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How to replace social media with a personal newsletter

Philip I. Thomas
Last week I shared how I'm building Postcard as a calmer alternative to social networks. I believe that personal newsletters will replace social networks like Twitter and Facebook as a dependable, personal way to stay in touch. People responded positively to the post, but asked how to get started. "Personal newsletter" is a great idea - but what should you write about? This post explains my philosophy and strategy for replacing social media with a monthly newsletter.

A personal newsletter should sit somewhere between social media updates and a blog. Friendly, calm, and timely - but not too academic, formal, or permanent.

Twitter and Facebook showed that people want a way to stay in touch with friends and family. But, in a tragedy of the commons, their newsfeeds rewarded people for being noisy and controversial. Over time, posts went from personal updates to stream-of-consciousness "hot takes" competing for likes. People flee these networks seeking a calm, personal alternative.

Authors shouldn't think of their newsletter as a traditional blog.  The word "blog" has baggage - drawing to mind stodgy long-form essays that expound on abstract ideas and remain on the internet forever. That's why most people who start a blog never publish a first or second post - a blog is intimidating. Newsletters can be more temporary and lighthearted - closer to an email you'd send to friends.

Here's the personal newsletter strategy that works for me: I publish an update on the first day of every month titled "What I'm up to." The newsletter has three sections, and I fill in each section with bullet points. I start drafting the next update as soon as I publish the previous one so that I can add thoughts throughout the month. On the first of the month, I finalize the post, email it to my list, and share the post on some social networks.

Here are the three sections I include in every newsletter:
  • Highlights from last month
  • 🙌 Things to share
  • 📫 What I’m up to this month
(Check out a recent example here).

This newsletter strategy works because it has structure and a cadence. The structure of these sections makes both the reading and writing experiences easier - it's not a freeform essay. The monthly cadence means that I keep updates timely - I'm not waiting for some newsworthy "announcement" as an impetus for a post. Sharing the post on social networks lets me bridge my newsletter to people who still choose to use those networks. When creating your newsletter, start with this structure and cadence - then modify it to suit your personality.

Success with a newsletter requires some recalibration of feedback. There's no "like" button and little data about what people like. Instead, pay attention to the improvements in your human connections. I feel fulfillment from the thoughtful replies people send to my newsletter. And, I enjoy it when people bring up something from a newsletter when we're chatting.

If the idea of a personal newsletter appeals to you, try out Postcard. It's an app I'm building for hosting a personal newsletter and website. You can host it on your domain, and I'm working to make it the most powerful way to run a personal newsletter.