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Long-Term Ecosystem Research in Europe

UK ECN e-News service

Web and e-mail-based news service of the UK's Environmental Change Network

Summary

Introduction

The UK Environmental Change Network ECN, the UK's LTER network, started operation in 1992. We began sharing news of the network via a printed newsletter, ECN News. This was continued until 2006. Copies of the newsletter were also available via the ECN website. Although the newsletter was quite informative, we found it was time-consuming to produce regularly, and it was difficult to obtain content for it. So in 2008 we made the decision to stop issuing the newsletter, and concentrate on providing news via our website and an e-mail news alert service, ECN e-News.

How it works

  • When we have an item of news, we put it on our website. News items appear on the home page and on a news listing.
  • For most items of news, we also issue an e-mail to e-News subscribers. This alerts them to the news item, and either gives the whole text, or a link to the website, where they can view the news item.
  • People can subscribe to e-News from our website. They can also unsubscribe by contacting the e-News manager (me!). When subscribing, we ask for a postal address as well, so we have the option of contacting people by post as well as by e-mail.

 

We already had a database of contacts (about 1000 people). For about half of these, we had an e-mail address. We first sent all these people an e-mail announcing the e-News service and giving them to option to opt out. Very few did. However, we did find that a lot of the e-mail addresses were no longer active, so the list of contacts fell to about 400.

Positives

  • It is much simpler to issue news items now than via a printed newsletter, which can take weeks to prepare
  • Costs are negligible, since we run a website anyway. It costs much less than a printed newsletter
  • We can issue news more regularly and in a more timely fashion
  • It helps to keep ECN on peoples' 'radar'
  • Because we have more regular contact with people, we can have more confidence in our contact database
  • Delivering news electronically is better for our image: it looks as if we are keeping up with the times!

 Negatives

  • The biggest downside so far has been the fact we are now in contact with fewer people. However, in reality, many of the postal addresses in our database are probably out of date
  • Gaining new subscribers requires active effort - we get some new subscribers from people who have visited our website, but we probably need to market it more. The trick is to decide on the target audiences to attract and then to find the right routes to these people. We've not yet tried a marketing campaign, though we do have an e-News logo (see above) and a small printed insert that we can put in with anything we send people by post
  • The system at present is not fully-automated. For example, when someone subscribes to it, an e-mail comes to me. I then have to manually add their details to the database and send them a response. I also have to send out e-mail alerts using my desktop e-mail software; it doesn't happen automatically when I post a news item to our website
  • It has still proven difficult to get ECN site managers to provide news items - I have to keep asking, but the response has been quite low.

The future

In the last few years we've started using social media to share information, particularly Twitter and Facebook. We need to develop our use of these communication pathways. It takes time and effort to do well.

However, the technology is only one side of it; more important is having good news items to share. The site managers are key here, as they are potentially good sources of news about what is happening on the sites (extreme weather, new equipment, new research, etc.). However, other news that can be shared includes: new research findings, announcement of publications, new faces, events, other LTER activities (e.g. LTER-Europe and ILTER meetings).

I would also like to introduce a more two-way communication channel, where people can send comments, start discussions, etc. However, this needs careful planning, to find the right angle that will engage people. It would probably only work for certain audiences.

Do you run a similar online news system, or a discussion forum? If so, please share this by commenting (click the comment button below). Thanks

- Andy Sier, ECN, UK
P.S. Feel free to subscribe to ECN e-News!