A functional option today for an organization’s newsletter is to set up a free public blog on http://wordpress.com/ or to host a WordPress blog on your own website (if you have one).
Blogs are quite professional nowadays (no longer merely online diaries). They are respectable forums for academic associations. The Rhetoric Society of America has a blog (The Blogora) at http://rsa.cwrl.utexas.edu/
Blogs are even used by many nonprofit organizations as the basis for free websites. See this example of a website — the Trent Centre for Community-based Education http://www.trentcentre.ca/ — you wouldn’t even know it’s based on WordPress software unless you scroll down to the very bottom and see the notice “proudly powered by WordPress.”
The rest of the post explains how it can work for your association, why WordPress is a good choice, and how it can be used to automatically distribute content to members who may prefer to browse its content or stay up to date via Facebook or other social media platforms rather than (or in addition to) an email subscription to your blog.
Editors and authors
A number of volunteer association members can be set up with roles as blog editors. The editors can post drafts of messages that are viewable only by their editorial team until they decide to make them public.
For academic associations, newsletter editorial committees are good roles for graduate students and keen undergraduates interested in gaining online editorial experience in their field of study.
Regular contributors or occasional authors can be given temporary access to format & post their own newsletter posts.
You can also create a contact form page by which public viewers submit their own newsletter content to the editor.
As for distribution of the “newsletter” (more like an intermittent drip of news whenever there’s a post), the email of an existing association listserv can be set up as a “subscriber” so that all posts on the blog automatically get sent instantly or via weekly digests to all list members. Alternatively, the list members could all be added individually as subscribers, and the email invitation can explain how they can unsubscribe if they so desire.
As a plus, the blog will have good visibility on search engines, giving visibility to the organization and newsletter content, and enabling public viewers to comment. WordPress has good spam controls against spam-bots posting ads as comments.
Alternatively, if you don’t want visibility, the blog can be set up as private, whereby you have to log as a subscriber in order to view its content online.
If a public blog is desired, the association can even pay WordPress for a domain name like http://www.casll.com (or other name, if taken) for a small $ per year. Alternatively, one can download the free open-source blogging software from WordPress.org and the blog can be hosted on another domain where an IT person can customize the blog further than what is possible on the free wordpress.com platform.
Read on for additional distribution options…
Blog Feeds to Facebook, etc.
Organizations now use Facebook as an addendum to a blog or website in order to distribute content from the blog/website to SOME members who may wish to view and/or interact with blog content via Facebook.
In Facebook, “Facebook groups” tend to be more private and hard to locate and they take effort and initiative to sign up for. Organizations are tending to opt instead for a Facebook “Page.” A Facebook Page is different from a group or a profile. It’s basically an organization website on the facebook server, viewable by any Facebook user. People can “Like” your organization’s Facebook page and you get statistics on its usage.
A blog feed can be used to automatically post new blog posts to the Facebook page so that it does not take additional workload to moderate this in addition to a blog. You may get additional interaction on the Facebook page by members who wish to post links, images, videos, and content there on its wall.
The increasingly popular Facebook app called NetworkedBlogs can also be used — if your blog is listed on this service, Facebook members can read your blog and up to 4 others at their leisure via a blog-reader linked to their Facebook home page.
Blogs can also be set up with feeds to LinkedIn company pages and Twitter, if desired.
Why choose WordPress?
At the top of the list of popular free blogging platforms, WordPress competes with Google’s Blogger (blogspot.com). WordPress seems to be the choice of a larger % of professional / organizational bloggers (versus personal blogs). It is also based on free open-source software, which makes it attractive to many non-profit organizations and professional bloggers who may want to (eventually) move their blog to their own server.
I’ve been a WordPress user as an academic blogger since 2008. I also use the WordPress platform as an instructor of courses where teams of students create web content for real organizations (see http://463ccel01.wordpress.com/ ). There’s a little learning curve but it’s very user-friendly, and WordPress provides more than ample learning and troubleshooting resources online.