May 08, 2007
How To

Special Report: How to Add Web 2.0 to Your Email Newsletter

SUMMARY: The consumer-generated media phenomenon won't disappear anytime soon. In fact, Web 2.0 sites now generate 12% of total US online traffic, according to HitWise data released last month.

But what are marketers (PETCO, Oxygen Network, Evogear and others) doing to incorporate this trend into their newsletters? Find out in our new guide to Email 2.0. Includes best practices, real-life sample newsletters, tips, hotlinks and answers to legal concerns.
Not everyone has fully embraced user-generated content (UGC) in email or otherwise. It’s not an easy marketing tool to tie back to direct sales, so the lack of hard ROI measurement makes some marketers nervous about spending too much time or money on Web 2.0 strategies.

But, the great thing we learned by talking to the best of the best is that UGC doesn’t take either ... if you do it right. And here’s the real bottom line: if your competitors are creating cool UGC and you’re not, don’t expect it not to show up on your sales sheets. Eventually, it will.

So, what do you need to know? A few quick hits:

- Despite some of our inspiring examples below, know that it’s not easy to get quality UGC. In the least, you will have to sift through some bad, unusable stuff.
- Pick your spots, but don’t be afraid to use negative feedback (e.g., product reviews) for the content to achieve an authenticity in your program.
- Setup is free at photo-hosting sites, such as Flickr and Photobucket, as well as YouTube and Metacafe for video, so get your marketing team an account.
- Creating content and uploading it to a website takes time, so using rewards-based contests is one of the best ways of kick-starting UGC.
- It’s important to note that forms in email (especially in Outlook 2007) don’t work, so they must be hyperlinked.
- Legal considerations are a growing concern. Emailers, bloggers and message board publishers have to consider intellectual property rights of UGC participants at all times.
- Businesses using UGC become publishers as well as marketers. You can be sued for libel because of what your customers write (but you publish). Have a tight system of reviewing submitted content.

3 real-life tips from doing Sherpa’s newsletters
Tip #1. Keep it steady. If you plug away with the request for submissions in every issue you publish year after year, someday you’ll get some. However, it took us nearly two years to get enough job postings submitted each week so we could go off life support of drumming them up ourselves for our Career Newsletter.

Tip #2. Make your UGC promotion into a big annual event, complete with trumpets blasting, such as our Annual Wisdom Report, Viral Hall of Fame, Blog Awards and Email Awards.

Tip #3. Consider conducting surveys. We do about 10 per year involving various Sherpa reader groups (not everyone sees all of them) and then feed the results right back to the audience as articles. One example, in our case, would be the Sherpa-powered annual ad:tech reader survey.

How Oxygen & Evogear Launched UGC With Email
Once again, running contests is a proven way of launching a UGC newsletter. Oxygen Network ran one in April called Mo’Nique’s Fat Chance for plus-sized women who want to appear on a television special with comedian Mo’Nique (as well as be entered into the 2007 Miss F.A.T. pageant).

Participants had to create a casting video about why they should be selected and upload it to the site. Oxygen created a dedicated microsite,, for the run. In a nine-day window, they received 220 submissions that have been viewed more than 100,000 times.

But the UGC wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if it weren't for an email campaign sent to 5,000 subscribers who opted into this particular campaign via either the website or at the dedicated microsite. 7,000 votes were cast for the three finalists, collectively.

“What’s impressive to us is that the initiative wasn’t promoted on our TV channel. It was just email and online,” says Cynthia Ashworth, Sr. VP Marketing, Oxygen. “There were tons of comments posted underneath their videos, too. We were very happy with the results.”

Meanwhile, Evogear sent a blast to their entire database to promote a $1,000 shopping spree that required people to upload photos and a product review. More than 250 entries were submitted. The retailer got a 23.9% clickthrough rate on the email introducing the contest, while the newsletter announcing the winner saw a whopping 83.8%.

“We were able to differentiate ourselves from our competition because they hadn’t done this before,” says Nathan Decker, Ecommerce Director, Evogear. “Putting a promotion around your UGC efforts is a great way to go because it gives your customer base a reason to get involved. They have to make an effort to help you get the [medium] started, so it’s smart to give them something back.”

The Daily Dose Contest at Powell's
Dave Weich, Director Content & Marketing, Powell’s, had an idea four years ago to take the idea of daytime radio listener contests and apply it to email. His creation, The Daily Dose, debuted shortly thereafter, offering subscribers the chance to win $20 store/online credit every day for those who submit a paragraph or two on any book in stock at Powell’s.

The literature retailer receives hundreds of submissions every day. It’s grown steadily by double digits to 14,000 subscribers who not only frequent the ecommerce site, but also their six retail locations in metropolitan Portland, OR.

Here’s how The Daily Dose works: the email gets sent out right after midnight and allows the winner 24 hours to click through and collect their prize. If they miss the chance, the prize accumulates another $20 each day.

“We’ve rarely seen the prize go above $60, so that tells you that people are paying attention to the daily email,” Weich says. “I think customers are curious about what other customers think. We’ve seen that in our other online marketing efforts. I definitely think the program is helping loyalty.”

Running a daily UGC newsletter sounds like a lot of work, but Powell’s has a system down where it takes just a matter of minutes. Their in-house IT staff developed a program that stores all of the submissions, which after being accepted by a reviewer, go into a queue and can be selected in lottery fashion at any time.

Annie’s Homegrown CRM
Each Annie Homegrown’s newsletter promotes their community by featuring profiles and photos of the actual organic farmers who supply the retailer with products. Real-life customers are also profiled, talking about their lives and not incidentally the role the brand plays in them. New York State Assemblywoman Annie Rabbit sent in a funny letter and photo about how her name uncommonly synchs up with one of her favorite brands. (Yep, the company’s mascot is a rabbit.)

When we checked in with them last year, they were seeing astronomical results -- open rates in the 40%+ range and clickthrough rates in the high 20%. Well, the list has grown by seven times since then, although response numbers have dropped some, yielding still-high opens in the upper 20% and strong clickthroughs around 10%.

“While we’ve come back to the median a little bit, we are still happy with the response rates,” says Mark Berger, Web Marketing Manager, Annie’s Homegrown. “They reflect the passion of our customers and how they feel about the content. We’ve only put out more and more newsletters with user-generated content. We’ve seen our UGC newsletters that involve coupons do really well.”

PETCO Adds Product Reviews to Emails
PETCO was delighted to discover that clickthroughs on email with customer product reviews were at least 200% higher than those without. That’s one of the highest lifts we’ve heard of from a creative test to a house list in years -- most tests are far more incremental than this. (The cute, five-paw ratings system couldn’t have hurt.) Also, when email recipients came to the site, they often purchased products that weren’t specifically promoted in the email itself.

“The interesting thing to me is that, unlike categories, such as dog toys or cat beds, where people are going to go through several pages of products while they comparison shop for very specific items, people who go through the top-rated channels are reading the reviews and ratings and buying things that they didn’t plan to buy,” says John Lazarchic, VP Ecommerce. “It’s similar to a consumer-merchandized cross-sell program.”

High Rankings Advisor - Using Q&As in Email
Search expert Jill Whalen kicks off her High Rankings Advisor newsletter (25,000 subscribers strong) with a Q&A feature above the fold every month. This is UGC simplicity in all its glory (not to mention cost-effective). What better way of staying relevant to your B-to-B audience than becoming the Ann Landers or Car Talk of search marketing?

“I block off at least a half a day to put the newsletter together,” Whalen says. “I review the questions and the answers I’ve already personally provided and see which would be a good fit for that day’s issue. I also run other stuff besides the Q&A, so I have to put that all together as well.”

She has used this five-point model to run the Q&A in her newsletter for the past seven years:

Point #1. Expertise. The most important thing is to have someone who truly is an expert in the subject at hand. They need to have real-world knowledge of the industry and the topic. If answers are wrong or sound dumb, you’ll lose subscribers quickly.

Point #2. Availability. Like all UGC, you need real people asking real questions. To do this, you should let them know every chance you get that you’re taking questions, and you must make it easy to send them to you. Don’t make people provide you with tons of personal information, and you have to assure them that you won’t publish their true identity (if they don’t want you to).

“I personally answer nearly every question I get asked even though most of them will never be published,” Whalen says. “Although it can be time-consuming, it helps to keep a steady stream of questions coming in as people are more apt to ask me questions because they are confident they will get a reply.”

Point #3. Participation. Paying attention to and participating in forums and blogs in your space is critical in order to determine the hot topics of the day. This makes it easy to choose which questions to publish in any given week. Sift through the ones you’ve answered since the last newsletter and take note of what people ask at seminars.

Point #4. Honesty. Don’t be afraid of answering your questions honestly, even if it might sting a little to the person who asked the question in order to “set them straight.” Remember, there’s tons of misinformation out there.

Point #5. Sharing. This is a tricky one for many as some like to hold their knowledge close to their vest. However, if you have the courage to share advice/encouragement with subscribers, it will go a long way towards increasing loyalty, open rates and any other conversions or goals you might have.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Web 2.0 newsletters

Past Sherpa articles on email discussion groups:

Sherpa’s annual Wisdom Report:

SpeakerNet News:

Cincom’s Experts Blog:

SIPA’s legal page:

Buzzillions - helps EvoGear with their UGC email:





Annie’s Homegrown:


High Rankings Advisor:

Oxygen Network:


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