Lots of projects collect people's email addresses on signup, and occasionally the people behind the project feel the need to use them. If you're going to keep in touch with users via email, you need to tell them something they'll care about--not just some lame news about version 3.1.7. Dave Pell talks to Co.Labs about developing a newsletter that people actually want to read.
What does it take to get people interested in an email newsletter?
Pell: The key thing to remember when it comes to getting people hooked on an email newsletter is that it will end up in their inbox. The inbox is a personal and sacred place. Yes, over the years, it's been filled with endless junk, spam, and circular work-related conversations that have turned inbox zero into an increasingly distant mirage. The key is not to become part of the problem. Email is still the killer app. It's just that most content that ends up there is useless.
How do you make a "useful" newsletter?
Pell: Like most people, I want to be aware of important stories, know about well-written features, and waste a few minutes watching a guy solve a Rubik's cube while juggling. So the newsletter ends up being a nice mix of stuff from the very top of the news, along with a few tidbits for the very bottom. You can guess which ones get the most clicks.
What do most people misunderstand about mass emails?
Pell: Good newsletters are personality driven. One needs to be mindful that an email is only one half of a conversation. Anyone can hit reply to NextDraft and give me their take or offer up a story suggestion. My newsletter includes personal details and it's really my unique take on the day's news. Over time, I want people to feel like they are getting an email from someone they know. I want them to be reminded of what email was like before the deluge.
How do you get your news, and how do you curate it?
Pell: I am totally old school when it comes to news gathering. I throw back a few cups of coffee, open up 75 tabs, and get started. While I pick up stories from friends on Twitter and Facebook (and the occasional reader submission), I never use RSS. I want to benefit the work that's already been done by the editors who carefully choose what to feature on their landing pages.
How do you narrow it all down?
Pell: At this point, I'm pretty good at knowing which stories have a shot of making it into the day's NextDraft list of the most fascinating news. I'd say I bookmark about 20 stories over the course of a couple hours. By the time I'm done, I basically know which 10 are the keepers.
What's your writing process like?
Pell: I write fast. Finding the news can feel like work. The writing feels like fun. I have a couple of friends on IM who are (whether they like it or not) occasionally tasked with telling me if a joke works or if my grammar is correct.
How obsessed with analytics are you?
Pell: I am a sick addict when it comes to stats, so yes, I track opens, and definitely pay close attention to which stories are getting the most clicks--and which are getting the fewest. Although I can quickly waste an afternoon watching real-time stats, that data can really help me make better choices when I'm narrowing the news down to the day's top 10 most fascinating stories.
You can find Dave's newsletter at NextDraft.com.