Journal of the NACAA
Volume 3, Issue 1 - July, 2010
Developing an Electronic Newsletter for Extension Clientele
- Holmgren, L.N., Extension Agent, Utah State University
Barnhill, J., Extension Agent, Utah State University
Pace, M.G., Extension Agent, Utah State University
ABSTRACTAgriculture extension programs help individuals learn new ways to improve production efficiency, increase income and improve their lives. One key to Extension’s success is its ability to disseminate information to the public. Many Extension agents and specialists have opted to convert their media such as newsletters and announcements from the traditional paper format to an electronic format and for good reason – the cost of an electronic newsletter is a fraction of traditional print and postage, turnaround time is almost immediate and most commercial electronic newsletter service providers offer comparative metrics reporting on the number of bounces, opens, click-throughs, new subscribers or forwards to help manage the effectiveness of the newsletter. Extension agents and specialists will want to evaluate the opportunities that recently developed electronic communication tools can provide to improve their ability to communicate with clientele.
Agriculture has changed dramatically during the past few years and one of the most notable changes is how and where farmers and ranchers go to learn new ways to increase income through alternative enterprises, management skills, resource management, controlling crop and livestock pests, soil testing, livestock production practices, and marketing to name a few. The agricultural community has relied on Extension to provide them with unbiased research based information on these timely topics and others to help them solve problems. In Utah, more than 65 percent of farm households have access to the internet (Hill & Lillquist). In 2007, more than 63 percent of all U.S. farms had access to a computer and 55 percent report having internet access (Johnson) and these numbers continue to increase. Although Extension has been on the forefront of developing web based information and technology, disseminating that information to agricultural producers has seen moderate success as some farmers and ranchers simply do not have the time to search the internet for the information.
Electronic or e-newsletters can provide a new, exciting and relatively inexpensive way for extension professionals to disseminate important and timely information to their clientele from local and national extension resources, popular print or just about any reliable resource with a URL address. Unlike a website where producers need to find the information, an e-newsletter is delivered directly to them via email.
This paper will discuss the methodology of designing an e-newsletter, the parts of an e-newsletter and their purposes and how to populate an email list It will also discuss working with other Extension professionals to develop articles and identify existing resources to be published, and how to develop an attractive, and useful newsletter for the agricultural community.
Materials and Methods
A newsletter is only as strong as its content and it is critical to design the e-newsletter with your audience in mind. Make a conscious effort to balance topics addressed in the articles to match the interests of the desired audience. Include articles that address local issues and timely subjects to make the publication more relevant. Avoid articles that are overly technical. Your goal is to create interest, readability and engage those who are receiving the e-newsletter to read. Typically, there are four segments to an e-newsletter: 1) pre header, 2) header, 3) body and 4) footer.
The lines just above the header are called the pre-header. It’s called a pre-header because the part just below it, the title, logo and dateline, are typically called the header of the email. It is important that the subject line clearly communicate the content of the email including where the email came from. This area gives the reader the choice to view the newsletter in an easier to read format such as an online version of the e-newsletter. The pre-header also gives the user the opportunity to either confirm their interest in receiving the newsletter or to unsubscribe from it. A pre-header can also remind subscribers to turn on images or give the reader an overview of what is contained in the newsletter.
Table 1. The Pre-header
Having trouble viewing this email? Click here
You're receiving this email because of your relationship with Utah State University Extension. Please confirm your continued interest in receiving email from us.
You may unsubscribe if you no longer wish to receive our emails.
The header is an important part of the electronic newsletter. It is typically the first part of the e-newsletter the reader will see. Users are typically suspicious of unsolicited emails and many electronic newsletters are deleted by the reader if the source is deemed to be untrustworthy or if the newsletters purpose is unclear to them. The header should clearly contain the name of the newsletter and who is producing it as well as a date and issue number. An attractive and informative header will provide credibility to the newsletter and invite the user to continue reading.
The first few seconds a reader gives your e-newsletter are the most critical, so make them count. It is important to design the newsletter so the reader can scan through the email for topics that interest them. Keep the newsletter relatively short; otherwise the reader might become overwhelmed with content. It is better to have a newsletter with six or seven topics in the body, each with a few lines of text explaining the topic and links to additional information on your web site. This way the reader can quickly scan through the content of the newsletter for topics they are interested in and then click the link to read more about the topic. Also, use a reasonable font size, typically 10 to 12 point (pt) for the text and 12 to 14 point (pt) for the headings. Font sizes that are too small and difficult to read turn subscribers off immediately.
Extension creates a lot of useful information in the form of fact sheets, publications, manuals, brochures etc. Much of this information is contained on state extension publication websites and the national eXtension website. Through links to these URL’s, and then by providing a couple of short preview sentences to give the information a local feel, electronic newsletters can have access to a vast array of articles with very little investment in preparation and time.
The body of the newsletter can also provide information on what is going on and current topics and issues. Sections of the newsletter such as a side panel can provide links to areas of interest that remain fairly permanent. Some examples of side panel links might be a calendar of activities and events, current commodity prices, weather, crop progress, and links to the authors contact information.
The footer gives the user the opportunity of confirming their interest in continuing to receive the newsletter or an opportunity to unsubscribe or “opt-out” from receiving future messages. This section should also include contact information such as the name of the organization, mailing address and phone number.
Table 2. The Footer
This email was sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by email@example.com.
Utah State University Extension | 195 West 1100 South | Brigham City | UT | 84302
Make sure to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003). All legitimate email marketing services require their clients to abide by these rules.
The act requires email marketers to include the following in their email messages:
- A Subject Line which must clearly communicate the content included in the body of the email.
- Emails cannot contain misleading “From” or “To” information.
- There must be a way for customers to “unsubscribe” or “opt-out” from receiving future messages.
- All commercial emails must include a physical address.
The act also requires that:
- E-mail addresses need to be legitimately obtained. Addresses cannot be made up by combining common names, letters or numbers. Commonly called a “dictionary attack.”
- E-mail messages cannot be sent to “harvested” email addresses.
- E-mails cannot be sent through a computer or network without permission.
- Companies cannot use scripting or other automated ways to register multiple email addresses.
- Commercial emails cannot be sent through another computer without authorization of the owner.
- Companies cannot falsely represent themselves as owners of multiple IP addresses.
Think about subscribers' reading habits when you're adding graphics to the design. For instance, more graphics or graphics with excessively high resolution can lead to slow load times.
Another consideration is that some readers download all of their e-mail at once and read it later while they aren't connected to the Internet, so make sure that subscribers can still read their e-mail even if the graphics can't load.
Avoid using background images in HTML e-newsletters, since some e-mail clients don't accept them.
Populating an Email List
Electronic newsletters typically consist of targeted content, which is e-mailed to subscribers on a regular basis. Subscribers are more apt to spend time reading information in a newsletter if they have requested to receive it. Extension professionals probably already have a list of producers and other contacts with whom they communicate. This would be the initial source of potential subscribers. Another method that works well for getting new subscribers is to have producers include their email addresses when they sign in at extension programs such as a crop school or cattlemen’s meetings. Other methods that we found helpful were to obtain email lists from USDA Farm Service Agency, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, state cattlemen’s associations and other farm groups. Typically, these groups are cooperative with sharing information if they understand why you are requesting the information. But this brings up the important issue of permission. Essentially, you need an email address owner’s permission before you can send them an e-newsletter, email addresses need to be legitimately obtained and cannot be “harvested” or collected from forums or chat rooms. This permission is implied when someone provides their email. If you don't have this permission, then the recipients of your mail may well regard your message as spam or unsolicited commercial (bulk) email. If you are accused of sending spam, then you may find your email accounts closed down, your website shut off. Most email marketing programs provide an unsubscribe link that allows email recipients to opt out of receiving the email if they choose.
E-newsletters can provide creative and exciting opportunities for extension staff looking for new ways to communicate more efficiently and effectively with their clientele, utilize other agents’ expertise to cover a broader spectrum of topics and save printing and postage costs. Large datasets of clientele email addresses can be formed by cooperating with other agencies and agricultural groups. Lists can even start growing on their own as clientele begin forwarding the e-newsletter to others.
There are many others to choose from. These service providers typically provide useful metrics on tracking the number of people opening the newsletter, click throughs, which links users click on and the number of bounces or emails that did not reach the user’s inbox.
Hill, T & Lillquist, D.R. 2003. Proceedings of the 1st Annual Regional National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Young/New Investigators Symposium. Salt Lake City, UT. http://www.mech.utah.edu/ergo/pages/NORA/2003/05-Hill%20Tim.pdf
Johnson, S.D. 2009. Providing Web-Based Education on the New Farm Program. NACAA Journal. http://nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=19
Holmgren, L.N., Pace, M.G., Barnhill, J., Israelsen, C., Rothlisberger, D, Williams, S. 2010. January Aglink Newsletter. USU Extension Service. http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs020/1102881274155/archive/1102919772591.html
Holmgren, L.N., Pace, M.G., Barnhill, J., Israelsen, C., Rothlisberger, D. Williams, S. 2010. February Aglink Newsletter. USU Extension Service. http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs020/1102881274155/archive/1102945579272.html
Holmgren, L.N., Pace, M.G., Barnhill, J., Israelsen, C., Rothlisberger, D. Williams, S. 2010. March Aglink Newsletter. USU Extension Service. http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs020/1102881274155/archive/1102993552268.html