In an age where advances in communications technology have presented us with virtually limitless ways to consume information, there’s one method of communication that’s seeing a resurgence: email newsletters.
This might come as a surprise to some. After all, email is hardly a much-loved technology. Long gone are the days where people would be excited to receive a new email.
But there are a few reasons why we’re currently seeing a renaissance of this ‘70’s technology.
And one of the biggest of these reasons is our relationship with social media.
Looking at how our complex and ever-changing relationship with social media and how it’s driving a resurgence in email newsletters paints an interesting picture of what we value and our control of what information we consume.
The rise of social media
Social media radically changed how we stay in touch with people since it came onto the scene as we know it today in the early 2000s.
In doing so, chain emails family and friends would forward you and sharing holiday snapshots via email were effectively eliminated overnight as people turned instead to social media.
As people turned away from clunky email chains, social networking sites saw their user base expand rapidly.
While some like MySpace were unable to maintain their users, sites like Facebook and Twitter which have been around since the start have remained giants of social media.
Despite early claims by some that social media was just a fad, it remains as an intrinsic part of how we communicate with each other today as ever before.
Satisfaction with social media began to wane
People’s continued reliance on social media doesn’t mean that attitudes towards it haven’t changed over the years.
And it probably won’t surprise you to learn that attitudes aren’t becoming more positive.
Mark Zuckerberg’s own former pollster has revealed that a third of people in countries like the US and the UK view Facebook as having a negative impact on society.
The reason behind public opinion heading south is almost certainly a combination of various scandals and failures to meet community expectations that have been discussed ad nauseam.
That said, there is one factor in particular worth exploring: algorithms.
Controlling what we see on our newsfeeds
Newsfeeds were organized chronologically letting you see all of your updates in the order they were made. However, as people started adding more friends and started following more accounts, newsfeeds became increasingly cluttered.
In response, platforms started implementing algorithms that supposedly elevated content we’re most likely to want to see to the top of our newsfeeds while burying the content we supposedly don’t care about.
To say that this move from chronologically organized newsfeeds to ones curated by machine learning was controversial would be an understatement.
It is, however, a change that we’ve been stuck with.
Even comments on Facebook posts are now being organized to show the “most relevant” ones first while burying others.
From decluttering our new newsfeeds to keeping us locked in
Social media networks as we know them today are primarily advertising platforms, where everything is optimized for us to stay on their platforms, so they can make more money by showing us more ads.
So in addition to serving us “the most relevant content”, newsfeed algorithms also serve up content they know we’re going to interact with to keep us locked in and getting fed ads.
And it is this second change that’s had the greatest impact on how we consume social media.
The impact of newsfeed algorithms
We’ve been heading down this path for years now and we’ve well and truly arrived at a point where clickbaity, superficial or other sensationalized content succeeds while thoughtful, in-depth content all-too-often struggles.
Newsfeed algorithms actively incentivize content that’ll get reactions out of people, positive or negative. All too often its sensationalism and negative news that will win out.
Publishers who simply want to provide quality content without trying to elicit a reaction find it increasingly difficult to reach their audience.
And this is not to mention how organic engagement for posts from pages on Facebook can be as low as 2.27% and even below 1% for Instagram, which effectively compels content producers to pay for ads simply to reach their existing audience.
And it’s not just publishers who are increasingly frustrated with how social media works.
Anyone who’s concerned about the quality of the content they consume online will almost certainly be frustrated with what they see on social media.
As a result, many content producers and consumers alike, have rediscovered an alternative: email newsletters.
The resurgence of email newsletters
The current resurgence we’re seeing of email newsletters can be largely explained in how it fundamentally offers a solution to many of the problems that plague social media.
Email is an open protocol
All social media platforms and the algorithms that underpin them are proprietary technology.
Email, on the other hand, is an open protocol that no one individual, company, or business controls.
This means that there’s no organization that’s driven by the desire to make profits to manipulate people’s inboxes so that they are more engaging and harder to pull yourself away from.
Email inboxes remain organized chronologically. Each email is treated with the same level of importance regardless of how clickbaity or sensationalized it is.
Granted, most inbox service providers like Gmail employ filters to weed out spam and may mark certain emails as being important based on the sender or the language it contains.
Likewise, email service providers that allow publishers to send newsletters to their subscribers also regularly prohibit certain content such as illegal pharmaceuticals or MLMs.
While it’s fair to question the power and influence a small number of these companies have over inboxes, the scale of manipulation over inboxes is nothing compared to newsfeeds.
As publishers and their audiences have become more frustrated with the increased difficulty of connecting over social media, many have turned to email.
Publishers have realized that sending an email newsletter is one of the best ways to reliably reach their audience without having to play nice with algorithms that’ll determine your success.
When you send an email, you can expect that your subscriber will receive it with far, far greater certainty than you have that a new post on your Facebook page will be seen by even half of your audience.
Subscribers also enjoy far greater certainty that they’ll receive the latest news from their favorite publications as there’s no algorithm deciding what they’ll see on their behalf.
The rise of platforms like Substack where publishers can create newsletters and charge a subscription demonstrates that people are not only embracing curated content through newsletters, but are even willing to pay for it.
Newsletters worth subscribing to
Already, there’s an abundant supply of quality newsletters worth subscribing to covering a wide range of topics from general interest, sports, finance, marketing, health and fitness, and entertainment.
For example, NextDraft is a very popular daily newsletter that takes an entertaining look at the day’s top news stories and provides editorial commentary at a depth you simply don’t find on social media.
The Design Files is another popular newsletter from Australia that is dedicated to great design in people’s homes, gardens, art, and architecture.
For sporting fans, Casual Spectator is a great newsletter worth subscribing to whereas for beer aficionados Good Beer Hunting makes for an enjoyable email read.
Finding newsletters to subscribe to
If you’re wanting to regain more control over your media diet by subscribing to newsletters, then checking if your favorite publications already have an email list is the first place to start.
Finding new content and publishers is definitely one advantage social media has over email–discovery isn’t something that happens through email unless someone forwards you an interesting newsletter.
That said, there are some places you can go to find newsletters for particular interests and niches.
Sendy is one such place that we’ve built.
With Sendy you can find and subscribe to newsletters that interest you.
The added benefit with Sendy is that you’re also rewarded for your attention when you open and click on emails with Sendy Points. As you accumulate these points, you can redeem them for gift cards from stores like Amazon.
Your attention opening and reading emails is of immense value to email marketers and with Sendy you can be compensated fairly for this value.
Email is by no means perfect.
All-too-frequent marketing emails from businesses trying to push their products and emails from senders who never got proper permission to email you all contribute to cluttered inboxes.
And while social media sites may well have decluttered our newsfeeds, for many a bit of clutter is a small price to pay to remain in control of what content we consume.
What was one of the early casualties of the rise of social media is increasingly being turned to as an antidote to some of the problems social media presents.