There’s a lot of noise out there in the world. More and more brands are clamoring for customers’ attention — hi there, good morning, look at me, here’s 10% off.
Let’s face it: Most readers have hundreds of unread emails in their inbox (not to call anyone out), and even after you get them over the threshold to click subscribe, it takes continual effort to get subscribers to open that first email… and continue to open emails after that. So how do we build newsletter loyalty?
At 6AM City, there are several best practices our editors employ to engage audiences for the first time + keep them coming back to the product. Here’s a look:
1. If you want them to respond to you, you have to respond to them.
A big challenge for content creators is getting readers to answer questions. Loyal audiences are much more likely to engage intentionally with your product, compared with passive readers who simply scroll, skim, or like your posts.
For example, we’ve been asked, “How do you get readers to respond to survey questions or participate in polls?” and the answer is actually quite simple — we build trust and credibility with our audience. From the very first day of launch, we let our readers know that local editors are real people, waiting on the other side to hear from them. We ask them questions and — here’s the key — when they write in, we answer them back within 24 hours. That’s right. Each of our teams operates with a daily “inbox zero” policy, meaning everyone who reaches out to us will receive a timely reply.
How do we do it? An arsenal of canned response templates built into our company Gmail accounts helps local editors respond quickly and efficiently to FAQs and common types of emails, such as contributor requests + advertising questions. For the outliers, we simply allocate time to respond individually and personally to each contact.
2. Let them know there are humans on the other side.
There’s no brand loyalty without trust, and trust exists between people (not things). Readers are conditioned to not hear back from brands — letters to the editor are often sent with the expectation that they enter a void from which few responses emerge. Perhaps the letter will be printed, or perhaps it will be shredded and fed to a Venus flytrap on some nameless, faceless editor’s desk.
When our readers hear back from us for the first time, they often express their surprise, and they always tell us how grateful they are to simply be acknowledged for reaching out. And we do more than just acknowledge them — we invite them to join the conversation again and again. They keep coming back because they know someone’s actually listening to them, even while they’re listening to us.
3. Own up to your mistakes.
The truth is, when you capitalize on the human element, readers hold you to a higher standard. When they feel like they know your content creators personally, the feelings of disappointment or betrayal when an error occurs tend to be greater than those ascribed to less familiar brands.
However, readers are also more forgiving when they know it’s just two (or however many) people doing their best on the other side of the screen — in our experience, teams have found great success offering sincere and direct apologies to readers when a mistake is made. Instead of losing subscribers following an error, we often gain them thanks to word of mouth, because our audience appreciates that we can take responsibility for our editorial mission and admit when we get it wrong.
4. Provide a consistent and predictable product.
People love innovation, but they don’t love change. Once you’ve set expectations for when your email goes out and what it’s going to look like, stick with it. Redesigns are necessary to periodically freshen things up, of course — but keep big changes to a minimum and try not to do any major overhauls more than once per year.
If something out of the ordinary happens, make sure you acknowledge the break in pattern to your readership. For example, when our Charleston, SC team had to report on a local hurricane while also ensuring the safety of local editors, that day’s newsletter was delayed from its usual 6 a.m. deployment to later in the morning. These things happen, and you just need to tell readers why.
While there’s no perfect formula for building loyalty — so much depends on individual audience behaviors and your brand’s own “special sauce” — we’ve found that communicating directly and honestly with readers across multiple levels of our product has been one of the biggest contributors to growth and success within local markets. If you live in one of our seven (and growing) cities, come check us out and join the conversation. We’ll be waiting to hear from you.