Using Newsletters to Drive Loyalty

By Joseph Lichterman

February 28, 2019

As news organizations have focused on membership-based business models that build on relationships with loyal readers, they’ve turned to an old technology to help connect with readers: email.

Why? Because newsletters enable publications to build a direct relationship with readers that bypasses third-party platforms and builds habits.

“That’s very rare in today’s very distributed media landscape that we live in,” Nicole Breskin, Head of Product at told Membership Accelerator participants at the last gathering in Menlo Park.

“What’s great about email is that if your deliverability is on point, you’re reaching your readers where they are — their inbox,” she said.

So whether you’re launching a new newsletter product or refining your current offerings, Breskin offered three suggestions for how you can optimize your coverage for the inbox:

1. Define Your Product and Audience

Publications should create different email products to serve different reader needs, Breskin said.

“The reader expectation is that you’re delivering real value,” she said. “If you’re not, then they’re not opening it and they’re unsubscribing.”

Breskin outlined a series of different emails — from automated alerts to bespoke narrative newsletters — that each can provide unique value to subscribers while also requiring different levels of investment and resources to create.


As news organizations craft their newsletter strategy and decide which products to offer, they should think about their business goals for newsletters, their resource limitations, and how they’ll measure success. Breskin shared a few metrics worth tracking, including audience interest and engagement, ad revenue, and lifetime value (LTV) of members.

2. Make Your Newsletter Easy to Find and Read

Newsletters, of course, are pointless unless they have subscribers, and publishers should do everything they can to make it easy for audiences to find and sign up for email newsletters.

News organizations’ own websites are the most powerful platform they have for promoting newsletters. They should include sign-ups on their homepages and within articles.

“One of the greatest sources of traffic is article pages,” Breskin said. You should have newsletter sign-up prompts tastefully presented on your article pages.”

They could also think about using lightboxes, pop-unders, interstitials, in-line sign-up units, and other ways to encourage visitors to subscribe to email newsletters.

They should also think about how they can best leverage search and social ads, as well as other PR and marketing channels to attract new subscribers.

Not only does the sign-up experience need to be seamless, but the reading experience needs to be pleasant as well. Most people read email on their phone, so newsletters absolutely have to perform well on mobile.

“I can’t say this enough: Mobile, mobile, mobile,’” Breskin said. “Users are by and large opening these up on their phones. It has to look good and it has to be readable.”

3. Experiment

News organizations should be testing every aspect of their newsletters, from subject lines to send times. And in order to test effectively, outlets should be measuring and tracking how readers interact with their emails.

“Do people sign up? What do sign-up rates look like? Are you fulfilling that product market fit?” Breskin said.

Breskin also emphasized that publications should test and utilize the pre-header, or the area underneath the subject line in email clients.

Test, test, test

Publications can also think about using newsletters as low-cost experiments for broader products. For example, The New York Times’ well-regarded Cooking app started as a weekly newsletter written by food editor Sam Sifton.

Given the positive response from readers, The Times decided to expand Cooking into a daily newsletter as well as a standalone subscription product.

“Newsletters are at the intersection of editorial, product, and business, which is really exciting,” she said.

Throughout the Accelerator program, publishers have participated in sessions covering everything from the 10 essentials of membership programs to email marketing, messaging, and the Scrum framework. Catch up on all the lessons and learnings here.

The Facebook Journalism Project: Local News Membership Accelerator is a program designed to help news publishers build their membership revenues. Funded and organized by The Facebook Journalism Project, the 3-month program includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veteran Tim Griggs, a grantmaking program organized by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and regular reports on best practices authored by both The Lenfest Institute and the Facebook Journalism Project. The Membership Accelerator is part of the broader Facebook Journalism Project Accelerator Program. Previous iterations have focused on digital subscriptions and digital video.

Check out more posts about the Facebook Journalism Project program sessions here.

This article originally appeared on the Facebook Journalism Project blog.

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