Most employee e-newsletters get a bad rap, for good reason. They’re mostly bad. Their intent—to educate and to boost morale (and to foster what CRM experts call internal marketing)—may be admirable, but the execution, often, is downright laughable. Here’s how to tell: It flatlines on the old response meter.
While solid writing can make up for much of what ails a lifeless employee e-newsletter — be it a simple text e-mail, an HTML document, or a microsite on the Web — the true measure of success lies in its ability to connect with the audience on an emotional level. If it fails to stimulate conversation and positive feedback, then it has all the juice of a dead battery.
There are two core reasons why many internal e-newsletters are doomed from the get-go: they’re produced with little forethought or regard for the reader; and they’re driven not by the folks sitting in the cubes, but by those occupying the corner offices. You might as well add the word “SPAM” in the subject line, because the communication will be viewed as such.
To take your employee e-newsletter to a whole new level without spending a dime more, consider these five tips:
1. Lay the foundation. Would you roll out a new product without a plan? Too many employee e-newsletters, regardless of their length, have no clear objectives or set structure in place, making for a chaotic read. Develop an editorial mission statement, then reinforce it with a list of objectives for the reader, the company and the e-newsletter as a whole. Consistently refer to the list throughout the production process so that the e-newsletter stays on target. As with a print publication, create standardized departments on topics of interest (e.g., community outreach, health) and make them distinguishable from the “feature articles” both in length and tone. And always include a table of contents for easy navigation.
2. Break the mold. Your key messages will fall on deaf ears if you take a cookie-cutter approach to your content. To turn heads, open eyes, and drop jaws, challenge conventional wisdom. Push the creative envelope. Develop a distinct voice and personality. And ask yourself: Is the information I’m offering unique and insightful enough that readers will eagerly anticipate my next communication?
3. Make it relevant—Most employee e-newsletters include them: Articles about senior-level executives who whooped it up at some conference in some chichi location. Sure makes the guy earning $10 an hour want to sell more product. Taking all staff into account adds legitimacy to the newsletter and creates broad interest. Provide a blend of corporate news, workplace success stories and human interest/lifestyle pieces. To create a community feel, feature and quote employees at all levels of an organization (the rule should also apply to photographs in an HTML communication).
4. Get Staff on Board—Too often, e-newsletters are produced in a vacuum. The responsibility of idea generation should not rest solely with one person or with one department. Create an editorial board, with representation from every department, that meets monthly or quarterly. Solicit reader feedback throughout the e-newsletter and conduct an annual online survey. Bottom line: The more you involve everyone, the better the response.
5. Seek the Write Stuff—Nothing turns off a reader more quickly than content that reads like a brochure. If you want to impress your audience and add instant credibility to your e-newsletter, tap writers who clearly understand your industry and can put an unconventional spin on a story, be it a case study, a trend piece or a product announcement. Too often, companies make the mistake of placing the onus of writing on the communications or human resource department. Seek contributions from “closet journalists” throughout your organization. That quiet, unassuming computer programmer just may have a way with words.
Ken Beaulieu is editorial director of Pohly & Partners, a Boston-based customer communications company specializing in custom publishing, in print and online.