You’ve been running your blog for a while and you’ve had the chance to talk to your readers, and especially your most supportive fans.
While your new blog content might suffice for occasional and even regular visitors, loyal readers are always on the lookout for more from you, because they really trust you as an authority in your niche and they care about you personally, too.
Among these loyal readers and supportive fans are the ones you have grown closer relationships with, because:
- You may know them from before your blog was even launched
- They helped with the launch
- They contributed to your blog in several ways, from brainstorming to guest writing
- They gave you emotional and/or financial support to keep you going with your blog when you most needed it
Or because you might want to create
- A small elite of ‘disciples’ that you can help grow in your niche
- A small elite of long-time clients or partners you want to treat with special content
- A mastermind group focusing on a small number of participants
- A limited-seat email course
- A group of beta readers to review your unpublished work
Reasons might be a thousand and more, but what is certain is that these readers are not like regular readers, and not even like regular subscribers — they’re more like your team, or your family.
That’s when creating an elite or premium newsletter is a good idea.
What Is An Elite Newsletter?
In simple words, an elite or premium newsletter is a special newsletter — or a subset of your standard newsletter — specifically created for the needs and interests of all those readers, fans and supporters that brought special contributions to your blog, you and/or the growth of your services.
For its very nature, an elite newsletter is generally private and invitation-only, so not publicly advertised — this keeps people who didn’t make a special contribution from subscribing to it. There might be exceptions to this, but the general rule of thumb is that an elite newsletter is also private and hidden, only known to its members, like a secret club.
The Media Success newsletter at Digital Quarters is invitation-only for the following reasons:
To preserve its frank tone and intimate discussion, Media Success remains an invitation-only newsletter for those with the most valuable perspective. If you are interested in receiving it, please ask a current subscriber to nominate you or reach out to me personally for consideration.
Secrecy also helps avoid ‘jealousy’ from regular readers and subscribers, who might feel left out even though you will have your legitimate reasons to do so.
How It Differs from a Standard Newsletter
A standard newsletter is your regular newsletter, extra content available to subscribers of a blog or website in a niche or industry. When you start a newsletter (standard), you aim it at a subset of your audience who is more loyal and interested in what you have to offer than other readers who visit once in a while or visit often but don’t want to get ‘attached’.
For example, say you run a blog on parenting. In addition to your regular blog content, you will want to treat your most loyal readers with a newsletter where you share extra tips, advice and resources. This will be your standard newsletter.
Now, say there are a dozen of these subscribers who have helped you find rare resources, interview more parents and connected you with big brands — you might want to create a special newsletter (separated from your regular one) just for this small group of great people and friends, to let them access special or early bird content, answer their more pressing questions and organize meetups.
This will be your elite newsletter.
Why Create An Elite Newsletter?
You might feel skeptical as to why you should give creating an elite newsletter some serious thought — and indeed it might not fit your case, but you can’t know until you analyze your situation.
1. You Value Your Relationships
You might want to give your special fans you already built relationships with some unique content that you know they will need and appreciate much more than your regular subscribers.
Sam Williamson of Pigeon Chest Problems shares his reasons for starting an elite newsletter and how it meant valuing the long-lasting relationships he already built with some readers:
I’m a blogger and I started building an email list last year, but I’ve had a contact form on my homepage since I first launched. I’ve had lots of my readers contact me over the years and I’ve developed a relationship with most of them, even going as far as talking to them about their deformity on Skype. So when it came time to build an email list, it felt wrong to include the readers who I’ve been speaking to for years with everyone else. I decided to create a separate email list for my loyal readers, which includes birthday emails and very few promotional emails. I’ll also send out emails asking them for honest feedback if I have a new idea for the blog. Meanwhile, the rest of my readers get a few more promotional emails and less content asking for feedback. I find that this approach helps my loyal readers feel valued and contributes to the running of my blog, while still providing valuable information to my other readers.
Special content you share with your elite will be up to you and their needs, but in general you might opt for updates on content that you no longer publish or have never published before, or even alpha or beta content that you want their feedback on as they understand you better than those who don’t know you well. You know you want them to have the best content you create for your blogging project.
My experience running a separate, private newsletter involved touching base with long-time fans and supporters of one of my fiction projects, Robocity World — these were all fans who stuck with me during a long and painful overhaul and didn’t run away when I had to ‘reboot’ part of the storyline. The newsletter I created was specific for them, as they knew how my website and its content appeared for a whole decade before the switch, and the content aimed at this small group does indeed connect with the old retired storyline, that new readers wouldn’t even understand since they were not there back then.
2. You Want to Segment Your Audience
Among the reasons for creating an elite newsletter, differentiating between different groups of your audience based on their unique needs is an important one. In fact, this is a common practice in vast niche industries, such as golf.
Daniel Skaritka, Marketing Coordinator at ENECON, explains:
List segmentation is important in order to promote specific products/services to relevant subscribers. ENECON is a manufacturing company of repair and maintenance products that solve a multitude of problems. Since we market over 30 different types of products to a wide range of end users, our lists are segmented by specific industry in order to target relevant products to their appropriate industry. We’re not going to send a newsletter on naval ship repair to facility managers. Whenever we upload new contacts to our email system, we will segment them into six different categories. Email contacts that we get from our general inbox or if a contact does not have an industry category listed, we will place them in a general email list. We recently sent out a special newsletter to our general email list offering a free lunch and a giveaway if they sat down with a representative for a product presentation. We received a high amount of opens from the email and scheduled a multitude of new presentations for our sales team. Email marketing and list segmentation are powerful tools for companies that can generate new business.
3. You Want to Guide A Small Group of Serious Readers Through Niche Hurdles
Sometimes other bloggers in your niche will spread information that is not entirely correct, and while you do your best to offer guidance to readers via your blog content, you may still want to personally mentor a few select people to achieve success in your niche.
An example is Michael Martinez’s weekly premium newsletter for SEOs and marketers — you pay $32/month to stay subscribed to this newsletter and in exchange you get content that you’re unlikely to get elsewhere. (WHSR’s Jerry Low used to be a subscriber.)
4. It’s A Private and Safe Haven
Unlike regular subscribers and fans from social media channels, who seem to appreciate public mentions, in my experience running the Robocity World ML/newsletter, some of the most loyal fans and subscribers didn’t show an interest in being featured on my blog or on my channels.
The secrecy of an elite newsletter helped achieve this. In fact, if there was any exposure at all, it happened through a username, while their real name and email or web address remained private. I had contacts requesting that their name or email not be displayed and their privacy kept safe, and some didn’t join the private forum I set up to complement the newsletter, as they meant to communicate more with me than with others. Others preferred to join a one-to-one newsletter instead of the initial mailing list for this reason.
I made several promises to the list about privacy concerns, that were appreciated and I strived to maintain. See below:
5. Email Provides Intimacy
Indeed, for most of my elite subscribers, email was better than the forums because of the promise that the correspondence would stay secret and intimate, so that a subscriber could also voice their concerns without having others read them.
This is true in general for all kind of subscribers, but while regular subscribers were always more about consuming my subscriber-only content, elite subscribers were more personable and involved in communication, especially in the depth of it.
Nicole Bermack, Editor at Edwardsturm.com, shares a simple hack for keeping relationships with your list members alive:
Our in email call-to-action CTR has risen over 175% from doing this very simple thing. Have your newsletter provider detect the name of the individual you’re e-mailing and use that name at the beginning of the e-mail. “Hello Nicole!” is a lot friendlier than “Hello, person who may have subscribed to my list”. This is a surefire way to raise CTR (click-through-rate) and make subscribers feel loved.
If you create an elite newsletter and you want your special subscribers to stay active and communicative, you really want to get as personable as possible in the emails, and give them a reason to open their hearts to you.
6. You Want to Build A Community
Elite subscribers were enthusiastic about being part of a small group that was special and my main focus. While communication was mostly one-to-one with me — and most people preferred that format — some of these fans also showed an interest in knowing each other via the private forums. See below:
My newsletter has a hybrid “mailing list + newsletter” setup and it’s complemented with the private forums. I used GMANE for a mailing list software, that came for free with my cPanel solution. All members who participated felt involved in the community, much more in the list than on the forums, actually.
Here is a screenshot of some of the ML/newsletter conversations:
7. Reading/Opening Ratio and Response Rate May Be Higher
Elite subscribers were always eager to receive the next piece of content. I got responses to my emails and I know from other conversations that people read my emails even when they didn’t reply.
They are strongly interested in my emails because this was all content I don’t advertise and don’t share with the public. In addition to that, I allow my elite subscribers to influence my content to an extent with their feedback, and they often act as beta readers (if they are willing to do so), so they often feel eager to get involved with the new content.
You can get a glimpse of these dynamics from the list screenshot above.
5. Get Constructive Feedback to Newsletter Content
Because elite subscribers were very interested in the continued success of my fiction, they were always eager to leave constructive feedback on my issues and answer my questions.
These fans believed in my content from day one, something that made the difference along the way, especially in the quality of their feedback. When you get this kind of support from your subscribers, your content quality is also going to skyrocket — you know these fans believe in you, so you are going to take their feedback into great consideration when making changes. I know it worked for me.
If you do create an elite list, make sure you have other channels for your subscribers to leave feedback — member-only channels are better, like a secret Facebook group or protected Twitter accounts, or even private forums like I did with my elite Robocity World fans.
Why Running A Special Newsletter Is NOT Elitist
If you scour forums and blogs enough, you’ll find plenty of opinion against elitism. There are people who believe there shouldn’t be a set of users that gets more special content than the others, regardless of merit.
However, creating an elite newsletter for long-time fans and subscribers with unique needs is not being elitist — it’s being selective and proactive. Like when you have best friends — who know your secrets — and other friends — whom you love but they haven’t earned your complete trust yet for you to share the depth of your heart.
You are giving people what they need — and some people will need (and deserve) more because they supported your project from day one, or because they have different needs that your regular newsletter doesn’t fulfill.
How to Create An Elite Newsletter
Basically, this is not different than creating a regular newsletter, but there are a few methods you may want to implement to save you time, money and headaches.
With MailChimp: List Segmentation and Groups
MailChimp offers segmentation and group features for free and paid users. As they put it, “segmentation and groups make it easy to send people content they care about—and only content they care about.”
You have two ways to segment by groups:
- Let users sign up for their preferred group, so you have different subsets of your list ready
- Segment manually to create sub-lists.
Toby Boyce of C.G. Boyce Real Estate Co. prefers the first approach:
When it comes to creating lists within lists, let the reader decide what list to be added to. We recently segmented our MailChimp list of about 700 to add some more niche lists. We included the addition of the niche list in our main newsletter and then added one story per weekly newsletter from that list with “want to read more like this” link.
Also, Nathan Williams from Crazy Eye Marketing suggests action-based segmentation:
I recommend segmenting subscribers based on the actions they have/haven’t taken. For example, link clicks, opens, and un-opens.
If someone clicks a particular link, we know they’re at least semi-interested in the topic at hand and we can begin sending more content on that same topic and/or attempt to sell a product or service.
If someone opens an email, but doesn’t click the link, maybe we didn’t strike a chord with the individual. In this case, we could send another email with the same link, but change the content of the email, or we can move on to a different topic.
If someone doesn’t open an email, we can send the same email the next day with a different subject line to try and get that person to open the email.
To manually segment your MailChimp list:
- Go to your list
- Click the “Segments” drop-down menu next to “All Subscribers” and click “Create a new segment”
- You can choose this segment from a number of subscriber data or other fields. Click the “Preview Segment” button after you have picked all the options that suit your case (in the example below, all subscribers who joined the list after June 1st, 2016).
- Free MailChimp users can select up to 5 conditions and only use basic segmentation logic.
Here are two screenshots to guide you:
Sometimes, like in my experience, you may want to segment with criteria that are not included in MailChimp — for example, fans who have financially supported your website launch and you may want to differentiate them from your other Early Birds, for which you may use ‘Date Added’ under Subscriber Data instead.
In that case, you might want to create a Group instead of a Segment, and manually add subscribers under your newly created elite group. Indeed, the advantage of the Group feature in MailChimp is the possibility to save money on list management.
A marketing team member at an entertainment company, that shall remain anonymous, told me:
Essentially, if you have multiple lists, it is more cost effective to have one large list and make sure it is managed by use of groups and segments. The reason is that this way, you pay once per email address. If you have multiple separate lists, but you have the same people [on] both lists, you pay for them twice.
Using A Self-Hosted Solution
If your elite newsletter is going to comprise only a handful of contacts (less than100), you may opt for a self-hosted solution that wouldn’t put you in trouble with your ISP.
For example, my special group of loyal Robocity fans counts less than 50 people, and since I sent out no more than one or two emails a month, there were never issues related to spam triggers from my host — in fact, I used Thunderbird-only the first time before moving to GMANE, and never triggered any spam filter, nor got in trouble with my Internet provider.
It was a simple setup:
- I created a group of contacts in my self-hosted solution (I used both GMANE and my email client) and assigned a name to it.
- I wrote the email and sent it to the group (if using my email client, I would select BBC so that other contacts were hidden to the recipients, unless we opted for a few mailing list style issues).
I strongly recommend you use this method only if your list is really small, way smaller than a hundred contacts to stay safe. Otherwise, MailChimp is the most inexpensive option you have — even free up to 2,000 subscribers — and my current favorite solution.
Tips to Ensure Your Elite Newsletter Will Work
List management and nurturing relationships are key to running a successful newsletter, be it elite or standard. The following two pieces of advice will help keep your readers engaged and happy.
Get to Know Your Subscribers
Talk to your subscribers, poll and survey them often for feedback and preferences, ask them what they would love to see the most, work with them to produce content they are really interested in.
You don’t have to do this via the newsletter only; you can use other platforms as well. My elite subscribers all came from my DeviantART promotion, so the platform is an optimal place for me to poll my subscribers, in addition to the ML/newsletter itself and the private forums.
If your elite list also exists so you can sell premium services and products, take a look at Lori Soard’s 4 sample letters to turn subscribers into customers and tweak your messages so that your sales meet with your special subscribers’ needs.
Elite or Not, You’ve Got to Manage It
Caitlin Bolnick, founding team at VentureApp, gives two precious list management tips:
One of the most critical parts for us was building our customer base and newsletter audience using MailChimp. We have a list of over 10,000 subscribers and inevitably some readers are more engaged than others. Here are two specific tactics that have resulted in a drastic increase in open and engagement rates:
1. The Break Up Email: if users haven’t opened our newsletter in 3+ months, we send a breakup email letting them know that they will be unsubscribed from our newsletter.
This tends to get high engagement rates and often serves to reactivate subscribers. Often users will respond and request to stay on the newsletter. Conversely, if there is no response or engagement following the email, we unsubscribe the user. This boosts our overall engagement and open rates and allows us to focus on finding more engaged users.
2. Double Sending Emails Occasionally: sometimes we will double send a newsletter if we see lower than normal engagement or open rates. What this means is that we’ll segment out the users who didn’t open our email and re-send the same email with a different subject line or slightly different content to see if we can get higher engagement. Often times, a poor subject line can substantially impact engagement rates so it’s also a useful testing mechanism. This should be used sparingly as you don’t want to annoy your subscribers or worse, abuse their trust.
I have double-sent important emails in the past, on the assumption that the first time subscribers might have missed them. Indeed, sometimes that was the case, and the open rate was higher the second time.
Creating an elite newsletter is a good idea if you have a group of fans, clients, supporters or brilliant users you want to nurture and teach exclusive content to. Don’t create one just for the sake of having a special group of subscribers if there are not enough elements to segment your audience or you have no time to nurture the list — studying your audience and building relationships is the essential foundation for an elite newsletter, otherwise you risk to not provide extra value and it will become indistinguishable from your regular (standard) newsletter.