Consider for a moment e-mail newsletters created by other small-business owners to promote their businesses.

Lists covering almost every conceivable topic exist.

Whether or not you send out a newsletter or discussion list, you can improve your public relations campaign by monitoring others'.

Here are some ways to benefit.

  • Gain insight into list development and management to apply to your list. I scan lists to see how their developers organize and present content, what types of information they present, even the wording they use to encourage subscribers to reprint list items.
  • Hear the buzz. What issues are well-covered by the lists? What are discussion list subscribers talking about? What's hot and what's not?
  • Find holes to fill. Is there an area or an issue not covered by the list that you could address? No list on any subject covers it from every conceivable perspective. Look for opportunities to establish your expertise by preparing and disseminating a mailing list on a topic that's not covered thoroughly. Look for topics you can approach from a different perspective.
  • Network. If you've subscribed to a discussion list, who are the other subscribers? What do they offer? I've often found that other subscribers are more valuable than the content of the list itself. They might be prospective clients, sources of business referrals, contacts to other media outlets, organizers of events, or otherwise excellent resources on industry developments.
  • Promote yourself. How can you use the list to promote what you do? At the very least, a discussion list offers the opportunity to share your opinions and insight.

Some lists will accept articles or links to articles, tips, Web site references, or advertising. Just make sure you find out for sure before you submit anything that doesn't directly add value to the list discussion.

So, how do you find newsletters and discussion lists to subscribe to?

Begin by casting your net wide to find all possible lists that match your areas of interest. There are several ways to conduct your research. Some Web sites function offer catalogs of mailing lists, giving you an easily accessible means of researching what's available.

In addition to searching these sites, investigate Web sites covering your area of interest; they frequently offer free subscriptions to mailing lists. Peruse discussion areas and chat rooms as well as off-line media to ferret out references to other appropriate lists.

Once you find relevant lists, conduct some preliminary research to see if they're worth your time and effort. Not all media, off-line or online, are valuable in helping you communicate a message to a target public.

Typically, a sample issue of an e-mail newsletter, a discussion list archive, or a sponsoring Web site can offer an excellent indication of value.

Next, you'll want to learn about the list manager's credentials, the purpose of the list, and the intended audience.

In addition, you'll want to determine quickly how frequently a list publishes. In general, the more frequent the publication, the better. Look for updated, timely communications and engaged subscribers.

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