My husband cannot stand when strangers strike up conversation.
Recently, on a flight, I caught him smirking as two strangers met and began an endless exchange.
I’m somewhat neutral about the endeavor.
Mainly because I recall occasionally meeting really interesting people that way. But (gasp!) those memories all predate social media and the ability for someone to look you up and ask you to be more than temporary friends.
So he’s obviously influenced me to save the “here’s who I am and what I do” for more structured scenarios, like attending Content Marketing World a few weeks back and intentionally interacting with people in my industry.
It was unexpectedly exciting, especially since COVID began, to have these sorts of in-person conversations.
And, of course, I’m going to tie this into newslettering. Ready?
One particular conversation was with a man who’d actually lived in the SAME EXACT Manhattan apartment building I’d lived in for 10 months during graduate school 17 years ago.
It took some ramp up conversation to get to this fact. Maybe 10 minutes?
And when we discovered it I experienced a flood of emotions and memories of that period of my life:
Suddenly there was more than “here’s who I am and what I do” going on.
There was a deeper connection.
He’d lived in the building years after I did, but it held significance to both of us for different reasons.
I write (and talk) a lot about the value of being human in your newsletter.
Of being a little vulnerable, even.
What I want us to think about is what we can include that draws our readers in, makes them feel closer to us, and, just maybe, opens the floodgates of memories and emotions for them.
I get that injecting personal stories into a newsletter isn’t for everyone.
But it’s powerful for those who are comfortable doing so.
For everyone else, you’re welcome to smirk with my husband.
This week’s issue highlights creators who have some unique insights on how they connect, create, and stay consistent. Plus, it prompts you to ask if you indulge in pluralistic ignorance. Nod your head if you get it.
Are you embracing the exquisite pain of newsletter unsubscribes?
Dennis Shiao thinks you should.
And I agree.
We co-presented last week at Content Marketing World, and his point is sticking with me:
Don’t let yourself get numb to unsubscribes.
Dennis takes it very seriously.
He wants an email notification for each unsubscribe.
So he can process them individually.
Mourn their loss.
Experience the hurt.
And consider the why.
Similarly, I keep up with mine in a dashboard and make a point to review the reasons given after each issue.
Depending on your list size, this could require a significant time commitment.
But the point is this:
There is value in taking unsubscribes a little personally.
In considering each goodbye and the reason behind it.
Your newsletter is often a significant chunk of your relationship with your audience.
When someone opts out, acknowledging that individually and considering why will shape your future content in a more meaningful way than thinking of unsubscribes as a business metric.
It stings less when you turn people into numbers.
But if you pay attention to the individual names and reasons, you commit more fully to serving those who’ve stuck around.
Dennis challenged both independent creators and large brands to adopt this approach:
Intentionally humanize the relationship between sender and recipient.
Let it fuel our desire to earn trust in every issue we deliver.
Yes, sometimes an unsubscribe indicates the reader is not a good fit for you (or your brand). But, as tough as it is to accept, sometimes it’s good to wallow in the frustration of a farewell so we can improve going forward.
Subscribe to Dennis’s newsletter, the always insightful Content Corner, here.
This week’s issue includes the inspirational stories of some successful newsletter creators, advice for re-engaging subscribers, and ideas for improving your newsletter process (whether that’s automating tweet curation or building a community with purpose).
Let me know what you think.
Do you know how onions are harvested?
It’s a smelly process.
Involving one tractor that unearths them and lines them up in mounds on the field.
And another that sucks them up and spins them in a barrel that sifts out the dirt.
AND another tractor pulling a big open trailer, carefully staying nearly side-by-side to the one that sucks them up. Sifted onions are sort of shot off the one and into the other, piling into the massive trailer.
Each of these processes makes lots of noise.
And leaves heaps of perfectly good onions on the field to rot.
All very technical, I know.
And maybe not something you care to know?
But I want you to feel like you are in this field. To imagine a giant brown swath of recently harvested onions and that this process is taking place on the end rows while you are in the middle of the field. This section has already been harvested but there are plenty of onions they missed. You breathe in the potent smell, eyes tearing up and nose running as you slowly metal detect your way across it.
Yes. You are metal detecting.
Surrounded by modern tools doing modern things (loud, efficient, sloppy) while you swing a modern 2-pound detector in hopes of finding something interesting.
And, by the way, you are in England, because there’s way more history of metal use there than in the US and you’ve taken multiple expensive COVID tests to be here among the onions.
Are you with me? Walking slow, swinging that detector with your right arm? Holding a shovel in your left hand? (Sorry, lefties.) Listening for beeps just begging to be dug and then turning out to be chunks of soda cans or lead blobs?
Every time you hear a signal worth digging you repeat the process of pinpointing it, digging until it’s out, then isolating whatever clump of metal is waiting to be discovered.
99 times out of 100 you dig up junk.
Like, absolute trash.
New trash. Old trash. Trash you can’t even tell what it is trash.
You unearth a clump of dense bronze.
It’s a strange rotty green.
You think, “Well, that’s old. Only ancient bronze is this color.” (Yes. You know that at least.)
And then you clean all the dirt off of it and discover that this really old piece of bronze isn’t just a blob. It kind of comes to a point. And if you turn it...
“OMG it’s a socketed axe head.”
Like, the broken tip of a Bronze Age axe head.
As in, this thing broke and was discarded sometime around 850 B.C.
It could be that the last person who touched it touched it THEN, likely cursing the broken tool.
Still with me?
It’s a surreal feeling. Finding what someone else lost. Recognizing it and connecting with the past.
Crafting a narrative in your mind as you blow your onion irritated nose and imagine the ancient landscape of a modern field.
It happened to me last week.
My first axe head tip.
And I loved the moment. I indulged in it.
Cut to the present: These days we’re leaving a different trail.
A trail of digital content.
Articles, videos, and newsletters, perhaps? All waiting to be discovered and experienced.
Is yours identifiable? Does it bring people into a story they want to be a part of?
Is it creating meaningful moments for them?
Think of your newsletter as a reason to detect that onion field.
But cut right to the valuable substance without making your subscribers dig up trash.
Get straight to the good stuff.
Psst: If you’re a curator, it’s your job to sort the trash from the treasure.
Now, let’s get to the links I’ve collected for you this week. It’s good to be back from vacation, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I was back amongst the onions.
I’m assuming this quote is going to resonate with you, dear newsletter creator. Because you understand how wonderful it is to know the message you want to share will be seen by at least 20%, maybe even 60 or 70%, of the people who expressed interest in seeing it.
Editorial email newsletters win inbox attention. Period.
And part of the reason is because big tech and algorithms have stifled creator incentive to publish outside of platforms.
Rand recently published this piece on just how frustrating it is to try to use social media to drive traffic to a website. And he’s right.
The options he offers to navigate our current plight are helpful: find ways to benefit from platforms, link off-platform less frequently, FOCUS ON EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS, and try to achieve amplification from established brands/personalities with large followings.
It’s not that he’s saying SEO is dead. But he does seem to be saying it’s not your strongest play right now if you’re hoping to build an audience.
I, a newsletter sender, obviously want to lean into the idea that newsletters are a way to combat the algorithm giants we love/hate. But I think it’s important to understand that a creator has to balance the challenge of being discovered (aka marketing, which all but requires we have a social strategy of some sort) and publishing something worth discovering.
That means learning to adhere to the finicky demands of social platforms: like placing links to your site in a comment so that the post performs better or choosing to forgo site traffic and delivering a valuable message in the feed.
At the same time, you’ll need to exert the effort required to actually reward the people on that email list you’re building with reasons to open and engage.
They don’t necessarily have to be drastically different actions. You can repurpose and adapt content from email to platforms and vice versa.
Both serve a purpose.
Social helps you build a brand presence and engage.
The newsletter should deliver content they don’t want to miss.
My life news that impacts you: I’ll be away for the next 2 weeks in England metal detecting. We’re going to skip next week (Sept. 16) and Seth is going to send an issue on Sept. 23 that includes links but minimal commentary. I have full confidence he’ll include some goodies to hold you over until I return.
Now, on to the interesting thoughts I’ve pulled together for this week.
Have you created a newsletter creation workflow that keeps you on track?
Here’s my weekly curation process:
1) I follow keywords using good old-fashioned Google Alerts, scan them once a week, and collect any headlines that seem like they might serve you, a newsletter creator.
2) I subscribe to newsletters from people/companies who create and share content. I scan them once a week (in a separate mailbox) and collect any headlines that seem like they might serve you, a newsletter creator.
3) I use automations to collect links to articles from people/companies who consistently produce quality content that might serve you, a newsletter creator.
4) I use a similar automation to collect links to new content from YouTube channels and podcasts created by people/companies who consistently produce quality content that might serve you, a newsletter creator.
5) If I read something on social media or in my day-to-day life that might be a good fit, I collect the link because I think it might serve you, a newsletter creator.
6) I use Curated (yes, a brand I market—this newsletter is intended to show you how it can be used) to review those links I've collected to it and import the ones that seem the most relevant into the next issue. Some were already categorized into the sections they fit into as I collected them, some need categorizing.
7) I look at the mix of content for each section, dive into each piece, and reorder them within my established topic categories based on how well each one will serve you, a newsletter creator.
8) I delete the ones that fall short of serving you, a newsletter creator.
9) I then force myself to do more rounds of cuts until I have only the best.
10) I write my commentary for the pieces that made it through the last round of curation. The prompt for that commentary is "This piece of content will serve a newsletter creator well because..." I write my intro, subject, and preview text last.
Let me know if this is anything like your own workflow or helps you with yours. I’m always looking for ways to improve it.
And, yes, it is Friday. Thank you for noticing that I changed my send day (just for this crazy week!).
Shall we proceed to the part where I share the best stuff I found?
Who are you writing your newsletter to?
If I read what you write, will I know?
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been deep in editing mode this week or because it’s just on my mind, but I’d like to address why you need to match your voice and tone to the specific audience you’re writing for.
It sounds so easy, right?
But it’s actually hard.
And I think it’s because people sit down to write and they imagine a college lecture hall of readers about to read what they’ve written and it prompts some sort of academic knee jerk response to elevate the language to a tier worthy of a stodgy professor’s tenured opinion.
But… is that who you are writing to?
Maybe we accidentally imagine a boardroom of potential investors pulling apart our words and crushing our dreams?
Maybe we picture CEOs nitpicking our word choice and start writing on the defense, protecting our decisions to cover specific topics with bland language.
It’s natural to experience this.
But, unless your newsletter is actually for those specific audiences, it’s probably time to step back and read what you’ve written aloud. As you do, decide if the words you chose and the way you delivered the message sound more like a formal presentation than a letter from one human to another.
The best way to actually get to the point where you sit down to write and it comes out more… REAL is to talk to people you write to, understand them, and then imagine them as you draft.
If you’re reading this and we’ve spoken before, there’s a good chance I thought of you as I wrote this. (30 minutes before sending it out, by the way. It’s been that kind of week.)
There’s some good stuff in this issue, though. Let’s check it out.
Let’s think about how your newsletter can be what someone didn’t know they really needed.
If you want readers who open and engage with each issue, then you’ve got to create something worth the effort it takes to do that.
In fact, you’ve got to create something that makes it feel like it’s NOT EVEN EFFORT.
This past weekend, my youngest daughter was determined to walk the neighborhood on Sunday afternoon looking for treasures. We’ve discovered that this is when everyone puts out quality stuff they want to get rid of (trash pickup is Monday morning).
The previous weekend my husband had taken the girls and their cousin out and they found a set of elongated souvenir pennies. Score!
Some people make an effort to post pictures of what they’re putting out in a Buy & Sell neighborhood Facebook group. They title the post “Curb Alert,” and if you time it right you might snatch up something good. Our next door neighbors grabbed a bouncy house this way.
But others just put it on the curb and let the vultures scavenge.
Josie, 9, was obsessed with getting out Sunday and finding something.
So off she and Sal went—she on her scooter and he on foot—scouring boxes of junk that might have something worthwhile. Treasure hunting, they called it.
Meanwhile, I relaxed at home, searching Amazon for a pineapple lamp to go in her new room. Her bed was due to arrive this week and her comforter has pineapples on it, so I thought it would be fun to get a lamp that matched, but I wasn’t having much luck. Nothing was just right.
Turns out they went around the entire neighborhood and didn’t see anything good. They’d even had to hang out under a tree during a quick summer storm and decided to call it a loss and head in after.
Then, as they turned on our street, they saw a pile of little girl room goodies that hadn’t been there earlier. And—get this—one of the best things was a light pink pineapple lamp the color of her new bed!
She was ecstatic.
It was perfect.
After a quick cleaning and drying session (the rain!), they tested it and IT WORKED!
Days later, she is still giddy. “It matches sooooooo good!”
Are you creating a newsletter that prompts this level of contentment?
Imagine your newsletter is my neighborhood on Sunday.
Is it worth exploring?
Walking in the rain for?
Is it an adventure readers continue to take because they know there’s a pink pineapple lamp (or something more fitting) waiting for them in the next issue?
If not, can you make it one?
Now, let’s shed some light on the newsletter world.
Ever watched The Godfather Trilogy?
You know how at the end of each film all the storylines get wrapped up at once?
Sal (my husband) and I refer to these endings at moments in life when everything seems to be coming together at once.
That was my life this week.
If you recall, our family made a big move from Florida to Mississippi (Sal and I grew up here) in June.
We immediately listed our Florida house for sale, enrolled the girls in summer activities in a state that seems to think Covid-19 is a nuisance, nothing more, and spent a few months with Sal driving back and forth to Florida to move our stuff out of the house.
There was an offer that fell through. Unpacking to do here. And an upstairs air conditioner that wasn’t up to actually working in the Mississippi heat.
In other words: life happened.
But, somehow, we made it to the first week of school for our daughters, who started 6th and 4th grades this Monday.
And we closed on selling the house to buyers who did not fall through (also on Monday).
And a part finally came in to fix the downstairs air conditioner just as the motor began to moan its death song (Saturday).
If you’ve watched The Godfather Trilogy, besides recognizing Fredo’s unwarranted confidence in his mob leader aptitude in my email subject, you know that the neatly tied up ending of one movie quickly unfolds with the beginning of another.
Our next narratives:
How long will it take for both daughters to retest into the gifted program? We came with very impressive paperwork, but the state requires they go through its testing process to be in the program. This involves me being “that mom” who is filling out forms and doing whatever it takes to expedite the process. Let’s hope it’s not too long.
Why aren’t girls here encouraged to participate in STEM courses? My 6th grader managed to get her schedule changed so she can take robotics and she’ll be one of two girls in the program. I realize I could be making a generalization, but I hope she doesn’t have to do this every step of the way. I was the only girl in my AP Calculus and Physics classes so this frustration is a bit induced by the loneliness I experienced in feeling like an oddball for wanting to take them. High school haunts me.
Will we be able to travel to England for a metal detecting holiday next month? It’s a hobby Sal turned into a career and I’m eager to hop the pond and find really old stuff. So far, it looks like we’ll get to go, but I won’t believe it until we’re on a plane. And, by the way, where the heck is my passport? Moving is so disorienting.
What about you? Do you tie off storylines and open more loops?
Do you share them in your newsletter?
Even if you’re not sharing quite as much personal information as I do, your audience likely craves episodic content.
Make sure you’re building a narrative that warrants opening the next issue.
And if you’re hoping to launch a newsletter, check out Curated News because I’m launching a challenge next week for a small cohort of creators.
Now, let’s talk newsletters.
When we moved from Florida in June, I had a bit of regret about a thing I should have done but didn’t when we lived there.
I really wish I had taken the time to go to our beach entrance and watch the sunrise over the Atlantic more often.
It was lovely when I did.
It set the pace for the day.
But I didn’t actually do it very often and I have no one to blame but myself.
An interesting thing happened after we moved, though.
A friend who lived nearby started posting daily sunrise photos from her beach entrance on Instagram/Facebook.
So now, each morning when I check my feed, I see and like her photos.
It feels like they’re for me.
This friend went through A LOT last year, and though we were in touch in a get-things-done-for-our-daughters sort of way, I had no clue about her heaviest heavy stuff. It’s stuff she’s moving past, and I think the morning beach walks are part of her healing.
They’re part of my healing, too.
They’re a taste of something I meant to do but didn’t, and now I get to enjoy what should have been in a different way.
These vicarious sunrises are becoming a new ritual for me.
If we think of this in terms of newsletters (because, I know, I know, that’s social media—not email), I think it hits close to the most important goal of the genre: to build connection by sharing.
Above all else, a newsletter is an outlet for creating and sharing something important to you/your brand with people who agree it’s important and welcome it into their lives.
It can be you inviting them into a world you build for them to inhabit.
It can be therapeutic and ritualistic.
It can be the sunrises they want to make time for.
Now, let’s see what newsletter news we can shed some fresh light on today.