The real thing to focus on as an end-user is are you receiving targeted content that is relevant for your business/personal needs? When you subscribe to a newsletter - RSS fed or e-mail - the publisher assumes you want to receive the subscription based content on an on-going basis.

If your newsletter content isn't up to snuff - email or RSS flavors - make sure you either update your subscription preferences or unsubscribe as your needs/interests change over time. Be sure to provide feedback to the publishers as well.

I prefer RSS and have unsubscribed to all my newsletters as the content is generally never consistent in quality. In regards to Twitter i don't understand why i would want a feed so continuous and vague as that. Just doesn’t seem to make sense for business.

I find that my regular newsletter (http://www.avocadoconsulting.com/free_newsletter.html) is still very well read and acted upon. Therefore, I am still publishing a traditional newsletter and am getting great results from it.

In addition to the newsletter I publish a blog, and there I do provide an RSS feed for those who want to subscribe. You can see the blog at http://www.avocadoconsulting.com/marketing/

Biana Babinsky
Online Business Expert

I prefer to have all news feeds come through google reader.

This ensures that when I am ready to read industry news I can do so in one go without the constant interruption of another story coming through.

Personally I did from about 80% of it and the ones remains coming in my inbox because they don't have the RSS option. The RSS allows me to better filter the content I'm receiving and unsubscribe when it's not corresponding to what I'm expecting from it.

I took the leap late last year and ditched the email newsletter all together. I now publish my content by RSS feed to all my online communities. I also have an RSS ticker in my email signature which means that my customers get to see the latest stuff instantly.

In reverse, I have also unsubscribed from all the newsletters that I used to receive via email. But only where I could subscribe to RSS. I now have my homepage set as iGoogle and display all my RSS feeds there, or on Bloglines.

What I find interesting is that my twitter following grows on a weekly basis without my doing anything to promote it. Other than posting tweets.

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