Adding an E-Newsletter to the Media Mix

steve_toyota.jpg
Steve Stroup loads his truck with marigolds for an outreach event on the campus of Indiana University.

We decided to develop an e-newsletter last fall for Bloomingfoods Market and Deli, with the goal of creating an appealing monthly information clearinghouse. It wasn’t our intention to write in-depth articles, replicate what we do on our website or in our print newsletter, or to prepare lengthy reports or studies. Instead, we write brief teasers—a sentence or two that arouses interest and curiosity—complete with links to longer stories and resources.

Here is a summary of some of what we’ve learned.

Technical
Select software specifically designed for mass mailings that has power, flexibility, and reporting functions. We chose Groundspring, a nonprofit organization providing simple, affordable, and integrated services to medium-sized nonprofit organizations. We like its looks and functionality and decided to learn to use it to develop our e-newsletter—and apply it in the future to an anticipated member loan program.

Features of Groundspring include the ability to juggle mailing lists, controlling who gets what. It also notifies us of nonfunctional addresses and makes it possible to monitor readership, helping us understand the preferences of our readers.

We’ve also found it expedient to use an html development program. We like HyperEdit, currently available only for Mac platforms. The best of these programs are available by downloading from websites. Most will give you a trial period in which to discover whether or not you like using them before requiring you to pay up.

Content and interactivity
There is no shortage of news and significant information to share and report. We get ours through subscriptions to other e-newsletters, periodic scanning of a few key news-related websites, and (very important) from submissions made by members. Indeed, each month we receive from our readers far more news than we can ever use. Building virtual relationships with readers allows us to have ongoing conversations about food, health, and co-op related topics, and we see this as an increasingly significant way of developing meaningful member connectivity.

Our e-newsletter goes only to people who opt in
to our list. We make it available to anyone who requests it, whether or not they are a member-owner of Bloomingfoods.

Variety
There is a broad range of personal interests and preferences among our shoppers and readers, so we present a diverse array of news relating to our own and other co-ops, specials in the stores, health matters, environmental concerns, and food. We’re especially attentive to significant news items routinely overlooked by mainstream media.

Balance positive and negative
It’s easy to get bogged down by what isn’t going well — the latest environmental disaster, political absurdity, or emerging health risk. Yet co-ops represent hopeful developments within communities of people initiating great things. Don’t let the tone of your communications pieces become depressing. Good news should be reported and celebrated; it inspires positive change.

Humor and personality
Seize opportunities to interject mirth and merry quirkiness into your work. We hear regularly from our readers that they delight in stumbling across an unexpected link to an offbeat website that may bear only a tangential relationship to the topic at hand. Knowing that something playful is included somewhere in the e-newsletter may persuade people to open and scroll through it; we try to embed one such surprise into each edition.

We’ve found that readers just can’t resist a hypertext link to such things as scurvy (www.bbc.co.uk/history/discovery/exploration/captaincook_scurvy_01.shtml) in a discussion of oranges; childhood goat trauma (www.goattrauma.org/) in the announcement of a goat-cheese cooking class; and Charlton Heston wailing “Soylent Green is People!” http://datacore.sciflicks.com/soylent_green/sounds/soylent_green_people.wav in a genetic engineering report.

Interactivity
Web users love interactivity, so we occasionally send them to websites offering this feature. Most recently, our subscribers were invited to take tests of their environmental footprint. We can see from reports that they enjoy this feature.

Apply the KISSS principle
Keep it short, sweet, and simple—and don’t fall in love with any one edition. An e-newsletter is a piece of ephemera that may engage your audience briefly, only to be set aside (or deleted) and never looked at again. Remember this latter point: it will keep you humble.

To subscribe to the Bloomingfoods e-newsletter, send an email message to Steve at [email protected].

See other articles from this issue: #124 May - June - 2006