March 20, 2012
Case Study

Email Newsletters: Social media integration yields 135% more traffic for New York Public Library

SUMMARY: Your email newsletter is only as engaging as the content it features. You can strategically select content and get good results. Or you can randomly select content and get inconsistent, random results.

By using social media to inform better choices, The New York Public Library increased email newsletter traffic to blog posts by 135%. Open and clickthrough rates are up, too. See how the team’s social media monitoring and analysis helped newsletter content selection and boosted traffic.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


Email marketers are always on the hunt for good newsletter content. The articles, offers and information are what keep readers opening and clicking.

But sometimes the audience stops responding. This happened to Johannes Neuer, eCommunications Manager, New York Public Library (NYPL).

Neuer manages the library's main email newsletter. He noticed that open and clickthrough rates had declined throughout the year, and he thought that improving how his team chose content could get the newsletter back on its feet.

"We want to keep subscribers connected with the library's collections, programs and services. We can only do that if they actually open and click through," he says.


Neuer first wanted to improve traffic to NYPL's blog posts, and then feature the top-performing post each month in the newsletter. He hoped this would increase open and clickthrough rates, and increase overall traffic to the library's website.

His team followed these four steps:

Step #1. Get plenty of content to choose from

NYPL is a large organization, and it encourages employees to publish blogs on the library's website. Most of the bloggers are librarians who write about everything from philosophy to graffiti, Neuer says,

"We have more than 150 active bloggers who put out more than 800 blog posts in 2011. That averages out to about 2.4 blog posts a day."

To organize and send the posts, the library offers dozens of RSS feeds. Visitors can sign up for feeds focused by:
  • Blog author

  • Subject, such as "History of South America"

  • Blog channel, such as "Food for Thought"

  • And other topics

Step #2. Promote content on Twitter

NYPL has more than 194,000 followers for its main Twitter feed. The team sends roughly six to 12 tweets each day on events, fundraising, blog posts and other topics. The marketing team manually chooses content and programs tweets each day.

Last year, the team also used a social media monitoring tool each day that analyzed the conversations and sharing activity of NYPL's followers. The software then chose NYPL blog posts that were relevant to those conversations and automatically tweeted links to the posts from NYPL's main feed. About three posts were highlighted this way each day, Neuer says.

Promoting on a budget

The social monitoring tool was not used to determine the content for NYPL's newsletters (more about how the team made the choice below). Instead, the tool helped select relevant content to highlight on Twitter. This drew more attention and traffic to certain posts.

There are a variety of ways you can follow a similar approach to promote your blog posts, depending on the resources you have.

If you have a smaller amount of content to choose from (perhaps three posts per week instead of two per day), you can research what topics covered in the posts are getting the most interest online. Then you can highlight the most relevant post in your social channels.

Free tools that can help your research (check the "useful links" section below):
  • Social Mention

  • Twitter's "advanced search" features

  • Google's blog search

If you don't have thousands of followers, you can browse the profiles of the most influential followers to get a good feel for the hot topics of the day. Of course, paid tools can make your work more efficient and accurate, but free options are available if your budget doesn’t allow for a purchase.

Step #3. Look at your monthly traffic report

NYPL sends its main email newsletter each month with information about events, staff news and links to blog posts. To improve how he selected posts, Neuer started looking at NYPL's website analytics.

He ran a report each month to view the site traffic to all blog posts published since the library's last newsletter. He sorted them from largest to smallest in terms of traffic and chose from the top performers.

Traffic is not the only factor

Neuer only selected blog posts that he felt gave the audience additional value. Even if a piece of content attracted more traffic than any other part of the website, he only selects it if it shows a substantial contribution from the library's staff.

"The New York Times bestsellers list is not something I would put in the newsletter because, even though reading lists do very well, people can find that information anywhere. That's not a topic the library has something to add to. We'd rather include a blog post of a reading list that is curated by our staff," Neuer says.

Step #4. Prominently feature the post

Neuer first started featuring these blog posts toward the end of newsletters, giving prominence to other content. However, he noticed that these new posts were often top performers.
  • Example #1. NYPL featured a blog post as the sixth item in its Aug. 2011 newsletter. Despite being buried, the post attracted 20.15% of all clicks on the email, more than any other item.

  • Example #2. NYPL featured a blog post as the fourth item in the Oct. 2010 newsletter. The post was the email's top performer, capturing 19.52% of all clicks on the email.

"Over time, I have realized that blog content does so well that I actually give it more prominent placement to further increase clickthroughs," Neuer says.


In 2011, the team increased traffic from the email newsletter to blog posts by 135% compared to the year prior. The number of posts the library published increased by 7% over this period.

"There is a noticeable increase in traffic. I mean, it's more than double, which is tremendous!" Neuer says.

In 2011, three out of five of the top-performing pages on NYPL's website were blog posts. The year prior, no blogs were in the top five, Neuer says.

Also, the newsletter's average engagement metrics have increased. Comparing 2011 to 2010:
  • Open rate increased by 2 percentage points

  • Clickthrough rate increased by 0.5 percentage points

"Not only have we been able to maintain them, but we've actually increased these rates," Neuer says.

Useful links related to this article

  1. RSS feeds list

  2. Email #1

  3. Email #2

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Twitter - Advanced search form

Google - Blog Search

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