Community Leadership Summit Wiki

Best Practices for Community Newsletters[]

Community Leadership Summit: Day 2, 11:00, Session #6

Francesca Krihely, 10gen and Pernilla Lindh, Neo Technology

Why do you send newsletters?[]

  • To help inform cmty of things that are going on, things we're looking at doing
  • Do things in a lot of different channels, sometimes email is the one channel that summarizes everything that's going on
  • Lots going on, had to move to weekly because monthly was not enough (O'Reilly)
  • Easy and quick way to elicit feedback, 
  • Share traffic to other people's sites, creates good will
  • No one would visit my site if I didn't push them there
  • Highlight what people might be missing in the noise
  • Spotlight commty members, give them visibility
  • Onramp into comty, less commitment than joining a mailing list

Member spotlight[]

  • Crowdsource from the comty based on hashtags

How do you know if it works?[]

How do you measure success? *Click to open ratio: How many people open the newsletter, vs. click through 

  • Lots of newsletter tools have good tracking and metrics (e.g., MailChimp)
  • Does reading on a phone get measured? Yes, if images were loaded, or they click on something

  • Best to look a relative numbers over time, rather than absolute numbers
  • If you're using Google+, can track metrics there
  • O'Reilly team goes to events like Marketing Sherpa, does lots of A/B testing

  • Forward to a friend: does it work? mixed reviews

What content gets attention?[]

  • things that have been in the news
  • hot topics
  • do something different, whatever it may be; the same pattern becomes less effective over time.
  • curate content from other people who are talking about similar topics
    • do searches 
    • q&a's with community members
  • blogroll, popular tweets
  • look at commty reactions on other channels (twitter, etc.)
  • Should there be unique high value content in the newsletter? Or just highlight existing content on the website?
    • Selena did a 900 word essay per week for a year, but it was very hard
    • interview with "celebrity" in the space
    • alternatively, back everything on a website, because you want to drive traffic there
    • no longer archive newsletters, nobody looks at it
    • archive of what happened in Drupal community is popular, especially if you've been away
  • people find it helpful/reassuring to review previous issues before signing up for the newsletter

Do you keep a separate email list, or use an existing list?[]

  • Separate, but you get signed up by registering for a conference
  • Always opt-in
  • Separate list, opt-in, because there are a lot of other mailing lists
  • Tweet that the newsletter went out, or is going out tomorrow (convert social media people to email)

When do you send out a newsletter?[]

  • Do have to test, depends on your audience
  • User groups may not be tied to a work email address, so doesn't have to be during the week
  • O'Reilly's system does not allow sending more than one email to a user in 24 hours

Segmenting []

  • By customers, community, different audience types
    • Separate lists for webinars, event mailings
    • Community mailing list highlights community activity
    • Customer list highlights corporate activity
  • Might segment too deeply, but then have to invite that segment back into "mainstream" (e.g., grizzly bear lovers)
    • Re-engagement campaign, send an email to dormant list, click to resubscribe


  • Communicate in preferred language
  • Have schedule conflicts with local community content 
  • Agency vs. volunteer translation
    • Postgres has a translators mailing list
    • Mozilla's translations are all volunteer, the benefit is there being a newsletter version in their language
    • has volunteers who are not involved with your project, people who just like translating
  • Also have to pay attention to timezones, especially for time-bound things like conference registration
  • Mailchimp and other tools have features for this, based on IP address


  • Is thre a minimum frequency? At what point do people forget they signed up?
    • 6 months is a bit much
  • Include something meaningful about how they signed up, in the footer
  • is there a reason to purge lists? why would you?


  • Mailchimp
  • iPost
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Marketo
  • Constant Contact
  • SendGrid

What are useful features of tools?[]

  • Segmentation, tracking, integration with CRM
  • Mailchimp couldn't handle 200,000 member list

Process Management[]

  • PyLadies:
    • Start with an etherpad with headings
    • Ask core contributors to add to the pad
    • Have a designated responsible person, rotate responsibility
    • Takes about 3 days to a week, for a once-a-month newsletter
  • Google
  • Collect content in a spreadsheet, would like a way to automate output

Barriers, pain points[]

  • Keeping it new, fresh and interesting, not getting in a rut
  • Need a better template, inconsistent formatting
  • Editing for consistent voice

Raw Notes from Ed[]

Why Newsletters[]

  • (monthly): projects of the month, product updates, 
  • O'Reilly (weekly): had to do it that often because monthly wasn't enough - good mix of business and random new tech stuff
  • Moz: interesting stuff that's happening to greater community 
  • 10gen: Tension behind what is actually news and what goes out?
  • Eli: people recognize newsletters, on ramp into community engagement
  • Ed: good for tracking, easy to see who's clicked, who's read - who to follow up with, easy format to share with others.
    • Francesca - do people use forward it to a friend buttons

Takeaway: provide them with a knowledgebase that is timely. 

Why are they Good?[]

  • Robin: quick way to elicit feedback from people. 
  • Eli: no one would ever visit their website if they didn't
  • Van: Highlight stuff that is missing from all the noise of all the different communication channels. 
  • Community member spotlights - shoutouts 
  • metrics over community conversations - touchy feel and not data people. 
  • Do newsletters work? 

Do newsletters work? How do we measure?[]

  • Van - not tied to data - but know people closely enough to monitor their engagement
  • Van use google links and data that's in google+ as well.
  • Care more about engagement rather than clicks.
  • Quality vs. Quantity
  • Opens are only measured if they download images. 
  • Eli; don't get married to these stats but only relative numbers over time. 

What are Best Practices of Effective Newsletters?[]

Anchor Links at Top[]

  • WA State Dept of Resources: outline of toplinks that go within newsletter - effective at getting people to their online content - see anchor links at tpop of newsletter.
  • O'Reilly took these anchor links out because they weren't effective.
    • Have an entire online team that monitor all this and have metrics - always go to Marketing Sherpa conference in Vegas.
    • Do A/B testing - is it better to send email that looks like text but is HTML and is not as formatted, size of columns, anchor links? What do we highlight at top of newsletter?  

Subject Lines:[]

  • Catch attention, make people think, hot topic in news, what personally would want to see in subject line - something want to learn more and hear about.
  • Eli: whatever gets attention the best. Doing something different or changing regular pattern can get attention but over time have diminishing returns.
  • Francesca: to know good subject line, need to understand what people want to see and what community wants to read - why it's good for community manager. Can do a lot of A/B testing but boils down to people:

What is the content?[]

  • Janet: what is good content, not necessarily the format - but what is community news? 
  • Mary: Curate content - do google searches on what people are talking about after conferences - pull in articles from editors/ Q & A with authors - boils down to knowing community - what info they're looking for, what is hot, asking what they want.
  • Francesca: blog roll, look at particular tweets that were popular, i.e. see that Hadoop is important so put it in subject line. 
  • Zen: just put our first newsletter a week ago - trying to reach out to community - should there be unique high value content - concept of newsletter is to sort through content on site is to draw them to website where unique high value content is sitting?
  • Do you put unique content only in the newsletter? 
  • Solicit content from CEO and others, going into newsletter - only is in newsletter.
  • Francesca: we have everything link back to newsletter

Do people archive?[]

  • Did it at first but then people didn't go back and look on the website
  • O'Reilly stopped doing it as well - how many people actually go back and look at?
  • Drupal: so much stuff is going on - having these archives helps show historical, can also use the URL to easily tweet to and share via social media. 
  • Robin: people find it reassuring to sign up for a newsletter and see awesome content before they sign up.

How are the lists maintained?[]

  • Are these lists separately from the project mailing lists?
    • O'Reilly - separate lists and everyone who attends conference by default gets registered.

Way to share and get people to sign up[]

  • Eli: getting people to sign up for newsletter by saying sending out newsletter tomorrow - good way to convert folks from social media to being more engaged. 

Time and Time of Day[]

  • Depends on the project - you do need to test it out. 
  • O'Reilly - Heard everything - don't send it on Fridays, don't send it on Mondays, just make sure don't send it on same days as another newsletter - each list subscriber can only receive 1 email in a 24 hour window. 
  • Francesa: have a 2 week marketing suspension - make sure email newsletter doesn't compete with other news. 
  • User groups get stuff to a personal email so not necessarily having to cater to work hours
  • Luke: do you do it on time zones?
  • Drupal: yes - we do it especially for West Coast and Europe - especially for event registration for specific events. General newsletters 
  • Eli: some fancy newsletter tools - can send it via IP address or their location - where it only gets sent when it hits certain time zone. they do it through mailchimp. 


  • Eli: do you have to segment by topic area, geography
  • Moz: Segment by customers (25000 customers, 3000 community members), separate mailing list for webinars, events, over time who's become more engaged.
  • Each newsletter is unique content - customer one - unique content from CEO, updates to product, events doing, partnership deals. community one - is just content from community.
  • Pernilla: is there cross-pollination of linking to webinars etc on these different newsletters >> yes. 
  • Eli: have people segmented too deeply where it becomes a ghost segment - (i.e. people who loved grizzly bears - in time when funding ran out for that campaign - was hard to bring them back in when they were orphaned - and did lose a lot of people)


  • Robin: best practice - six months to re-engage if haven't sent it in a while - make barrier entry really easy when re-engage
    • Make it clear about how or why people had signed up for the newsletter so they know why they're getting the content. 

Culling Lists[]

  • Do people cull lists if they never click through or open? 
  • No - because no added expense of keeping them - 
  • O'Reilly: uses iPost but don't do it manually, if bounces 2 times, will automatically stop sending - based on soft or hard bounce.
  • Janet: make sure your subscribers still have that email - Yahoo is recycle old usernames so might be targeting wrong people now. 

Frequency of Sending[]

  • Eli: always did monthly because though they would forget. Is quarterly terrible because they will forget. 

What tools do people use?[]

  • Campaign Monitor ( Australian)
  • iPost: O'Reilly
    • O'Reilly: use iPost because they respond to their demands, joined them during beta. 
    • Lists are big and ancient, do a ton of segmentation and combining lists and exclusion of lists - allow for lots of customization.  
  • Marketo 
  • Constant Contact: Aquia
  • Mailchimp: Mifos 
  • Moz: SendGrid - use them because got too big for Mailchimp - 200k subscribers

How do people write newsletters? What is process for generating content newsletter?[]

  • Selena (PyLadies) : open up an etherpad with headings and then send it group of 30 people and and send out within an hour usually have enough content and then edit.
    • Pass around approval baton to other people in that small group
    • Eli: what is lead time from crowdsourcing to editing? >> 3 days for a monthly newsletter that is sent internationally.

What is biggest barrier to getting newsletter out?[]

  • What is pain point? is it content, is it creating the newsletter, sending it out. 
  • - keep it new, fresh, and interesting - feel like there's is in a rut - need to do measurement around what's true to decide what doing. 
  • O'Reilly - problem is with templates and fixing layout of content - mix of manual and automatic input, committee that looks through things.
    • Approval by committee for making sure stuff is ready,
    • Need easier template to use
    • Not even WYSIWYG - in-house template that people on the team built for them.
    • People who put in information are not consistent with how put in their content.
  • Van - use shared spreadsheet internally to capture new items - would like an appscript to format this correctly. Would still need to handcheck
    • Robin - services have RSS to email - will pull in RSS feed.
  • O'Reilly: need to make sure it has one consistent voice - editorial flow.


  • Do people do it?
    • Alfresco does it >> has it been hard to translate technical content? >> no, hardest part is coordination and sometimes delays on waiting for that.
    • Francesa: have been more militant about deadlines, have had difficulties with translation of technical terms - (i.e. shard in chinese)
  • Are people using translation agencies or volunteer?
    • Selena: Have a translators mailing list with volunteers who are reponsibile with 5 day deadline for translating the content (pernilla: good way of contributing without submitting content
      • - are people rewarded at all?
    • Janet (Mozilla): all translators are volunteer-driven
    • Do language-specific communities rather than region-specific one
    • Luke: TWN is a good source for translations - not sure if they do it for documentation or newsletters. (