News Automation in the Inbox

news automation in email

Automated news content is an increasingly popular topic of discussion in the publishing world, and it’s not just talk. The Washington Post produced 850 automated articles in 2016 and 2017, while newsrooms in the UK routinely use AI to churn out localized versions of stories.

Of course, while talk of automation typically conjures up imagery straight out of dystopian science fiction films, human journalists need not worry; we’re not heading towards all-robot news desks.

Ultimately, the aim of automation isn’t to replace humans but to reallocate human resources where they’re best put to use. This efficiency is particularly important for publishers, who are charged with engaging readers amidst tightening resources. As WAN-IFRA points out in the summary of their March 2018 News Automation report:

“Media outlets face ever-growing commercial pressure to extract higher margins from dwindling resources and that is a key driver for news automation. Right now, one of the main goals of automated content is to save journalistic effort, especially on repetitive tasks, while increasing output volume. Automated production is foremost a tool, aiding and creating additional content.”

Likewise, the benefits of automated production for news publishers aren’t limited to the journalism part. Email lends itself well to automation; odds are, you’re probably sending some sort of automated email messaging already. But could you be doing more? Could you free up more of those ever-precious resources to put them where they count?

From newsletter curation to deployment to testing and more, here are ten of the ways news publishers can maximize efficiency with email automation.

1) Curate your newsletter content automatically.

It’s likely you create more content than can fit in a single newsletter, which means you have to get selective before you hit send. Sorting out your newsletter content is an important but time-consuming process, particularly if you send multiple newsletters.

If you have an email service provider (ESP) that integrates with your content management system (CMS), you can curate content automatically. By tagging articles, you can designate, prioritize, or even exclude newsletter content from your CMS, without having to log into your ESP to select the articles that go in the newsletter.

With the time saved on article selection, you can work on other aspects of your newsletters, perhaps by humanizing them with a personal introduction.

2) Automate your newsletter assembly.

Once your newsletter content is selected, it’s time to load that content into the newsletter.

But not only is manual newsletter assembly tedious, the unique nature of email HTML introduces opportunities for error. At best, copying and pasting content results in a mismatched font or spacing issue. At worst, your entire template falls apart.

Automated newsletter assembly can reduce the time spent grappling with your newsletter template. Depending on your ESP and its configuration, you can use automation to populate content and send as-is, or you may pull in the content automatically and make tweaks as you see fit. Either way, automation makes it more likely your newsletter gets delivered in one piece, all while saving you time in the process.

3) Automate a best-of newsletter with your top-performing content.

Newsletter automation makes it easier to sort out content across newsletters by topics or categories, but you can also use automation to populate newsletter content based on its performance.

Instead of pulling data manually, you can automate your daily or weekly best-of newsletters via integrations with Parse.ly, Google Analytics, or other publisher tools that report on your content’s performance. Given that these articles have done well onsite, they may be likely to drive higher email engagement.

With these tools in place, you may even go one step further and personalize the newsletter by matching content to individual readers’ interests or even excluding articles they’ve already read.

4) Optimize every newsletter with automated email testing.

Of course, your email audience is different from your web audience. The news articles and headlines that drive the most traffic from casual readers may be different than the articles that engage your more dedicated newsletter subscribers—but you can’t know for certain until you hit send.

When the subject line or leadoff article can affect whether a recipient reads the rest of the newsletter (or even opens it at all), automation removes the guesswork from the process. Automated newsletter testing allows publishers to A/B test things like subject lines or headlining articles with a small segment of the list, then send the winner to the remaining recipients. Provided you have a list large enough for you to derive meaningful insights from a small percentage, automated testing makes it easy to make the most out of each mailing.

5) Kick off the relationship with an automated welcome email (or series of emails).

For news publishers, maximizing the efficiency of your email program can also mean making the most of each email relationship. Sending an automated welcome email (or even a welcome series) immediately after new subscribers sign up puts you in your audience’s inbox at the peak of their interest in your content.

In many cases, the moment of signup is the most engaged your subscriber will ever be, so it’s important to make this email count. This could be by linking back to your site, perhaps with a selection of high-quality recent news or evergreen articles. If you’re a premium publisher, you can probably identify certain articles that have been directly responsible for driving subscriptions; getting a new email subscriber’s eyes on one of these articles in the welcome email can expedite your path to a paid subscription.

6) Create an automated email re-engagement strategy.

When it’s easier to re-engage an existing subscriber than it is to earn a new one, an email re-engagement plan is a must.

The most efficient way to win back these disengaged subscribers, of course, is through automation. Not only does this eliminate manual work, it can also be more effective than a one-time campaign. Rather than a mass email to a segment of your list that hasn’t engaged in a few months or more, automation allows you to send a re-engagement email after a set period of inactivity, giving you a better chance of catching them before they fall off for good.

To deal with your disengaged newsletter subscribers, you can try reducing your sending frequency, opt them into a different newsletter, send them a specialized marketing email, or a combination of tactics over time.

7) Automate your breaking news alerts.

When big news breaks, publishers race to post their coverage first, hoping to reap the rewards of audience engagement at a moment of high interest. By sending automated breaking news alerts, you make it more likely that your article makes it to the inbox before other publishers can even craft the email.

With knowledge of a subscriber’s interests, you can even tailor breaking news alerts to your audience, ensuring the news they receive is indeed “newsworthy.” That way, you can effectively engage your email audience without fatiguing subscribers who have a different idea of what constitutes breaking news. For instance, you could send a particular vertical’s subscribers alerts that aligns with that specific vertical’s content. If you have actionable content consumption data from your audience, you may even be able to identify subscribers who have previously engaged with a particular kind of content and send them news when something notable happens in that space.

8) Send automated alerts when a story is updated.

Even when a story isn’t necessarily worthy of a “breaking” label, you can still use automation to keep readers in the know if they’re particularly interested in a topic that will be updated. This might be when a story is developing or will play out over a designated period of time (e.g. during an event).

In these cases, you could end articles with a call-to-action that invites readers to sign up for updates on the story. Vanity Fair tries a similar approach in their “Players” section, where readers can subscribe to updates and niche-newsletters around certain celebrities. According to Folio, these emails are “Condé Nast’s highest-performing newsletters.”

9) Automate your email monetization.

As ad blockers and decreased CPMs threaten publisher ad revenue elsewhere in the digital world, in-email advertising allows publishers to further monetize their most engaged audiences, even if newsletter readers don’t click through the email to an article.

Publishers can monetize newsletters by selling sponsorships, direct-sold ads, native content, and other methods, or automate the process with in-email programmatic advertising. That way, for publishers with a large email audience, email monetization can be turnkey.

10) Send automated marketing emails based on user behavior.

It’s no secret that email is a powerful way to convert readers into paying subscribers. In addition to sending newsletters, publishers make the most of this channel with marketing emails designed to further guide newsletter subscribers down the path to paid subscriptions.

If you’ve read this far, you can probably figure out that you can maximize the efficacy of these emails with automation. By triggering emails based on first-party data from onsite behavior, you catch subscribers at a time when they’re more likely to convert. For instance, publishers with metered paywalls might find success by automating emails to send when readers hit their article limit for the month.

While a more automated email program might not be as exciting as a room full of robot journalists, the time saved and efficiency enabled by automation is certainly something news publishers can get excited about. To unlock the potential of automation in your own email program, check out PostUp’s Email Automation Solution Guide for Publishers.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook