Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is It Newsletters or Blogs?

I’ve had the same question asked in slightly different ways recently, so I’ll take a stab at answering. Last week in the “Starting the Conversation” webinar a small business owner observed that all this looked really labor intensive and asked what a small businessperson should do. I had some conversation afterward with a sole proprietor who faces the same challenge as she tries to build her business. In the webinar I agreed that much of the social media activity—while it can be free in terms of direct costs—is definitely labor intensive. The first issue is to prioritize how you spend your communications time. That’s true, but it isn’t very helpful.

This week I was asked a question by a board member of a non-profit that I didn’t have time to deal with. The question was “which is better, a newsletter or a blog.” That gets to the issue of prioritization and the situation is essentially the same—too much to do; too few resources.

This doesn’t cover the waterfront of social media options, but it’s a good place to start for almost any organization, large or small. These probably are the two most viable options for most resource-constrained organizations.

On one hand, newsletters are a staple of marketing. In the “olden days” of print newsletters and similar reminders were especially important to the small local business, either using rental lists or their house lists. They still serve that function cost effectively. However, you can’t do a good HTML newsletter free. It requires a services supplier. There are some essentially DIY suppliers that are reasonably priced. There are also industry-specific, or at least industry experienced, suppliers that may be worth an additional expenditure. Think carefully about what you need.

The other piece of good news about e-newsletters is that they are really quick to put together and send as compared to print. However, they are not easy, and a lot of small businesses don’t want to get involved in trying to figure out why the format isn’t working right or how to embed a video. I’d suggest that unless there’s someone with a smattering of HTML (and a lot of patience!) in your organization, that you think carefully about a newsletter. You may wind up spending a lot of time and experiencing massive frustration!

I don’t want to overstate the fact that blogs are easier to implement, because they are HTML templates also. But the fact is that a simple blog post is easier than a newsletter with several items. It is also more flexible in terms of timing and can take up several small chunks of time instead of the large investment of time every month or quarter to put an e-newsletter together.

There’s free software out there. I’ve been quite happy with Blogger, finding the basic operation quite user friendly. I find the most time-consuming issues to be sidebars, widgets, and add-on of all kinds; they often don’t work well across various applications. The exception is the e-mail and RSS subscription services, which I’d describe as essential. FeedBurner is relatively easy and reliable. I’m happy with the Mippin mobile subscription service. The traditional KISS is good advice for the novice. It’s also good to know that you can just delete the add-on if it doesn’t work.

The big drawback to blogs is building traffic. You may partially overcome that by using blogging software that’s provided by your website host. That means that people who visit your website have access to your blog—but it doesn’t mean they’ll read it!

And that’s the rub. Whether it’s a blog to which you must draw traffic or a newsletter which you must entice recipients to open and read, e-communications aren’t a magical solution. First and foremost they require good content that provides real value to readers. Then livening them up with images and videos is almost as essential in this e-media-cluttered world.

I’ve made the point before that this may be easier in B2B than in B2C. Business customers have serious motives for informing themselves about your products and services, and this may be the beginning of an eventual community initiative. In B2C markets you have to get out your marketing hat and market your e-communications just as you would any offer of value that you are making to current and potential customers.

That’s a quick look at blogs and e-newsletters. There are many more options. Here’s a good post for the beginner from Chris Brogan and a recent summary post that has a really useful set of links.

Do you have any success (or otherwise!) stories with blogs and newsletters that you’d like to share?

1 comment:

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