Brett Meyer just left his job as the communications director at NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network, for a position with ThinkShout. But before he left, I got the scoop on how NTEN has evolved its email newsletter over the years to be more relevant to readers.
When Brett first started at NTEN six years ago, the monthly newsletter was written primarily by staff with occasional guest articles. They would publish four or five articles all at once on their website and then send out teasers for the articles in an e-newsletter, so readers would click over to the website for the full article. “In 2010, we noticed that our web traffic from the newsletters was going down, so we needed to do something different,” says Brett.
They decided to shift to a much more robust guest author model, where they recruit 10-15 people from within their community to write an article each month. Then NTEN publishes one or two of these articles on their blog each day for the first two-three weeks of the month – and they see what happens. Which articles get the most views? Which get shared the most? What kinds of comments do they generate? The articles’ popularity as blog posts is what determines whether they will be included in the e-newsletter that goes out toward the end of the month.
“We’ve gamified our newsletter content for the authors,” adds Brett. If an author really wants his article to get out via the e-newsletter – which is a much bigger list than those who would see the content on the blog alone – he has an incentive to share it with his own networks, driving additional visitors to the NTEN website. While some authors don’t really care about the extra visibility, some are very excited about the challenge, says Brett, and they will actively promote the article they wrote for NTEN with their own social media and email lists so they can increase the popularity of the article in NTEN’s eyes.
NTEN now knows which articles are likely to be most interesting to those on the email list before they are sent out, based on what has essentially been an informal focus group in social media. While the decision on which handful of articles goes into the e-newsletter is not based solely on popularity, it does weigh heavily on the decision.
This approach has multiple benefits:
- NTEN staff don’t have to write all the content.
- It gets authors in their network excited about contributing.
- They get more content than they need for the newsletter, so they can just send the best of it out on email.
- That “best of” is determined largely by the community itself.
- It allows NTEN to provide a broader selection of content to its community on its website than it could by producing the content with staff alone.
- The less popular content that appears on the blog only still helps NTEN by broadening its search engine optimization.
In addition to developing and prioritizing the content this way, NTEN also dynamically generates the newsletter content that goes out to members, producing many different combinations of the same newsletter. Therefore communications directors who are members of NTEN do not get the same newsletter content as members who are IT directors or non-members who are fundraisers. They use one basic template, but content is pulled in dynamically by several discrete segments. Job title influences what you’ll see, but so does your membership status, so if you need to renew, you’ll see an article about that. NTEN uses High Road Solution and Blue Hornet to make it happen.
Brett, Robert Rosenthal of VolunteerMatch, and I are copresenting a panel on content marketing at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, where you can ask Brett all about this and other strategies he put in place at NTEN.