It was the summer of 2013, just before the royal baby was born, when I started to believe that what we were working on at BuzzFeed was actually going to work.
Maybe I should back up and explain.
I’d gotten hired to lead the newsletter program at BuzzFeed in 2012. Over the first few months of the job, we started building the framework for our newsletter program. We created a basic template for our newsletters and started testing. We launched a daily newsletter, and a handful of emails tied to sections of the site, like animals and tech.
And then Kate Middleton and Prince William announced that they were going to have a baby.
This was the first royal baby born in the social media era — and BuzzFeed was ready for it. We had staff in the U.S. and U.K. prepared to write, pretty much daily, about the royal baby. It made sense that we should also be the ones to launch a newsletter about the royal baby.
But we’d never launched a newsletter quite like it before! Would readers respond to such a specific product? Would they sign up for a newsletter that was only intended to run for a few weeks? And how would we even get readers to sign up for such a newsletter? Did we have the right channels to grow our royal baby list?
Over the next few weeks, we learned that, yes, readers would most definitely sign up for such a newsletter. We learned that these pop-up products could work well for a site like ours. And we learned so much about how to write marketing copy and how to promote a new product like this. The royal baby newsletter was where we first started learning how to use newsletters to create powerful relationships with readers around specific communities and moments — and how to build audiences from those relationships.
Much of what we went on to do — content strategy, growth, measuring success — started with that royal baby newsletter. That newsletter gave us the learnings we needed to really start to grow our newsletter program.
So if you’re thinking about launching something — a big project at work, or a side project for yourself — ask yourself first: What am I hoping to learn from this? What hypothesis am I trying to prove?
Remember: Launch something to learn something. You’ll build great things as long as you always launch to learn.
Those are screenshots of some of our royal baby newsletters, including the email we sent when baby George was born.