Work Samples – Community newsletters

One of the services I provide (also a passion!) is planning and writing e-mail newsletters. My early career was in  journalism, but in the mid-’90s I fell in love with the Internet and this necessitated a jump to a technology publisher where I was one third of the gopher/Web team. (Jacqui was another third, but that’s another story.)

This led me down the path of webmastering for awhile before I settled in at Microsoft, where I paired my love of creating content with developing technology-based solutions. There I actually wrote and helped launch the first HTML newsletter on Microsoft.com and quickly became the go-to person for e-newsletters.

Since then, I’ve become passionate about community, and newsletters are still a great tool for this. Your e-mail content shouldn’t just be a blast out to customers with a call to action (though this is important too). The best e-mail newsletters draw members in and make them feel part of the community of people who interact with your site or product.

When I was at HealthTalk, one of my first tasks was to overhaul electronic communications. Up until then, newsletters had been sporadic and focused just on getting members to sign up for webcasts. Alas, many of the networks became dormant for months at a time, so my job was to develop a format that engaged members regardless of how often they had new programs available to them.

My solution, ultimately, was to begin drawing these members in with questions and topics and then sharing back their answers, as you can see in this example from the Rheumatoid Arthritis network :

HealthTalk newsletter

HealthTalk newsletter

These stories really grabbed readers and made them want to be a part of the network, even during periods when there wasn’t much other new content for them. I also lobbied the producers and business development folks I worked with to develop new sources of content, and eventually convinced the company’s founder to pilot a blog despite a fair amount of internal resistance. The blog was so successful that shortly after I left, they launched phase 2 of my proposal and added member advocate blogs to each of the active networks.

For the Big Fish Games Atlantis gaming community, my focus was a little different. There already existed a real-time chat engine in all of the online games, and I managed a team of remote moderators who interacted daily with players to facilitate fun and resolve problems. I replaced the ad-only “newsletter” with a longer, content-heavy publication and launched the 5 Questions column to profile a different Big Fish Games employee each month. The goal was to open a window into how the people at the company were actively working to improve the community and provide hints and, where possible, announcements of upcoming games and features.

This just happens to be the one where I was the subject:

Big Fish Games online community newsletter

Big Fish Games online community newsletter

In a future post I’ll tackle headline copywriting, a task I performed daily for several years and have some helpful insights to share.

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