Want your newsletter to capture employees’ attention? Use these 5 techniques

Today’s employees want snackable content and context for any changes in your organization. Try these approaches to deliver vital information—even to a dispersed workforce.

Employee newsletter tips

In today’s fast-paced world—with instant access, 24/7 breaking news and social media’s close connections—employee newsletters remain surprisingly relevant.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines newsletter as “a bulletin issued periodically to the members of a society, business or organization.” Although newsletters are hardly the most advanced way of communicating—the first was published in 1538—this classic internal channel can:

  • Reduce information overload
  • Enhance knowledge about important issues
  • Provide employees with information they can use

Still, many newsletters need a makeover—from old news to fresh, meaningful content.

Here are five ideas for revitalizing your employee newsletter:

1. Choose the right format.

Although most organizations today produce an electronic newsletter, in some cases a print publication works better.

For example, here are four workforce demographics that require print:

  • Manufacturing employees, who spend most of their time on the factory floor and have little access to electronic communication
  • Customer service reps, who focus on dealing with customers, so unstructured time is limited
  • Remote workers—such as flight attendants, repair/service representatives, truck drivers and others—who are always in motion
  • Sales reps, who may be connected via smartphones and tablets and catch up at home after hours

Print offers equal access (no worries about wired versus non-wired), provides great at-a-glance context, and is portable and user-friendly.

2. De-emphasize news.

Employees have already heard your “news” (from the grapevine, Google, external media, internal announcements) by the time you publish.

As Jeffrey Rothfeder writes in PublishingInsider, “with the 24/7 ecosystem of information and content available online, it’s safe to assume today’s readers know most of the top and breaking news stories of the day before they even reach your site.”

He adds, “The internet and new digital consumer devices are clearly continuing to rewrite the model for great journalism, fundamentally altering the way we engage readers.”

That means when readers open a newsletter, what they seek “is not ‘just-the-facts’ speed, but depth, substance and thoroughness delivered quickly.”

Today, to give the audience the unique content it craves, news outlets must develop “second-minute stories” to deliver context, analysis and explanation just as news is breaking.

The situation is the same for internal communicators. To meet employees’ needs, newsletters should not focus on reporting news. Instead, create internal newsletters that deliver information employees can’t find anywhere else.

3. Be of service.

If not news, what kind of content should employee newsletters contain? Consider “service journalism,” which organizes and creates content and then connects the dots.

Your role model for service content? Consumer magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, Shape, and Food & Wine are built on the philosophy of serving readers.

Note how magazine articles focus on the reader:

  • “Speed Cleaning: Garage Overhaul in Minutes” (Good Housekeeping)
  • “How Many Stocks Should You Own?” (Money)
  • “6-Minute Meals for 6-Pack Abs” (Men’s Health)
  • “Protecting Your Heart’s Health, Decade by Decade” (Real Simple)

Emulate this approach by creating employee-centric content. For example, when communicating the following topics, include how-to information like that in the bullet points:

Open enrollment and changes to benefits

  • Provide tips on how employees can reduce their health care costs.
  • List key reasons why employees should consider enrolling in long-term disability coverage.

Safety goals and performance

  • Include a sidebar with suggestions for how employees can avoid common workplace safety hazards.
  • Explain what employees can do to help the company achieve its safety goals.

Introduction of a new product

  • Create an elevator speech so employees can explain the new product to others.

New customer service strategy

  • Describe how employees can use it to enhance relations with their customers.
  • Share real-life stories of employees who have implemented the strategy and explain how others can learn from their experiences.

4. Make a list.

Made famous by Buzzfeed, list articles (or “listicles”) promise a payoff. Muhammed Saleem at Copyblogger says list articles make clear “what the reader is in for, and the structure itself reinforces the perceived value of the return on attention invested.”

Here are six more reasons to make a list:

  • A list puts a new spin on a familiar topic, such as short-term disability, performance management or an IT process.
  • Lists offer a simple way to organize complex content. A list doesn’t have to be hierarchical or alphabetical or categorized. Just number 1 to 5 (or 7 or 10).
  • Google (and other search engines) love lists. List articles get better results than other types of content.
  • Employees find them easy to digest. List articles aren’t overwhelming, like a buffet; they’re snackable, like canapés or tapas.
  • You can insert a little humor, even if your organization is not very funny. Lists lend themselves to being whimsical and lighthearted.
  • List articles are sticky. If your list piece is clever and helpful, employees will mention them to their colleagues. They’ll tweet them. Most important, they’ll read them.

5. Serve a snack, not a meal.

According to Nielsen Norman, users spend an average of 51 seconds browsing an e-newsletter. That means employees need easily digestible content. Here’s how to make your internal newsletter snackable:

  • Start with strong headlines and subject lines. Instead of corporate blah-blah-blah like: “Manufacturing achieves outstanding results for first quarter,” make the headline relatable: “5 ways the Manufacturing team increased efficiency—and you can, too.”
  • Organize content. Make your newsletter easy to navigate.
  • Be concise. Keep sentences short, put must-read points up front to reach the skimmers, and stick to a word count (250 is ideal).
  • Emphasize visuals. Use graphs to quickly convey data and color to organize content and/or highlight key items. Also, include plenty of photos.
  • Speak employees’ language. Use words that employees understand, spell out acronyms, and avoid jargon.
  • Write for skimming. Because 57% of readers only scan newsletters, create bite-size chunks of information and bulleted lists.
  • Focus on key questions. Explain why certain bits of information are important to employees and how they affect their work.

Alison Davis is CEO of Davis & Company.

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