Has Social Media Killed the Newsletter?

Bear with me as I travel back to 2008/9 and debate Newsletters vs. Social Media. I’m in a new role where I am in charge of both of these offerings and, like many of you, have limited time and resources so it’s been on my mind.

Successful newsletters provide something of value. For museums that is things like a behind the scenes look at the work going on in the museum, heads up about upcoming news and events, and information about the collection direct from experts. But this is no longer exclusive to the newsletter. All of this content also gets shared on social media platforms. Perhaps with a different tone or emphasis but still the same content. Plus social media allows more opportunities for learning and engagement because you can actually interact with your audience. So what’s the point of having a newsletter?

Image by Flickr user Christopher Penn.

Image by Flickr user Christopher Penn.

With a lot of museums these days moving towards doing less better (for example the Brooklyn Museum cutting back on social media), I got to thinking – why have both social media and a newsletter? Why expend resources on something that does the same thing, and you could argue, does it worse. But does it?


Social Media Newsletter
Opt in Opt in
Two-way communication One-way communication

  • Behind the scenes
  • News & Events
  • Collection highlights  

  • Behind the scenes
  • News & Events
  • Collection highlights
Function is to connect with the visitor Function is to connect with the visitor
Tone is personal and conversational Tone is personal and conversational
Meant for anyone, including those who have visited the museum, will visit or will only ever visit online

  • Most are peripherally interested
  • Some “super fans” who regularly interact and advocate for the museum
  • Has the potential to reach out and get new people interested in the museum
Meant for members, as a membership perk, exclusive

  • These are people who are interested and invested in the museum
  • Always to the same already converted group, expansion based on membership levels and subscribers
Huge reach Smaller reach
Used to build brand Used to keep loyal customers happy
Frequency is daily Frequency is monthly or quarterly


Use newsletters for selling and social media for learning

While reviewing articles claiming social media had not in fact killed the newsletter I discovered the difference between the two. Email communications, such as newsletters,  are still more effective at attracting customers to your website and are better at conversion – getting people to spend money. So we might not want to scrap newsletters altogether.

Social media, as I mentioned above, is stronger at developing engagement and learning.

Solution = Repurposing Content?

Save time and energy by repurposing content. I’ve seen some newsletters that are simply images with a couple sentences that link back to content on blogs or other areas of an organization’s website. This could increase traffic to your website and decrease time needed to write a newsletter. On the other hand some followers might wonder why you are sending them a newsletter at all if it doesn’t have orginal content. But it could be seen as curated content from your website and blog – just the most popular and relevant. As you can see I’m undecided on this one.

What do you think? What have your experiences been either writing newsletters or receiving them?  

4 thoughts on “Has Social Media Killed the Newsletter?

  1. Amber says:

    Hi, Mairin. I think the answer to your question is, no, social media hasn’t (yet) killed the newsletter. I too am in a position where I am in charge of both a newsletter and social media channels. A monthly newsletter is a time investment, but still a necessary one–at least from the perspective of the company I work for, Art Muse LA (artmusela.com). Why? For one, we may have far more people following us on social media than we have on our email list, but there is no guarantee that a decent portion of our followers will see our posts. This is true for most social media sites, but *especially* Facebook, which now decides which of our followers to “serve” our posts to and gives me as a page manager no control over it (unless we pay, of course…). Two, email is still a much more direct way to reach an audience–and an audience that is VERY specifically targeted to our organization because they have opted in to receiving an email newsletter. I would argue that our organization’s newsletter mailing list is our most specifically targeted audience. We may have more followers on social media sites, but many of them may live in other states or countries, and therefore may be interested in our posts, but not very likely to actually attend one of our programs.


    • Mairin says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Amber. It’s nice to hear from someone else who manages the social media channels and the newsletter. I agree that the emailing list is a more targeted audience. Do you use the same content in your newsletter as your social media channels? Do you created a curated version of that content? Or create original content for it? Is your newsletter highlights or more like editorial features? I am redesigning and experimenting with my newsletter and I’m playing with different ideas of what direction to take it.


      • Amber says:

        Hi, Mairin. The answer to all of your questions is, “Yes!” Our newsletter is brand new, but all if those elements are fair game. It depends month-to-month as to which elements we choose to include. At the moment our newsletter goes out to our past guests, and we use it to tell them about our current exhibition “picks” and new and featured tours we are currently offering.

        I have chosen to not be as concerned about repetition between the newsletter and social media. First of all, I’m getting to know the demographics if our prime audience members (i.e. those who actually go to our events), and most of them are not on social media at all or barely use it. Second, even if we feature the same museum or exhibition in both, it’s unlikely our content will be exactly copied from one to the other.

        Generally speaking, right now we prefer to keep the newsletter short and sweet, offering only 3 items or so per newsletter. I don’t know how accurate it is, but our MailChimp stats give us an open/click rate of over 50%, which it says is more than double that of the “art/artists” category. Nevertheless, I’m sure we will be experimenting as we move forward!

        I feel you in the time-suck that is preparing a newsletter, though. Still, for the time being I can think of no more direct way to reach the segment of our audience most likely to come to Art Muse LA events.

        Oh–one more comment on having different content for newsletters v. social media: I subscribe to several museum newsletters myself, and personally I’ve found that I can feel like there can be content-overload. For instance, the Getty now has so many outlets with different info, I now only pay attention to the ones most aligned with my interests. (And meanwhile feel frustrated it would take so much of my time to keep up with them all if I wanted to do so.) Also, as a user of social media and an email subscriber, I’m more likely to read “news” links in a social media feed, whereas I like newsletters to focus on exhibitions or events I can attend so I can keep it in my inbox and use it’s links to take me right where I need to go when I want to buy tickets or make a reservation.


  2. mchriscastle says:

    Thanks for an interesting blog post, Mairin. I manage MEM social media sites as well as the e-newsletter, Museum Education Monitor, and face many of the same challenges you describe above. I see the MEM’s social media sites as contributing to the professional development of the field by offering free links to some really interesting research and online resources and thereby helping to connect people with one another. However, at the same time, I think the newsletter has to offer paid subscribers (or members in your case) something more that is exclusive to them to honour their longer term commitment to you. In thinking about it just now though, it seems to me that social media and newsletters are tools that are probably addressing the needs of two different audience groups. It might be useful (for you AND me 🙂 to first take a longer look at the audiences we are trying to serve and their needs/interests and then consider which tools and in which permutation/combination they best serves those audiences? My two rambling cents worth …


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