3 Suggestions For Generating Reader Feedback

One question I am asked often is, “How much feedback does your electronic newsletter generate?”(Another question is, “How did you manage to lose so much hair in just 43 years of life?,” but that’s a topic for another day).

My answer to the first question is 1.5%. If you take the total size of our subscriber list, multiply it by our open rate (the number of people who typically open our newsletter), and then multiply that by 1.5%, you’ll have a pretty good estimate of how many reader comments we get with each issue.

Our last newsletter however (“ Break Free of Your Editorial Calendar! “), generated a whopping 2.8% response; nearly double the normal rate!! I thought you might be curious as to why, so I went back and took a look at it, in the hope of unearthing some clues (I never stop working for you).

Here are three reasons why I believe this particular issue caused so many of you to write to us:

1. I Chose a Topic With No “Right” Answer. Lots of newsletters address topics which offer little room for disagreement: “Why you Should Review your Financial Portfolio Annually;” “How to Dress for Success;” “5 Ways to Coach an Employee Effectively.” Although each of these topics and the newsletters written about them may contain useful information, each begins with a premise with which few reasonable people would disagree (do you know anybody who’s trying to dress for failure?). The topics themselves are not controversial, and as a result, they are less likely to prompt a reader to weigh in with a comment.

2. I Took a Position. I could have addressed the same topic –“Should your newsletter have an editorial calendar?”– by saying, “here are three reasons why it’s a good idea, and here are three reasons why it’s a bad idea.” At the end I could have wrapped it all up by saying something soothingly evenhanded like, “every company should weigh the pluses and minuses and do what feels best.”

Big snore. Instead, I took a position, and said flat out, “it’s a bad idea.” The result? Many people wrote and said they agreed. However, many people also felt compelled to set the record straight, and offer the other side of the argument. This excerpt from the comments of reader Jim Moonan of Education/Training Services Bureau is a good example:

“I think you can pre-select a theme far in advance and still be up to date when the pre-selection time comes around. I think you could even have your audience even look forward to certain topics every year.”

When you take a position in your newsletter, you’re guaranteed to run head on into someone who thinks differently. On the other hand, when you offer nothing but balanced, middle of the road views, you don’t leave your readers all that much to talk about. Remember, you’re not a journalist, you’re an expert in your field. Take a position.

3. I Asked a Closed Ended Question at The End (i.e. “Do you agree?”). Although it may seem logical that saying something wide open like, “tell us what you think about this idea,” will generate feedback, in practice I’ve found that asking a very specific yes/no type of question is much more effective.

I think it may be because it’s easier for people to just hit reply and say, “I agree,” and it gets them off the hook of having to compose a complete, coherent message. Interestingly, closed ended questions don’t seem to keep people from offering elaborate feedback as well. Those who feel like writing more, do.

Bottom Line: Lots of reader feedback is a sign of a healthy newsletter, and one more reason (I’ve lost count at this point) why electronic newsletters are so much more effective than their print cousins. Deliberately craft your newsletter to maximize feedback, and you’ll see an immediate difference in response rates.

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