The first newsletter I sent was dated December 13, two years ago: Santa Lucia day (which is like Christmas in some areas of Italy). Quite pretentious. Just like the title: 5 tips to increase followers on Instagram. The graphics were basic, the numbers disheartening: 42 readers, myself included. Since then, except for the sacred holidays, there hasn't been a week in which I haven't sent at least one newsletter. After about 100 episodes of Digital Journalism (my personal one on digital trends), fifty of The Chat (created a year later with Ester Viola and focused on relationships); twenty Loops (Will's weekly in-depth study recently started), and some newsletters designed for external customers, I more or less understood that:
1. The newsletter is a (beautiful) social network
It allows me to keep in touch with my friends and colleagues, to make new ones and to discuss with them issues that I am passionate about in a clean, quick and above all way without that arrogance and acrimony that is sometimes found on other platforms (Twitter ahead). Translated: the newsletter has become my favorite social network.
2. It is the Back to the future of journalism
Before social media there was the (paper) newspaper which, with all its shortcomings, had the merit of establishing a pact with the reader. He committed himself every day to giving him his own vision of the world, selecting the facts and placing them in a hierarchical system. He told him: “This fact is important, I'll put it on page 1”, “This is less important, I'll put it on page 30”, “You don't need to know this other one”. Then came the social networks and Google News.
Most of the sites have abandoned a hierarchy and turned into ‘machines churning-url’, hoping to intercept distracted readers on social media or search engines. Result: that task of putting the various news in order has been contracted out to the algorithms of Facebook and Google News. In the last two years, thanks to the global upheavals, readers have sought more and more products that would put the facts back in line, and give them a vision of a piece of the world. Here, the old newsletter – along with the podcast – proved to be one of the most reliable means.
3. It is very difficult to ‘grow’
The nightmare of every newsletter writer is the search for new subscribers: very difficult. Because the newsletter is in a closed environment (the email), it does not have an archive (by its nature) and requires a rather uncomfortable enrollment process to incorporate new subscribers: “Leave your details”, “Open the email”, “Confirm it's you”, “Check for spam”. Uff.
4. It is a continuous refresher course
Opening a newsletter is above all a pact you make with yourself. Every week, like it or not, you will have to read and study dozens of articles to be able to tell something minimally interesting to your readers. It's a bit like a personal trainer: you don't pay him so much because he teaches you something, but because, by paying him, you know that you will have to get to work seriously so as not to make a fool of him next time.
5. A good newsletter must be ‘useful’
I say this first of all as a reader. The newsletter is ‘tiring’. We all have inboxes full of useless emails, sales promotions, spam. We think about it a lot before signing up for a new one and very little before unsubscribing from an existing one. A newsletter with ‘little thoughts’ of some unknown person. We want a service product that offers us ideas, advice and information that we can use concretely in our daily and professional life.
6. And it must also be ‘intimate’
Basically it is an email: it is a communication between two people. For it to be effective and enjoyable, in my opinion, it must have a recognizable tone of voice, frank writing and a personal style. Otherwise it is just the umpteenth promotion that ends up in the emails, along with the Zara sales.
7. It's the biggest showcase you can build yourself
It's a fact: there is no other product that has given me as much visibility and professional opportunities as the newsletter. Because due to its characteristics, the newsletter allows you to show more things at the same time: your writing, your research skills, your technical skills, your knowledge on a particular area. It's a 2.0 business card. Quite demanding, but one that is worth it.
Cover photo: Cao Fei, Asia One 2018, video still. Ph. Courtesy Cao Fei Sprüth Magers Vitamin Creative Space. From October 2021 to February 2022, the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art in Prato, in collaboration with the MAXXI in Rome, will present a solo exhibition by the artist Cao Fei with works that explore the transformations of contemporary China by addressing universal questions about the next future, with particular attention to the impact of accelerating economic growth, technological development and globalization on society.