Recently my genealogy society decided they wanted to begin the move from a printed quarterly newsletter to an email newsletter. As I began researching options, it suddenly dawned on me we already had the perfect platform in place. Our site runs on WordPress with Jetpack letting us offer email subscriptions to our readers and we already have a significant number of subscribers. Why go looking for a new platform, spending the time to learn how to use it and then forcing our existing subscribers to move to a new system? All we need is a bit of planning and a little design effort to create a newsletter just as impressive as any external platform.
Our current site plan includes posting a weekly article discussing a research topic and a weekend article with the latest news from the archives, deals and other items of interest. In addition there are posts to remind members about upcoming meetings, calls for journal articles and other such announcements. The Jetpack email subscription plugin sends each of these posts to every subscriber. Why not reduce those postings to just two a week – the weekly research article and a weekend newsletter – and let the newsletter pick up the other “newsy” topics?
The research article will be forwarded as any “normal” post but the weekend newsletter gets a design overhaul to look more like a newsletter. It will be more graphical with a masthead and topic dividers. Instead of a “long-form” article, the newsletter is a series of short news items and links to other sources. Instead of separate posts calling for articles or meeting reminders, include them as “feature” items in the newsletter.
What about the people who don’t have emails or refuse to subscribe? Print out the weekly newsletter posts and mail them to those users once a month – on a date scheduled early enough to update them on the next monthly meeting. For those without computers or emails, they won’t mind missing the latest deal from the online archives. For those who just refuse, missing those deals might just inspire them to subscribe.
Moving from a quarterly printed newsletter to a weekly digital update means we can continue to provide a professional-looking newsletter that includes functional links as well as current news on things like new collections added to the online archives, recommended reading, society news and any deals or special offers – things that have often expired by the time a quarterly newsletter is published.
Once you decide to try Jetpack’s subscription service, you’ll find it operates a bit differently from normal distribution. The first thing you need to do is insure that every graphic included in the newsletter actually resides in your WordPress media library. While an image that physically resides on Flickr will appear in the newsletter article posted on the site, it won’t appear in the email message your subscribers receive. You will need to do some experimenting to determine which design elements work and which don’t. Fortunately, this learning curve is a lot shorter than taking on an entirely new service.
You may also want to create some custom graphics to use in your newsletter. For example, you may find the standard HTML horizontal line (shown between the first two paragraphs above) a bit too plain for your newsletter design. It’s easy to create a custom one instead like the delightful rabbit doodle I found in an old book. Once it’s added to your WordPress Media Library, you can easily use it over and over again. Choosing a standard naming convention (for example: newsltr-icon, newsletter-divider and newsltr-masthead) make it easy to find those graphics when you need them.
For those comfortable using WordPress, these few extra steps to a professional email newsletter will be easy to adopt. Your site will look as good as ever and your newsletter posts will impress your subscribers as well. It’s a whole lot easier than tackling an entirely new platform.