Tool Review: Newsletter platforms for newsrooms

Three digital editors share their experiences in using newsletter platforms

Tshepo Tshabalala
Jul 24, 2019 · 7 min read
Picture: talha khalil/Pixabay

Sending email newsletters is one of the easiest ways of reaching your audience. Newsletters are delivered directly to your reader, and it allows news organisations to engage with their audience in their own personal tone. There is a range of newsletter platforms that news organisations can use. These include ConvertKit, Substack, Revue, TinyLetter, Drip, MailChimp and many others.

In this article, we spoke to three African editors who shared their experiences on the newsletter platforms they use and their tips on succeeding with email newsletters.

Campaign Monitor

Editor and founder of The Conversation Africa Caroline Southey and digital editor, Ozayr Patel use Campaign Monitor to send out editorial newsletters for their publication.

Campaign Monitor has been going since 2004 when it launched in Australia.

The platform allows users to create, send, manage and track emails for themselves. For beginners, the platform has the drag-and-drop email builder where users can also pick from hundreds of professionally-designed templates.

How does The Conversation Africa use its Campaign Monitor? We send out a daily newsletter to over 20 000 subscribers six days a week. This enables us to communicate directly with our loyal readers and to showcase the articles we’re publishing every day. The newsletter is a means of reaching our readers, and of growing our loyal reader base.

The newsletter is also very important for reaching other media outlets for the purpose of republication. They are important to us because we publish under creative commons so republication is vitally important to achieving maximum reach.

We also put out special newsletters. These are tied to events such as World Aids Day, or the UN Day for International Justice, or women’s day.

The positives: Newsletters are a nifty way to showcase our freshest material, and to re-use older articles that are still relevant to breaking news. It enables us to visually show our best articles. And it enables us to talk directly to readers. Another major advantage is that the newsletter takes readers directly to our website when they click on an article.

Because of the very good data collection capability we have on the site, the newsletter also enables us to keep tabs on who is reading us where.

We are also able to use the contact details of our newsletter readers to conduct an annual survey. This provides us with rich information about who our loyal readers are, their age, their academic qualifications, their location and their interests.

The negatives: Our opening rates aren’t always what we would like them to be. The other drawback is that, because we use a third party to distribute it, it’s not possible to ‘pull back’ a newsletter if we’ve inadvertently made a mistake. That means we have to be super vigilant to ensure mistakes aren’t made.

The other issue is cost: it is costly to have a third party vendor to distribute the newsletters for us.

Examples of how Campaign Monitor can be used: The best illustration is to sign up to our morning newsletter which you can find on the landing page of The Conversation Africa. We distribute one at 6am (South Africa time) every day.

Special newsletters normally go out at about midday. We have had very positive responses to them.

Final comments: Newsletters are a great way to communicate with readers, and to build a loyal readership base. But newsletters must be visually appealing. And the subject line, short and sharp.

Everlytic

Nelisiwe Tshabalala, digital editor of Financial Mail uses Everlytic to send out daily and weekly newsletters.

Everlytic is a digital communications company that specialises in marketing cloud software and was established in 2004 in Johannesburg South Africa.

Like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, one of Everlytic’s core features is the drag-and-drop builder for email campaigns. No design or coding experience is needed.

How do you use Everlytics? We use it to send daily and weekly newsletters to our various lists of subscribers. I use it for our Financial Mail subscribers (20,000 plus people), BusinessLIVE AM (approximately 15,000 subscribers), BusinessLIVE PM (approximately 9,500 subscribers) and Redzone (approximately (7,000 subscribers). We previously used to use Everlytic for breaking news SMSes before this service was discontinued.

The positives: It is very user friendly and enables seamless sending of newsletters across our various titles. It allows you to preview newsletters before sending them. You can edit the text and headlines even after creating the newsletters in Cosmos. You can also schedule newsletters to go out in the future and without fail they will go out around the specified time. It gives you an exact number of all your subscribers and the open rate of your newsletters as well as an indication of how much traffic you get from your newsletters. You can also cancel it from going out if you do this within a few minutes of hitting the send button. This usually helps if there are advertorials that I forgot to add, or an error has been brought to my attention in time. It also shows you who unsubscribed from your newsletter and it is very easy to unsubscribe readers who request this, which helps us maintain good relationships with our readers.

The negatives: Not being able to modify our newsletter template. At the moment all the newsletters across Tiso’s various titles appear the same. It would be great if there were layouts we could choose that would suit the FM brand. Even within our newsroom, our journalists have told us that our newsletters don’t look appealing compared to some of our competitors and as a result people aren’t inspired to open them even though they have subscribed to them.

Examples of how Everlytic can be used: On a Thursday for example, I’ll use it to send the BusinessLIVE AM newsletter at 8:30am, then I’ll use it to send the Financial Mail newsletter at 9am and then I’ll send the RedZone newsletter at 11am. All of these are created around the same time and scheduled to go out at those specified times, giving me the ability to focus on other work and not worrying about whether the newsletters have gone out.

Final comments: It’s a great platform if you run an organisation where you have a variety of newsletters that have to go out daily. It just makes it easy to manage the process and gives you valuable insights into how effective your newsletters are towards your digital content strategy and will help you to make changes that can help you reach your goal and which suit your audience. I’d definitely recommend it for those insights and user-friendliness alone.

Mailchimp

Digital editor at New Frame, which is just under a year old, Noxolo Chalale says the publication uses Mailchimp to send one newsletter once a week.

Mailchimp is one of the leading email marketing providers.

The platform is easy to use and also has the drag and drop function, templates and various other functions that can be easily integrated into any website.

How do you use Mailchimp? New Frame sends a newsletter every Friday with 8 stories published that week. We’ve coded our own newsletter so we just paste that into Mailchimp and then send it to our subscribers.

The positives: Having a CMS that automatically manages our subscriptions is very helpful because we don’t have to manually input them before sending each email. Also, having geographical data about our subscribers is helpful to see who we are talking to and where they are. The fact that Mailchimp allows us to code our own newsletter allows for unlimited flexibility in design. The campaign overviews that allow you to comparatively see how each newsletter performed is helpful in establishing subscriber trends and feedback. (However, I do think I am doing their reporting an injustice because there is a lot more information that it gives that I just have not had the time to explore)

The negatives: The fact that billing is constantly changing depending on the ever-changing subscriber numbers makes budgeting for the quarter a headache.

Final comments: Don’t use Mailchimp simply because it is one of the biggest email marketing platforms, rather know your needs and then find a system/platform that will work for you instead of using a system and then figuring out how it can meet your needs. Look at what your subscribers are doing and how they are doing it and then use that information to speak to them in a language they will understand. Stop sending newsletters at 3am if no one is reading them.

We especially want to invite readers to contribute and comment: Which newsletter platform are have you or are currently using? What are the best features news organisations should look to have for a newsletter platform? Please share these in the comments below, directly via email to jamlab@journalism.co.za, or join the discussions on our Facebook page and Twitter.


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jamlab

The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

Tshepo Tshabalala

Written by

Web editor, digital content producer extraordinaire, writer of things and hackademic

jamlab

jamlab

The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

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