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Newsletters and communities

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hello community members,
It’s Mark from Revue again with everything you need to know about newsletters this week.
Do you feel like a member of the newsletter community? And if so, does this newsletter help in making you feel connected to other newsletter editors and audience managers? We hope you do because at Revue we believe in building deeper connections with the people who publish newsletters.
That’s why we’re excited to welcome Anna Elliott to the team who started yesterday as our new community manager. Anna joins us from Blendle, a journalism startup we love. She’s a kick ass journalist and knows how hard, crazy and how very rewarding it can be to write successful newsletters. She would love for you to say hi on Twitter.
So in today’s issue I want to talk about how you can build a community around your newsletter. But before we get into that, let me share some feedback on last week’s issue about B2B newsletters.

Feedback on B2B newsletters
Firstly I wanted to share a conversation about a perfect case of a lucrative B2B newsletter called Selfish Giving by Joe Waters. Joe was kind enough to share some details:
  • Selfish Giving is a B2B newsletter focused on nonprofits that have corporate partnership programs.
  • The newsletter does not have a big list at around 3.000. And in B2B it doesn’t have to. It does have great engagement at 45-60% open rate and 15% clickthrough.
  • It’s good for “six figures” in revenue generated via services such as speaking, consulting, or case studies.
Secondly, I wanted to clarify the business model of Early Morning Media that I mentioned last week. While they still have a few paid newsletters, they are transitioning all of them to an ad-based model.
Newsletter communities
Time to talk about communities.
“Community” means different things to different people. When talking about communities around newsletters, the intention is often to create a direct reader-to-reader connection. Instead of only allowing readers to reply to the publisher, a community allows readers to also have discussions with other readers. Sometimes this community is also strengthened through a deeper communication channel such as a video conference or even a meeting in real life.
theSkimm was one of the early adopters of the community model through their Skimm'bassador program, a mix of referral swag, online groups and real life events:
What would I get?
Swag on swag. Go wild. Tote your Skimm bag and rock your shirt, while writing in your Skimm notebook, sipping out of your Skimm wine glass under your Skimm umbrella ella ella.
An invite to our private Skimm’bassador Facebook group where you can connect and network with other Skimm’bassadors
Partnership perks. Past highlights: exclusives with our partner brands, co-branded SB-only events, and deep product discounts, etc.
Newsletter publishers can also learn a lot from the online gaming industry when it comes to building a community. The popular online games have spurred strong communities since the early days of the Internet as investor Hunter Walk pointed out in his article “Coming for the Content, Staying for the Community Started With Video Games”:
[…] the introduction of connectivity to gaming (hello internet!) had really emphasized how much play was about community. Whether the MMORPG guilds hanging out between dungeon raids, or casual sites like Yahoo Games where the checkers, backgammon, and so on were really just something to do while you text chatted, there were numerous examples of people talking more and more about how the game was a ‘third place’ for them.
Online gaming is still leading the way in online communities with Discord, a platform created in the gaming world. David Pierce, editor at large at Protocol, wrote a great profile on “How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet”:
[…] a lot of those gamers realized something. They wanted to talk to their gaming friends even when they weren’t in a game, and they wanted to talk about things other than games. Their gaming friends were their real friends. As luck would have it, in early 2015, a new tool called Discord showed up on the market. Its tagline was not subtle: “It’s time to ditch Skype and TeamSpeak.” It had text chat, which was cool, but mostly it did voice chat better than anybody else.
So Discord has taken over as the go-to community platform for gaming. But what’s the right choice for newsletter communities?
For a while, a Facebook group seemed the most popular option. There are, for example, two very useful ones for newsletter editors: Newsletter Nerds, created by Ernie Smith in 2017, and Newsletter Creators started by Josh Spector in 2018.
With Facebook becoming less popular in the publishing world, Slack and Telegram started to become popular choices for a community that is easy to set up and allows for direct communication. A great example from the newsletter world is the Gather Slack, a community for engaged journalists, organized around some 20 or so Slack channels, including one on newsletters.
All of the above are appealing to newsletter creators for more or less the same reasons:
  • Minimal friction (readers are likely already using them)
  • Low cost
  • Features that drive engagement (including discussions and push notifications)
More recently, the publishing world has started creating its own dedicated solutions. The most well-known at the moment might be Circle, which focuses on a distraction-free environment for paid communities. Vibely takes a different approach, targeting influencers to set up group challenges.
For larger publishers, their apps and websites are natural choices to host a community. But the comment sections have long been a moderation struggle, and many publishers actually moved the discussion away from their own site to social media over the last five years. It’s interesting how the discussion has shifted. Here’s how NiemanLab summarized the situation in 2016:
I spoke to seven news organizations — Recode, The Verge, Reuters, Mic, Popular Science, The Week, and USA Today’s FTW — about their decision to suspend comments, the results of that change, and how they manage reader engagement now. All but one of the sites say they won’t be going back;
Today, publishers want to own their audience again and are looking for ways to engage with readers, which leads them to find ways to tackle content moderation. With this in hindsight, Simon Owens dubbed the trend away from comments and to social media a colossal mistake:
Did comments sections invite trollish behavior? Yes. Did moderating that behavior require both editorial and technical resources? Also yes. But deploying these resources was worth the cost, as it would have resulted in publishers maintaining a stronger relationship with their readerships.
So it seems that communities are hard but worth the effort. And that the key to success is not necessarily the underlying technology, but rather loyalty and trust, both of which are key to newsletter success also.
The week in newsletters
Communities are all about sharing, so here are my favorite reads of the week.
Reuters Institute report on communities
A/B Testing HTML vs. Plain Text Emails
Deputy Head of Newsletters Telegraph
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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