Thursday, February 19, 2009

Creating a Newsletter with Constant Contact – Tips and Tricks

I love how-to's! Practical information that gives me the best way to do something or de-mystifies a process. Jerri Barret, of the Anita Borg Institute, takes us through how to use Constant Contact to create a newsletter, step-by-step, and gives us practical work-arounds to potential glitches. Thanks Jerri! Bunnie

Creating a Newsletter with Constant Contact – Tips and Tricks
by Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

I’m writing this as I am concluding the creation of the first of two newsletters the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) will publish in February 2009. To quickly summarize our process prior to layout, each week we have a staff meeting. In each staff meeting I poll our team on what items should be going into the two newsletters. The first one each month is very program focused, the second is more article and column rich – though we do give shorter relevant plugs for the programs. The staff contributes topics and commit to writing articles, and I usually write a few myself. When the articles are submitted I edit them in Microsoft Word. Lengthy articles are posted on our website (http://www.anitaborg.org/) and the first two paragraphs will appear in the newsletter with a link to the rest of the article.

Constant Contact is very intuitive. To get started each month I copy the previous month’s newsletter. This enables me to have a consistent look and feel to the newsletter. Other templates are available and you can customize them so no two newsletters look exactly the same. Then, I simply go through and delete the previous month’s articles, unless they are program related and need to simply be modified or updated. Once the newsletter is scrubbed, I begin to add the articles.

Adding articles is probably the one area that is the most troublesome in Constant Contact. If you cut and paste articles out of Microsoft Word, the article frequently loses its formatting. It is best to take your word article and cut and paste it into Notepad then copy from there into Constant Contact. It’s an extra step but can save a lot of formatting time. You also need to go in and manually enter each link in an article which can be time consuming. Be sure to frequently save your work as you continue, Constant Contact will log you out automatically if there is no activity and your work will be lost.

Once the articles are laid out and the formatting is set, I go back and review the articles to see if an image would be appropriate. Images have to be small in size and in .jpg format – you upload an image into Constant Contact, determine what size it should be and insert it into the article.

The final stop is the arrangement of the articles on the page. You simply drag and drop the articles on the page until you the flow and order you want. In Constant Contact what you see is what you get. Then you create the table of contents. The table of contents does not automatically populate – you need to click on it and manually type in the title of each article. This is helpful if you have a lot of long titles – you can truncate them as needed. You always have to remember to update the table of contents before distribution – changes in the order of the articles changes the TOC and you want to be sure to double check it each time.

Once I’m satisfied the newsletter is “done”, I preview it and send preview copies to all of my contributing writers. It’s important for them to provide further proofreading and make sure the articles are accurate and the links are pointing where they should.

I make all the changes and once we’re done it’s time to schedule the newsletter distribution. First who does the newsletter go to? We are continuously updating our distribution lists for the newsletter from multiple sources – our newsletter registration site, our event registrations, and emails. Those are uploaded to constant contact from an excel spreadsheet – a quick process that takes about 5 minutes. ABI has a strict no spamming policy so we only add names of people who have agreed to receive our newsletter.

The final step is scheduling – I pick the date and time for the newsletter to go out and schedule it. The newsletter will be sent automatically without further intervention. The email out of office notices all come to my mailbox while bounce backs are recorded by Constant Contact’s reporting function.

Once the newsletter is out I wait 3-4 days then I go online to check the reports on that newsletter. I see how many newsletters were sent, how many were opened and which articles were clicked on. This is part of our monthly tracking and provides insight into what types of articles and programs are of interest to our readers. So what’s our number 1 click through month after month? Our column, Ask Jo, which is written by a professional coach – Jo Miller, the CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching (http://www.womensleadershipcoaching.com/).

The advantages of Constant Contact overall is it is relatively inexpensive, easy to update and easy to use. A newsletter (excluding article writing) can be created in less than a day (including editing rounds). The primary disadvantages are the occasional glitches in the software – you may find yourself challenged in formatting for no apparent reason. The best work around – save and log out and log back in. And when push comes to shove delete an article and reload it into the software.

One final comment, in my last guest post I mentioned the Communities Manager for the Anita Borg Institute. I wanted to acknowledge the excellent work done by BJ Wishinsky in this role. As I write this BJ is working on new strategies to create new communities for the Anita Borg Institute.

Contact Jerri at jerrib@anitaborg.org

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great post. It gave some great info and if you want to know about grant writers and how they can help your organization do some more research online.

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