Email newsletters overlaid with plant growth

…and made the world a better place along the way.

When it comes to newsletter growth strategies, we thought we’d seen it all. From Morning Brew’s founders going to clubs and college classes to sign people up to its emails, to The Hustle’s newsletter ambassador programme, publishers have tried lots of strategies in order to accelerate growth.

This week, start-up RocaNews takes the prize for the best email newsletter growth strategy ever. A week ago, they put up a Story on their Instagram feed:

“Most companies spend their marketing budgets on social media advertising,” they wrote. “We want to try something new…”

RocaNews went on to say that they had budgeted $1,000 to market their newsletter, The Roca Current, that week. But they would rather give it to people who need it rather than big corporations.

“If 1,000 people subscribe to our free newsletter today, we’ll give out the $1,000 to people grocery shopping in poor neighbourhoods,” they promised. “If we hit our goal, we’ll do it again this week.”


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Within three hours, they had hit their goal. The RocaNews team spent that evening giving out $1,000 as promised to people grocery shopping in East Harlem. Not only did the money really help people that day, but the stories and videos they later shared provided a welcome burst of good news into their 1.1 million followers’ Instagram feeds. 

“There’s such a shortage of good news today,” CEO and co-founder Max Towey told us. “We’re just trying to put a little bit of good news into social media, that’s more positive than the negative you get all day.”

A social-first news start-up

Towey started RocaNews with two co-founders at the beginning of the pandemic after struggling with news avoidance and overwhelm. The youth-focused social-first brand has grown to over a million followers on Instagram after finding a winning strategy of posting four stories a day, plus a deep dive on a random subject. The meme-style slides take a neutral approach to even the most heated of news topics, reporting facts and context in short bullet points.

The Roca Current newsletter may not be their primary platform, but it still has a respectable number of subscribers. Before the $1 for 1 subscription campaign, they had just under 200,000 subscribers. Its growth and popularity have been unexpected given the more youthful demographic following RocaNews. 

“We’ve been surprised at how many under 35’s have come to email,” Towey told us on the podcast. “We didn’t want to place a lot of eggs in that basket early. But it turns out that, especially for news-interested young people who really want to go deeper, there’s an appetite for that.”

Changing the world one subscriber at a time

There’s certainly an appetite if a simple email subscription can do some good in the world. By the end of the week, RocaNews had surpassed its next goal of 10,000 new subscribers, hitting 16,000 by Friday afternoon. They branched out with the $10k cash distribution to rural Pennsylvania, tipping everyone from manual workers to single mothers.

“We wanted to see if there was a way we could tie our mission and our marketing together,” said Towey, crediting co-founder Max Frost with the idea. They were reluctant to give ad money to Facebook and have charitable initiatives as a secondary priority. “So we thought, what if we grew for good? If we set these goals, take the entire budget we would have used to hit these numbers, and give it to charity instead.”

Now, the team is looking at how to hit their next goal: a lofty 100,000 new subscribers. This will also require a more careful strategy to distribute the money. Towey is currently discussing with some potential charity partners about how best to spend that money in order to make a real difference, from organisations helping with the water crisis in Mississippi to local schools that need classroom supplies. “The next big thing for us is, how do you really change lives?” he said.

Financially effective newsletter growth

The $1-per-subscriber acquisition cost has the added bonus of being cheaper than what publishers would usually expect to spend to gain an email subscriber. Certainly it has been more effective for RocaNews than spending the $1,000 on a Facebook advert. 

As for how far this newsletter growth tactic could go, Towey is focused on the short term. “We don’t know what this will become,” he admitted. “Our initial hope was that a collective philanthropic effort, where 10% of our audience would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign up or share this link,’ could change lives and brighten a lot of days. I don’t know what the cap is.”

“Right now, our focus is, let’s get 100,000 new subscribers, and come up with a way to give out $100,000 that is very impactful. There’s a lot of hardship out there. But I think audiences are willing to help if there’s a good cause.”


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It’s still early days for the campaign, but charitable giving and making a difference to the local community is something Towey wants to make much more integral to RocaNews. “The reception has been incredible,” he said. “People have this intense longing for bright community moments in a country where there are increasingly fewer.”

“Every time we spend the money, we think about it going to Facebook,” Towey concluded. “The money we just gave to that woman in Pennsylvania could have gone to Facebook’s ad budget. But thanks to our community, it’s not.”

Of course, the question remains as to how many of these new subscribers stick around. That is where RocaNews’ real challenge begins. The campaign was good enough to draw tens of thousands of subscribers in. Now the content has to be good enough to keep them engaged.

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