Got Nectar?

“If it’s not worth talking about, it won’t get talked about.”

Seth Godin, Unleashing The Idea Virus

As I stepped into the house the other day after work, my 3 year old son Jonathan wasted no time in giving me the news. According to scientific research he had been conducting that morning in preschool, “The bees buzz from flower to flower to make the garden pretty.”

I’m no entomologist, but that seemed about right, so I thanked him for bringing me up to speed.

Later that night however, his 10 year old brother Evan set me straight. According to Evan (a highly regarded bug expert in the Hopkinton, Massachusetts 4th grade), the bees don’t go from flower to flower, “to make the garden pretty.” The fact is, they couldn’t care less about making the flowers grow.

They go from flower to flower because they want nectar, and in the process of slurping it up, flower pollen gets caught on their sticky little bee legs. When they move on to the next flower (again, for the nectar), some of the pollen drops off their legs, and pollination occurs.

His point was simple. The growth of your garden is a fortunate, but unintentional side-effect of a bee’s selfish desire for nectar.

Believe it or not, this is directly related to one of the E-Newsletter questions I hear most:“How can we more effectively grow our E-Newsletter subscriber list?” Here’s what I mean:

One of the great things about an E-Newsletter (don’t get me started) is that it’s easily forwarded. With one click, people can share your newsletter with others who they believe may also have an interest in the topic.

This so called “viral effect” isn’t a new concept in the world of email, and most companies that publish newsletters do things to encourage readers to pass them along. Examples include displaying prominent “click here to forward” buttons; sending separate emails to colleagues and clients asking them to spread the word; and even offering incentives for telling other people about the newsletter.

All good stuff. The disconnect is that many people apply these tactics without any consideration for the motivation of the bee. In other words, encouraging me to “spread the word” about your newsletter, is very much like encouraging the bee community to go pollinate some flowers. Unless there’s nectar in it for me, I’m not going to be all that interested.

In the case of your E-Newsletter, the nectar is quality content. Your readers will only share your newsletter with their friends, their clients, and their colleagues if the content is good. If they can help (or impress) people they know by forwarding a valuable piece of information, or letting someone know about a great resource for topic X, they’ll do it.

On the other hand, asking them to forward it simply to help you out (or even worse, asking them to forward a thinly disguised advertisement for your services) is an uphill climb.

Bottom Line: Your newsletter needs to be valuable in and of itself if you hope to achieve the magical viral effect we all strive for. Your readers don’t mind helping you grow your list, but it will only happen as a byproduct of what motivates them as they move through their own busy days.

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