Word In Black, a groundbreaking news collaborative led by 10 of the nation’s leading Black publishers, grew its newsletter subscriber list by 87% in six months by leveraging original content.

A Facebook lead generation campaign helped Word In Black acquire more than 41,000 new email addresses, including nearly 34,000 subscribers who are still active, for an 87% retention rate. In total, the campaign reached more than 1 million unique Facebook users.

The lead generation campaign using Word In Black original content reached more than a million users in six months.

The campaign was supported by the Meta Journalism Project and launched in partnership with Social News Desk using its proprietary Dynamic News Ads technology, which automatically creates a newsletter acquisition ad from a Facebook page’s best performing content. The cost of each new, retained subscriber averaged $1.36.

“Prior to signing up for email updates, these subscribers had little or no awareness of the Word In Black news brand. They were cold leads,” said Emilie Lutostanski, director of the Local News Resource Center at Local Media Association. “The campaign had an impressively high retention rate, and this fresh, new audience is now being taken down the marketing funnel to experience all the stellar journalism Word In Black publishes.

“The next steps are to continue to keep these subscribers engaged by garnering their feedback and delivering them meaningful content, and to grow the Word In Black audience through similar lead generation campaigns,” she added.

Launched with support from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge and Local Media Foundation, and sustained by various funders as well as corporate partnerships and individual donations, Word In Black is a testing ground with a multifaceted business model built for sustainability. The news organization publishes high-impact journalism and weekly opinion pieces that highlight issues of equity in healthcare, education, social justice, and other important issues across the U.S.

Word In Black aims to reach 500,000 newsletter subscribers in the next two years. With the recent hiring of two new dedicated journalists, the collaborative is primed to increase its footprint and reporting capacity, and launched a healthcare-focused newsletter in mid-May.

Here are four tips Word In Black learned that can be applied to any news organization:

Harness the power of test-and-learn

Word In Black used the Facebook lead generation campaign to grow audience quickly, aiming for the most loyal audience possible. In fall 2021, the collaborative also tried an email marketing campaign and organic approaches, but ultimately invested in lead generation since it proved most effective.

Discover target audiences by starting broadly

The targeted audience was built on broad affinity categories and those similar to followers of the founding publishers’ Facebook pages. With funding behind the campaign, Word In Black gained new audience across demographics, with the largest share of new subscribers skewing toward women aged 50-plus. With this information, Word In Black can retarget those highly engaged followers and readers with special content or offers.

This was one post on Facebook that garnered an especially high number of email signups.

Apply content insights to smaller subscriber acquisition campaigns

Using Word In Black’s own content proved more effective than previous attempts at marketing with boilerplate messaging about the brand. While the automation through SND’s Dynamic News Ads technology saved staff resources, future smaller campaigns can use the same types of content categories that were successful at a large scale to build individual lead generation ads or campaigns. Content that resonated with the highest number of Facebook users included shocking and controversial conversation pieces, such as about lynching; stories highlighting Black personalities, individuals and relationships; and positive stories about the Black community, small businesses, and local grassroots initiatives.

Get the most from new subscribers

With the data that was captured from this paid lead generation campaign, Word In Black can build lookalike audiences and target new subscribers; use this valuable first-party data to retarget the current list of subscribers to drive them further down the marketing funnel with highly engaging content that leads them to donate; and finally, spend more to get more — find new subscribers with the same methods with more financial backing.