5 More Ways Digital Publishers Connect with Their Email Audience

digital publishers email newsletters

In last week’s blog post, we spotlighted how a few different publishers are connecting with their email audiences by adding personal touches to their newsletter products. In an era when digital publishers are doubling down on their email newsletter efforts, it’s not hard to find more great examples of connections happening in the inbox. That’s why we’ve put together five more examples of ways that publishers are going the extra mile to reach readers in the inbox.

1) Ask the audience with a poll or quiz.

The Atlantic’s daily newsletter (aptly titled The Atlantic Daily) reads like a tiny magazine. From a list of the site’s top articles to conversational summaries of the day’s issues to reader responses, it goes beyond a typical daily digest email to include a little bit of everything. Each section of the newsletter invites reader engagement, but none more so than the daily “What Do You Know…” quiz.

Located in the middle of each newsletter, the three-question multiple choice quiz gives The Atlantic’s readers a chance to test their knowledge, a challenge that their educated audiences are eager to face. Not only does the quiz make for a fun challenge, it also encourages readers to come back to their site.

While the questions cover a diverse range of topics, all of the questions come straight from The Atlantic’s recent content. If a curious reader misses a question, it might prompt them to read up on the issue. Even a reader with a perfect score might want to deep-dive into the issue (after all, doing a ton of internet reading is probably how they got that perfect score in the first place). Fortunately, each question is equipped with links to the source material for further reading.

2) Include user-generated content. 

Publishers know that newsletters drive engagement and generate revenue, which is why The Washington Post sends a lot of email. A lot. Surely it takes a bit of hard work to keep up their steady stream of 50+ newsletters, but the effort is paying off: they’ve more than doubled the amount of newsletter traffic to their site.

The Washington Post hasn’t been afraid to experiment with their newsletter offerings, and one such product is their Read These Comments newsletter. Maybe it’s not the most creative name, but it is a novel way of driving engagement with their content. Each week, the Post rounds up a selection of thoughtful and interesting comments from across their site As a result, their weekly email may very well be the most civil comments section on the Internet.

Marketers are always looking for ways to incorporate user-generated content. While social media hashtag campaigns can often go awry, the email inbox is a safe, controlled way to reap the benefits of user-generated content. With a weekly email, commenters get to see their words on display, and readers feel compelled to continue the conversation (civilly, that is). Most importantly, it puts the value of a Washington Post subscription on full display, ultimately generating more subscription revenue.

3) Throw in a GIF or two.

In this series, we’ve spotlighted a few great publisher newsletters. Muck Rack isn’t exactly a publisher, but their weekday email is a must-read for publishers who want to stay informed (and entertained). Plus, their use of GIFs is too great to leave off this list.

Muck Rack’s emails spotlight how different journalists are covering the top stories of the day, always with a sprinkling of GIFs in between. Their emails have a distinctly lighthearted tone, so the GIFs never feels intrusive or inappropriate. In fact, the GIFs often help to break up their long walls of text. All in all, their skillful use of funny images and equally funny copy combine to create an unforgettable email example.

example of GIFs in email newsletters Muck Rack

Of course, publishers who decide that GIFs are a good fit in their emails must keep a few things in mind. It’s important to strike the right balance between laughs and loading times: the more GIFs you throw in, the more time it takes to load. Also, some clients only display the first frame of the GIF. For instance, if you’re reading Muck Rack’s emails on the Outlook desktop client, you can only imagine what happens next to the man in the GIF. Make sure the first frame of your GIF is a good one.

If you need to trim down a GIF (whether to change the frame or even just to improve loading times), you can use a free tool like EZgif.com to make them more accessible. When used correctly, GIFs are a great way to humanize your emails; just make sure you’re not leaving any of those humans behind.

4) Write a note to the reader. 

So we all know that GIFs are great, but they’re not always appropriate. How can publishers who tend to send more serious emails connect with their readers?

The Intercept maintains a reputation for rigorous journalism with a serious tone, and this is the kind of content their email subscribers sign up to see in their inbox. Still, that doesn’t mean The Intercept can’t put a little personal touch on their newsletters. To do this, they begin each of their weekly news digests with a more conversational note from the editor. [Click here to see an example]

Each week, their news editor spotlights his picks for the top articles of the week, along with a short note that sums up the articles and provides some personal insight into why those stories are important. The digest then continues with an assortment of the site’s top stories. Even if you’re automating content curation, there are still ways to provide a personal touch. By using automation for newsletter creation, you can free up time to craft a section that connects with readers.

Now that readers are more willing than ever to pay for digital article access, other publishers are also experimenting with occasional editorial emails to convert newsletter subscribers into paid customers. These emails often contain letters from the editor that attempt to humanize the publication, stress the importance of premium journalism, and hopefully convince the reader to subscribe. If adding a note to each email is out of your reach, consider reaching out with a one-off email, a process that the PostUp platform makes easy.

5) Leave a lasting impression with a memorable sign-off. 

Quartz’s Daily Brief is quickly becoming a favorite newsletter for savvy news seekers. It’s concise, but it informs. It allows readers to know the news without leaving the inbox, but it provides the best links for readers who want to know more anyway. It consistently spotlights the web’s most interesting, thought-provoking content without leaning on clickbait.

But apart from being a must-read newsletter, Quartz typically provides me with my first laugh of the day in their email closing. They usually look a little something like this:

email newsletter closing example

The sign-off takes the same form each day, though the tongue-in-cheek items it asks readers to “send” vary based on the email’s content. In this case, forbidden cartoons and Wookie waitstaff applications appeared earlier in the newsletter.

So what makes this subtle touch so funny? Is it the unexpected surprise of seeing silly things in a serious closing? Is it the fact that readers are opening this email before 6 AM and are still half-asleep? Or is the thrill of getting to see phrases like “Wookie waitstaff applications" or “luxury tofu" or “hip-hop club bangers" in a serious news email?

(These are all very recent, very real examples.)

Whatever it is, it’s a nice way to close out a nice email. The sign-off provides a satisfying callback for readers who have been paying attention, while also prompting readers who might have missed the references to take another look at the email. Also, like the music recommendations we talked about in last week’s post, it’s a lighthearted, unintrusive touch that readers expect to see. By building that expectation with regular readers, it encourages them to stay engaged until the end of the email.

Now that you’ve seen some examples…

Why not try and look for opportunities in your email newsletters to connect with your audience? Not only does it feel nice to read something friendly, the potential for increased engagement can have an additional benefit.

Publishers can take advantage of this uniquely focused audience they have in the inbox to deploy monetization tactics that are more effective than those elsewhere on the web. Sponsored mailings, in-email programmatic ads, and native ads deliver higher CPMs and exist largely outside ad blockers. This makes email a powerful way to engage your audiences as well as monetize them.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook