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From newsroom to newsletter: How local journalists are DIYing important coverage via email
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Nov. 13, 2018, 11:09 a.m.
LINK: medium.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   November 13, 2018

If you’re a news organization sending out email newsletters with Mailchimp, you probably know that the company offers some metrics so you can track how your newsletters are doing. But if you want to know how your organizations’ newsletters are doing compared to those from other publishers, there hasn’t really been a way (beyond keeping your eyes open for random brags and gossip). And open rates can be a faulty metric.

On Tuesday, the Shorenstein Center launched the “email benchmarking tool,” which news orgs can use both to track how their newsletters are doing according to six key metrics and to get a better picture of how their newsletters are doing to compared to others. (The tool was created as part of Shorenstein’s Single Subject News Project, which is funded by Knight; here’s some of its recent research on email newsletters.) Hong Qu, Shorenstein’s director of technology and the former CTO of Fusion (as well as a former visiting Nieman Fellow), explains:

After providing your Mailchimp API key, the tool will send you a “report card” of six key metrics that matter: overall list size, list composition, overall open rate, the distribution of your open rates, the percentage of your list that opens 80 percent of the time or more, and the percentage of your list that hasn’t opened in the past year…

For all of those metrics, with the exception of the distribution of your open rate, the tool gives you both your newsletter’s metric and the average metric for all other users of our tool (“average” referring to the mean across all lists in our dataset).

Overall list size and open rate are “vanity metrics,” Qu notes; while you’re able to track them here, there are other more important metrics to focus on, like:

Distribution of List Open Rate: This metric shows the distribution of user unique open rates for current subscribers on your list. For example, you can see what percentage of your list opens zero percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, all the way up to 80 percent of the time. We think newsrooms should focus on retaining, growing, and monetizing that segment of 80 percent-plus openers; on moving users with lower levels of engagement along the engagement funnel; and on removing the users who stay inactive over time.

Percentage Open > 80 Percent: This metric shows your most engaged subscribers — those who open between 80 percent and 100 percent of your emails. These subscribers deserve greater scrutiny: what drives their activity? What are a few user personas that capture this audience? It is worth trying to figure out how to move more of your subscribers into this portion of your list.

The more news organizations use the tool, the more useful it will be. You can sign up here.

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