Building community with email and newsletters

Today I want to address a trend!

🎉 Newsletters everywhere can be communities! 🎉

This made me think about how I’ve seen statements before clearly saying: 'You can’t build a real community through email’.

And you know, when someone on the internet is wrong you just have to do something about it. 🤓

So, I wanted to share some practical ideas on how you can use emails and newsletters to build community into what you are doing.

1. Give away or sell something

Do your people love what you are doing? Enable them to show their love by giving or selling something that they can show off.

A special notebook. Stickers. Tshirts. Mugs. You decide!

The more you do this, the more people can help spot one another in the wild. This can really help people identify and connect with each other.

Of course, this isn’t strictly an email thing, but email is a great tool to communicate these kinds of things.

Some ideas on how you can do this:

  • choose one person a day who gets in contact to randomly give them something
  • use your newsletter to do a giveaway
  • use swag as a bonus for when people sign up to your newsletter
  • did someone report a bug? Send them some swag.
  • did someone say something nice about your thing? Email them!
  • did someone attend an event? Give them some swag then request that they email you photos.

We use to give away t-shirts at our conferences at Ministry of Testing. Then we once had a bunch of software testers show up at a competitor’s conference wearing our t-shirts! 😎

2. Use the permission you have to start a conversation

Having a newsletter means that you have permission to send an email. So why not use it to have conversations with your subscribers?

Ask some questions to get to know them a bit better.

Of course, you can’t do this every week, but as an occasional email, it’s a great way to converse with your people.

As a double win, I believe that getting people to respond to email newsletters improves your overall email deliverability rate.

I noticed Monica did this well with her Blogging for Devs email course.

3. Point people to something

Don’t have a forum? No problem! Conversations can happen anywhere.

Did you know, a blog post with comments enabled is just like a forum post? 👀

If you look at a blog post that way, you can look at a lot of the internet in the same way.

You can use email to direct people to anywhere that allows you to interact with your people.

This applies to places like:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • YouTube

This can be a super effective way of having conversations with your people!

There’s no reason why you can’t point to other people’s content too, if you feel it makes sense.

The more useful and less marketing-focused it is, the better. People can smell selfishy marketing from miles away.

Be creative about it!

4. Use email to bring people together

In this COVID world who is not bringing people together through online events? And how is bringing people together not community building?

Even pre-COVID, email marketing is normally the core strategy of bringing people together at meetups, events, and conferences. It was definitely core for me to build up Ministry of Testing. I would never have sold nearly as many conference tickets without email.

Whether it is a one-off email or a sequence, you can make magic happen by bringing people together.

5. Respond to all the emails

Derek Sivers does amazingly well at responding to every single email he gets. And he gets a lot! This can create a great and direct connection with your people and I have no doubt that he has built many positive relationships through it.

Of course, Derek is an individual, but there is no reason why companies can’t adopt the same ethos. However, it’s not just about responding to emails, it’s about embedding it into your culture.

Most emails today are designed to discourage responses. Somehow it’s ok for us to get into their email inboxes, but not the other way around? That doesn’t feel quite right. That’s typical business these days for you, “it’s not cost-effective to respond to your customers”(!)

Some thoughts around this:

  • design in your desire for people to respond
  • bake it into your culture, e.g. allocate time every day to respond to (all the) emails
  • be human in your responses

6. Look for repeat names

Getting organized with your email and filters can help you spot familiar names.

Look for people who get in contact frequently and see how you can build a stronger relationship with them. These are likely to be your biggest fans.

I’m not going to dive into specific tools, but have a look and think about how you can use your tools to better look for people who like or read your stuff the most.

For example, with Substack they send emails when people like or comment on your posts. These emails notifications can also be used to your advantage. Find an excuse to reach out to the people who are participating the most.

7. Get meta and talk about your people

Who doesn’t love to be featured in emails?

I do this via my Rosieland curated email, carefully sourcing content that is relevant. As I’ve improved it over the past few months people increasingly appreciate and get excited at being mentioned.

Other ideas might be:

  • highlighting contributions
  • doing surveys and sharing some great responses
  • sharing photos
  • co-creating content (I’ve done this with ebooks and guest type articles)
  • write up stories about your people

8. Create a referral campaign

I’m not really an expert in this, but many people succeed by building referrals into their emails. Getting people to talk about and recommend you is the ideal way of creating a more community-focused audience.

9. Create a ritual

Is there something that you can do every week that fits into your community vibe?

These don’t need to be resource intensive and I’d actually recommend starting as small as possible to experiment with what works.

Some ideas to get you going:

  • put an ask out for participation to help you host regular things (meetups, AMAs, etc)
  • share something useful, articles, jobs, etc.
  • ask a question once a week
  • do a weekly or daily standup question
  • write a weekly roundup

Of course, it’s not just the act of doing these things, it’s also what you do with the responses. Ideally, you want to create a bit of a flywheel effect where email is part of the communication equation.

10. Over to you!

Help contribute towards the 10th idea of how to use email to help build community!

Come leave a comment online. See what I did there? 🥰

🎉 Thank you and happy Monday. 🎉

How can we build better communities?

We are on a quest to learn and explore what makes great communities.


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