How to best replace the (print) employee newsletter

Declining paper use might mean the end of the venerable employee newsletter, but duplicating them electronically might not be the answer either.

We’ve come a long way since Business Week reported in 1975 about the pending arrival of the “paperless office” due to the growing popularity of word processing. But while desktop computers failed to do the trick (partly because they made it so easy to print volumes of documents), the exploding popularity of tablets and e-readers have finally put a dent in office paper use and accelerated our shift to digital.

The venerable employee magazine or newsletter may soon join the dodo, but attempting to duplicate them electronically might not be the answer either. Here’s why:

  • Time is money. Eliminating printed communications materials saves money, but you also need to consider the time spent on production—layout, design, and editing—which doesn’t go away simply because your newsletter is electronic. Creating new electronic editions of a newsletter or a magazine every month or quarter is a costly exercise.
  • Content is perishable. Employees want content that’s relevant and timely, which can be very challenging, given the long lead times required for the production of an in-house newsletter or magazine. Certainly, it’s easier “to stop the presses” for an electronic format versus a printed edition when breaking news strikes, but most of the time you’re forced to follow an editorial calendar that ensures your content is four to eight weeks old before it sees the light of day.
  • The competition never sleeps. Once you place a desktop computer on an employee’s desk, he or she has a window to an ongoing stream of information, in addition to traditional informal internal channels commonly known as “the grapevine.” Employees have become acclimated to a world of continuous content. They don’t want to wait every month or quarter to find out what’s happening in the company.

Instead, collaborative Intranet-based tools, such as SharePoint, allow communications professionals to focus more of their energies on developing content than worrying about template design and production.

Unlike a static electronic publication—such as a PDF newsletter—a Web-based platform draws its content from a database. Therefore the text and images stored in the database can be changed instantaneously.

Here are a few more advantages:

  • Publish once, transmit everywhere. An electronic newsletter has a degree of rigidity that may not display well on every device, especially mobile phones. A Web-based platform can also be sensitive to the device being used to read the content, so it can adjust to screen sizes. And it reaches “unchained” audiences who rely more upon tablets than desktops.
  • Reduce clutter. Electronic newsletters are usually transmitted by email at a time when employees are wrestling with email overload. Employees can even use their junk mail settings to block the information from reaching them. Posting information on a Web-based platform eliminates that clutter.
  • Archive for future use. Information on a Web-based platform is searchable and easy to archive. Electronic newsletters that are distributed by email can be difficult to find if employees don’t carefully organize their email folders. In addition, they may need to manually sift through past issues to find what they want.

Instead of concentrating on feature stories or business articles that must remain relevant a month or two before you publish, you can publish announcements of any type from any source. That’s how I managed to publish 500 articles a year on a corporate Intranet I managed. More than 90 percent of our employees visited our site two to three times a week, because we delivered relevant, real-time information that they could consume on their schedule, not ours.

The vision of a paperless office invites us to approach information delivery in a new way, rather than repurpose old techniques from the world of paper. That said, I’ll always have a nostalgic yearning for those good old days when I could repurpose old newsletters into great paper airplanes.

Mike Sockol has been a writer and communications strategist for more than 30 years. Visit for more information or contact him at 732.682.8361.

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