Electronic newsletter connects SSA with public

Electronic newsletter connects SSA with public

Since first issue came out in March, subscription base for eNews has gone from zero to 100,000

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

For a start-up publication, going from zero to 100,000 subscribers in the first nine months is a big deal. The Social Security Administration's new electronic periodical, eNews, has pulled it off.

The monthly newsletter, which the agency distributes by plain-text e-mail and posts on its Web site, relays Social Security information 'so everyone can understand it,' said Lori Hauser, who writes the text for SSA's Office of Communications.

SSA's William A. Halter says the administration's newsletter respects users' privacy.

The project started with a flurry when SSA deputy commissioner William A. Halter proposed the idea in January. By Feb. 15, the SSA Web staff put an eNews subscription form up on the agency's Web site, and the first issue came out March 1.

All eNews subscribers get the basic monthly newsletter about SSA and its programs. The subscription page, at www.ssa.gov/enews, also gives readers a chance to register for additional bulletins on topics such as disability and survivors' benefits, Supplemental Security Income or employer wage reporting.

Special orders

The specialized e-mails come out less frequently than the main eNews. Hauser's office has so far produced four newsletters on disability programs, two on Social Security regulations and one on Medicare.

The government doesn't collect names of newsletter subscribers, and the Web version doesn't use cookies because of privacy considerations, Halter said.

The subscription page, written in Hypertext Markup Language, passes subscriber names through a Perl script to the list management software, Listserv 1.8d from L-Soft International Inc. of Landover, Md. The software runs on a Sun Ultra Enterprise 1 server under SunSoft Solaris 2.7.

SSA hosts the HTML version of the newsletter on its own Web servers, said Chris McFerren, a General Services Administration webmaster who administers the mail list for SSA.

GSA hosts about 180 agency mailing lists besides SSA's eNews, McFerren said. Most are for groups to which GSA is a major contributor, such as the Chief Information Officers Council.

After the SSA list, GSA's next biggest list has only 9,000 subscribers, Hauser said.

Typically, 1 to 2 percent of the addresses on a mailing list are bad or nonfunctional, McFerren said, 'plus, we're dealing with a more diverse group when we have a mailing list available to the general public.'

Citizens frequently change Internet providers, whereas other GSA lists go to e-mail addresses defined by agency roles rather than names.

Out of more than 180,000 lists that use Listserv software, L-Soft ranks the SSA newsletter as its 17th biggest in number of subscribers. As of Dec. 3, eNews had 106,904 subscribers.

During October, the Web version of the Oct. 1 eNews issue drew 33,340 hits, SSA spokeswoman Carolyn Cheezum said. Another 16,528 people visited the subscription page.

SSA has stuck to its monthly eNews schedule except for one special edition: the Oct. 18 announcement of SSA's cost-of-living adjustment for calendar 2001.

Hauser said she would like to distribute eNews in HTML format so that e-mail subscribers can see the same graphics and hyperlinks as Web readers, but plain ASCII text is more accessible.

SSA pays GSA $25,000 to manage the eNews list. Otherwise, the project uses existing staff. 'The marginal cost of adding a new subscriber is zero,' Halter said.


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