Take Your Group to 2.0: Stop Killing Trees

User Groups 2.0

One of the most venerable traditions in the Mac User Group community is the production of a monthly newsletter. They range from a simple couple pages to magazine-style offerings that might rival many of the commercial entries in quality and content. And the time has come for the to evolve: If you’re still delivering on paper, stop it!

Producing an online or online-distributable version of your newsletter is an idea that is hardly new, yet so many groups continue doing it the old way because…because…someone please tell us why. If your group aspires to 2.0 status, stop killing trees.

OK, so perhaps you can’t quit cold turkey, but there are come compelling reasons to either partially or completely reduce your paper output and go digital.

The two basic options for replacing your paper newsletter are to either post the information to your web site or to produce a PDF to be distributed via download or email. We’ll look at the web site option in a future installment but for now, will talk about making your paper publication digital.

Some of the benefits of going to a PDF solution include:

Cost: As a responsible MUG leader, you should be conserving your group’s funds whenever possible. In our last Take Your Group to 2.0 entry, we provided a sample breakdown of a group’s costs for budgeting and membership dues purposes, and a significant portion of the per-member costs was printing and mailing of a physical newsletter. What if you could take your newsletter costs from $5 or $10 or $15 per member down to $0? Electrons are virtually free, recyclable and don’t have to have a postage stamp.

Usability: Some would argue that the usability of a PDF version of your newsletter isn’t as great as a paper copy, since you can’t easily take the newsletter with you to the coffee shop or to peruse over lunch. Point taken, but your members can turn it into paper with a simple Command-P.

Another usability aspect is the inclusion of links to stories, products or other items. With very little effort you can imbed links or just list them in the newsletter. If done properly, the information you’re referring is, literally, a click away. Even if you don’t want to bother with the little bit of work it requires to make a link clickable, a reader can still copy and paste a URL much easier than trying to key it in from a piece of paper.

Production Time: Your group is just brimming over with volunteers who are eager to contribute, right? (If so, please call us and share your secret.) The reality is that you’ll have more luck finding and retaining a newsletter editor if he or she doesn’t have to spend hours creating the newsletter, then more hours printing, folding, stapling, addressing and mailing it.

Ease of Creation: The Mac OS itself can create a PDF of virtually any document so your editor can work in whatever program they have and know, from InDesign to Pages to AppleWorks.

Speed: From a service and value-add perspective, your newsletter is your way to communicate important, interesting and relevant information about the group, the Mac and anything else the membership is interested in. The challenge is that a great deal happens in between publication dates, and having to go through the printing and mailing process just slows you down. By distributing your newsletter as a PDF, it can be in your members hands within minutes of finalization.

Archives: Many groups treasure their library of newsletters. The trouble is that they can reside at only one physical location, are subject to deterioration and can easily become lost in the transition of group leadership. As a PDF, the archive can be maintained on the group web site or on their .Mac account, accessible to anyone who wants a copy.

For the Curmudgeons: Every user group should take a lesson from Apple itself and recognize that, while you have to support some legacy activities, that should be for a reasonable amount of time. After that, move forward and take everyone with you, providing upgrade paths or alternatives when possible. If you have some members who demand a printed newsletter, give it to them…at a price. Not that you should take advantage of anyone, but after explaining the costs of paper, mailing and extra labor, do a little math and charge them accordingly. It may silence the complaints, provide the group with a little extra revenue or both.

With very few exceptions, the days of printed newsletters are behind us. If you’re group is still holding on to the past it will never achieve User Group 2.0 status. Start serving your membership better, faster, easier and cheaper by evolving to a PDF newsletter.

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