How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Viva Email!

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s raining email newsletters. In that essay, Craig Mod calls them “an open, beautifully staid, inert protocol” that at its best is about all the things social has abandoned: permission; intimacy; conversation (reminder: you can always reply back to these and I’ll answer); and an asynchronous shared journey not unlike letter writing.

Sounds so quaint. But email is also (still) indispensable — even foundational —​ for content marketing today. Jonah Goldberg (formerly of National Review) and Steve Hayes (formerly of The Weekly Standard) are starting a new conservative media company. Its first iteration? Email newsletters, not a website or a print presence. Axios, The Information, Stratechery et al. are having enormous impact on the way niche publishers approach their audiences.

Dan Oshinsky, the New Yorker’s director of newsletters, now puts together a Google Doc called “Not a Newsletter: A Monthly Guide to Sending Better Emails” with monthly updates you can subscribe to. (H/T: Philip Morgan.) Recommended without reservation for anyone at a research-driven org that sends emails, which is still most of you.

Three things in the March edition of Not a Newsletter that I’d highlight:

  1. Pew Research Center is offering a five-part email mini-course on US immigration. Email mini-courses, of course, are SOP for many consulting firms — but I’ve never seen one offered by a research-driven org. (Have you?) It could be a great way to solidify your org’s leadership in a given space. I’ll report back on the experience and ask in the meantime how Pew came to offer this.
  2. Oshinsky lists “Six Email Metrics That Matter (That Aren’t Open Rate).” They’re all excellent— click-to-open rate, engaged minutes per newsletter, mobile open rates, clicks/1000. My two favorites are 1) monthly open rates, a quick thermometer read on how good your acquisition ecosystem is, and 2) percentage of readers who open 50% of your newsletters per month, which shows whether your content is building a habit or not. We don’t think about habit enough — we don’t think we’re worth it, that our audiences will like it. But Northwestern’s Medill J School has a study out saying email newsletters are the biggest generators of subscriptions for local newspapers — and getting those subscribers to adopt a daily digital habit of consuming those newsletters is the single biggest predictor of retaining them. If daily isn’t possible for you, what’s the highest frequency you could email at that could build habit in your audience for your content, your ideas?
  3. 25 Ways to Get Someone to Sign Up for Your Newsletter. I needn’t say more.

The bottom line for me: I look for lessons from everywhere — journalism, SaaS content strategists, Digiday. So should you. And email is still central to audience growth and retention for all of these sectors.