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Launch a Newsletter: Building Your Audience & Content Strategy (Part 2)

April 24, 2024

Man on metro train commuting and reading a newsletter on his smartphone.

Launch a Successful Scholarly Newsletter: Build Your Audience & Craft Compelling Content (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a series on how to launch a newsletter. You can read part I here – Beyond Journal Paywalls & Tweets: Launch A Newsletter (Part 1), where we talked about why. 

In this post, we’ll cover the logistics on how to launch a newsletter! 

Build Your Foundation 

Define your Goal

Before you launch a newsletter, take a moment to solidify your purpose. We are all about efficiency and strategy. Without taking a few moments to think about your why, you may waste precious time and resources. So before you commit, here are some key questions to consider:

  • What drives you? Is your primary goal to generate income, build an audience, delve deeper into a specific topic, exploring a new avenue of communication?
  • What is the value for your readers? What knowledge or insights do you hope your subscribers will gain from your newsletter? What do you hope they will walk away with at the end of every newsletter?
  • Why is it important? Why is sharing your expertise and research with a wider audience important to you? Why should it be important to your readers?
  • How you will you keep readers engaged? How will you keep your readers coming back for more? 
  • How much time are you willing to commit? Newsletters can be time consuming. How often will you publish a new newsletter? How long will it be? Are you prepared to deliver this newsletter when you say you will?

Reflect on these points a bit before you launch a newsletter. And if you are looking for more insight on whether or not you should launch a newsletter, check out this article featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education that asks should you start a newsletter? The question is for you alone to answer, but I hope this series and the Chronicle article provides you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

Defining Your Niche

Focus on Your Expertise

The foundation of your newsletter lies in your unique perspective related to your academic expertise (but it doesn’t have to be the only thing!). We are told time and time again to ‘find the gap.’ This is the space where you can talk about that gap, flesh out ideas, and engage with a community that also are interested in this very specific topic (there are people out there!).

Target Your Audience

Who do you envision at the receiving end of your newsletter? Tailor your content to them. There will be other subscribers, no doubt, but you want to focus on the person you are writing for. And one way to do that is to write for yourself. You probably know the saying, dance as if nobody is watching? Well, I suggest you write like no one is reading. This can also help you with a level of vulnerability that can help you connect with your audience.

Other things to consider: the specific needs and challenges faced by this group. What are they seeking? What information do you think they are interested in? Understanding your target audience will help you shape your content and messaging.

Choosing a Platform

This is a pretty important decision, but it is not the end all be all. You can make a shift down the road if the platform is no longer working for you, etc. We covered a bit on turnkey platform options like LinkedIn and Substack in Part 1 of the ‘how to launch a newsletter’ series, so I won’t rehash that here. But here are a few things to consider when selecting a platform.

Research Features

Prioritize platforms with robust email list management tools, analytics, and flexible design options. An easy way to do this is critically review the newsletters you receive, the platforms they use, the functions, and design. 

Free vs. Paid

Many platforms offer free plans with limited features. I am not an affiliate for any newsletter platform. But I use Mailerlite and it’s mostly because it is free (for now). When my newsletter email list gets big enough, they will start charging me. I like it, but I don’t know anything other wise. Other options include Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and ConvertKit. What it comes down to is the features you find valuable. 

Build Your Email List

Your email list is the lifeblood of your newsletter. Here’s how to start getting people to subscribe:

Leverage Existing Networks

Start by reaching out to your professional network. This includes colleagues, students, fellow researchers you’ve connected with at conferences, and anyone who has expressed interest in your work. Add your newsletter link to your email signature. 

Incentivize Sign-Ups

Entice potential subscribers with exclusive content, early access to articles, or even signed copies of your publications. This is what we in the biz call a ‘call-to-action.’

Cross-Promote on Social Media

Use your existing social media platforms to announce your newsletter and encourage your followers to subscribe. Update your social media profiles and include the newsletter link. If you have lots to promote, you might consider creating a Linktree link to house all your exciting work. 

Guest Posting & Collaborations

Guest post on relevant academic blogs or publications, mention your newsletter and offer a signup link. Collaborate with other scholars and promote each other’s newsletters to expand your reach.

Set Up Your Newsletter 

Designing Your Newsletter

You’ll want to build a professional looking newsletter. You can update it as you get your sea legs. You also want to make sure your newsletter is mobile-friendly since so many of us read our emails on our phones. A few other things to consider as you launch a newsletter:

Take Note From Your Current Newsletter Subscriptions 

Reflect on the newsletters you subscribe to and read. What keeps you interested? What turns you off? What do you enjoy the most? Reading long text or clicking links for more info, for example? Do you like when GIFs and funny pictures are included? Consider incorporating similar elements into your own strategy.

Here is what I looked for in conducting this very important research along with ways you can adjust your design and style:

Content Length & Visual Appeal

Do you prefer short newsletters or super detailed discussion into specific topics? Are there newsletters with a clean and visually appealing layout that you enjoy? When I see a newsletter with a LOT of words, no headings, and very few photos, I immediately delete them. I am part of the (very large) population with a short attention span UNLESS it’s a topic I care deeply about. 

If you want EXCELLENT advice and strategy on building a succinct newsletter, read Smart Brevity* by the guys who brought us Axios.

Call to Action

What do you want someone to do at the end of reading your newsletter? What action do you want them to take? At minimum, you might think of including a comment area so they can engage. Some of your favorite newsletters include effective calls to action that encourage further engagement. Some newsletters are meant to just be informative, and that’s fine! Some offer a level-up (e.g., monetization). What do you want your readers to do at the end of your newsletter?

Voice & Tone

This may take some adjusting, as the shift from academic writing to accessible writing is tough. I STILL struggle with this. Just remember, if someone wanted to read a research paper, they would read a research paper (and then they would not read a research paper). Chances are, they opened your email to read what you think about the research. What kind of writing style resonates with you? Informative and objective? Friendly and conversational? This is your writing. Let it represent you. 

This exercise in analyzing the newsletters you subscribe to combined with understanding your own audience preferences can be very helpful. It can develop a content strategy that keeps your readers informed, engaged, and coming back for more. And if you don’t subscribe to loads of newsletters, ask you trusted friends and colleagues to share a few of their favorites. 

Write Your Newsletter

The B I G question. What to write about. I can’t tell you this, but I can offer suggestions. 

Content

A few things you can write about in your newsletter include:

  • Summarizing articles: Share your research findings, analysis, and insights in accessible snippets.
  • Interviews with other scholars and practitioners: Feature interviews with leading scholars in your field or adjacent fields. Yay cross-discipline collaboration! 
  • Behind the scenes: Offer a glimpse into your research process, challenges you face, and lessons learned.
  • Research reviews and commentary: Review recently published academic articles/books, software relevant to your field, or online resources.
  • Article curation: Curate interesting blog posts or articles related to your field and offer your commentary.
  • Data visualization & analysis: Showcase compelling data visualizations and provide insights from your research data in an accessible and fun way.
  • Case studies: Present real-world applications of your research or related topics in your field.
  • Hot takes: Offer summaries and responses to current news or research developments.
  • Debates & discussions: Pose a thought-provoking question and invite readers to share their perspectives.
  • Scholarly news roundup: Briefly summarize and comment on recent developments in your field.
  • Interactive elements: Consider including polls, quizzes, or Q&A sessions as a way to engage and get reader feedback.
  • Open research journal: Use this space as a way to share you updates on your research in progress.
  • Career advice: Offer career guidance and insights for early-career researchers in your field.
  • Conference previews & reviews: Provide details on upcoming conferences and share your experiences from past ones.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a great starting point. Again, what is it your audience wants?


Related Post: Academics as Content Curators


Advice

Frequency

Determine a publishing frequency that is sustainable for you and meets your audience’s expectations. This can be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or whenever your heart desires. I subscribe to a few ‘on a whim’ newsletters that respond to current news or are sent when the writer wants. But always remember, you are beholden to no one but yourself and what you can handle. People will not riot if you miss a few newsletters. 

Academic Integrity

Just because we are writing in another medium, doesn’t the ethics of research and responsibility go away. Uphold the highest standards of academic integrity by ensuring proper research methodologies, accurate citations, and avoiding plagiarism. You don’t need to stick to your formatting guide, but including sources is a must. 

Valuable Insights

Remember, people are subscribing because they are interested in your perspective. So be sure to offer it. Offer valuable insights, original analysis, and thought-provoking commentary that keeps your audience engaged and intrigued. 

Adapt When Necessary 

Be open to pivoting or expanding your niche topic. As your research interests evolve, or you evolve, or you discover new areas of engagement, you can gradually broaden your scope or introduce related sub-topics.

Originally, my newsletter focused on research and communication topics. But I felt it needed a touch of personality and something to keep readers engaged. As a full-time traveler, I decided to integrate travel and lifestyle advice relevant to academics and scholars. This broader scope injects a dose of fun and reflects my own experiences, potentially connecting with readers on a more personal level. This may come in time, and when it does, lean into it.

Maintaining Momentum For Long-Term Success

The decision to launch a newsletter can be a big step towards establishing yourself as a thought leader and fostering a vibrant community around your research. And the key to long-term success lies in consistency and audience engagement. 

Try to maintain a regular publishing schedule, especially early on, to build trust and keep your audience coming back for more.

Review and leverage analytics to understand reader preferences. What links they are clicking, what emails they are opening, etc. Use these insights to refine your content strategy and ensure it resonates with your audience.

Create a community by encouraging comments, questions, and discussions with your readers. This two-way dialogue can build a sense of community and allows you to directly address their interests.

As a scholar, deciding to launch a newsletter can empower you to circumvent traditional publishing limitations and connect directly with a wider audience. You can establish yourself as a thought leader, foster discussions around your research, and even democratize knowledge by making it more accessible. Newsletters offer a platform to control the narrative, showcase your expertise, and potentially spark new collaborations. So, if you’re looking to expand your reach and influence, consider deciding to launch a newsletter – it could be the key to unlocking a vibrant academic community around your research.


If you are interested in launching a newsletter, schedule a free strategy session with me, and I’ll be happy to talk out some ideas with you.

*Affiliate link. I wasn’t paid to read or review the book, but I may get a small commission if you buy the book through that link. A girl’s got to eat.

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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