Is aggregation aggravating?


Everyone is doing it. The traditional media are all over it. Trade publications are really into it. Even organizations, both corporate and nonprofit, are doing it with increasing regularity.

And it is driving me bonkers.

I’m talking about the email newsletter compiled by aggregation.


To aggregate traditionally means to bring several parts together to form a whole.

With the modern email newsletter, the parts are the separate articles, and the full newsletter is the whole. Obviously, any newsletter will be made up of several articles. But aggregation in this context means something more.

For one, many modern aggregated newsletters are done by computer. By some formula or database, articles on file at the sending organization are sought, compiled and then sent.

But a second aspect of aggregated e-newsletters is especially annoying — the frequency with which they are sent. In some cases, a certain newsletter lands in my email box five or six times in a single day.

Aggregation problems

There are multiple problems with this model of information distribution.

First, that’s just way too much email. In this environment, there is a pressure to get content out there as often as possible to “stay relevant” and for people to keep you “top of mind.” But there is a fine line between “staying in touch” with an intended audience and just getting “in their face.” Less is often more, and this is such a case.

A second problem with aggregating content for e-newsletters as I described above is that to get content out that frequently, and if it is done by machine as opposed to human, the same article appears in multiple issues. I find this the most aggravating of all. If I open an email newsletter from some entity I’ve subscribed to, and find that it all contains old content that I’ve already read, I do not feel informed. I just feel interrupted and extremely annoyed. Ultimately, this practice creates a “cry wolf” effect, where I merely delete a lot of newsletters, because they have proven to send redundant content. If the point was to stay top of mind, they just undermined themselves.

The final problem with this aggregation model is that it favors quantity and frequency over quality. Those who send these newsletters are likely congratulating themselves on the number of emails they send or how many per day they send. That means nothing, or at least nothing positive, to most readers. This is especially true when most readers get many emails per day. I separate my e-newsletters into a special folder and save time to read them when I’ve processed other work-related emails. The tendency to blast e-newsletters multiple times per day is even more pronounced when seen against those whose email distribution is more restrained.


So, for those who send e-newsletters, I have some basic advice.

Distribute newsletters based not on when it is time to send another newsletter, but when there are enough new articles to send. Every single newsletter should include all new articles.

I remember arguing with clients about this in the past, when e-newsletters were just starting to replace print versions. Some felt they had to distribute every week or month on a certain day just like the print newsletter. My advice was that’s not necessary in a digital environment. Share news when you have it.

That may mean not sending an issue on the same day of the week or month. But if you want to stick to a daily, weekly or monthly schedule, do some strategic planning and develop content in advance. Don’t just send the 10 most recent articles in a database every Monday or some other scheme. Instead, curate content wisely, develop it in advance and dole it out in bunches of all new content.

If you do this, your readers will be more likely to read than delete.

You also will turn their opinions of you from aggravation to appreciation.

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