School e-newsletters are a huge pain. No one, other than those who have to prepare them, would believe the amount of time they take. On top of that, they are a magnet for all kinds of heated and time-consuming discussions about who should control content, why parents still don’t know about upcoming events and who is responsible for all those typos and errors (there’s usually not a lot of takers on that one).
Not surprisingly, by the time you hit December, the strong temptation is to minimize the pain and just get the bloody thing done. But here’s the thing. Retention is the key to enrolment success and that means that e-newsletters are a critical marketing communication vehicle that deserve (almost) all the time they take to prepare. The key is to maximize the investment. Here then are nine ways to focus your efforts and improve the effectiveness of e-newsletters.
- Strategy first.Remember that the e-newsletter is a key to building brand among current parents and stakeholders. That means that content must be both functional and strategic. Choose content based on what best reflects strategic marketing goals and don’t be afraid to have multiple items – whether in news items or captions – speak to the same topic. What you imagine to be heavy-handed is likely not perceived that way by the casual reader.
- Content control.Some weeks finding content is like pulling teeth. No one responds to your emails and two hours before deadline, you’re still tracking down photos and details about a school event. And then you have the polar opposite when the development department is convinced that each of their 32 school fundraisers must be represented in this week’s newsletter. The solution is to have established and agreed-upon guidelines that detail content categories, indicate exactly who is responsible for getting you content and determine in advance the number of items that can appear under any heading.
- The tyranny of attention.Your e-newsletter may be chock full of all the things you want parents to know about like the softball team’s big win and the STEM contest that the 5th graders participated in. But none of that is going to get read unless you first meet parents’ most basic communication needs. It’s kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy. Tell parents what they need to survive the week ahead – the early closing days, the no-lunch days – and then they will pay attention to the stuff you think they should know.
- Know your limits.Studies show that people read online material at a rate of about 200 words per minute. Now, how much time do you expect parents to spend reading the weekly e-newsletter? If three to five minutes sounds reasonable, that translates into no more than 600-1000 words.
- Be photo-literate.Rest assured that a good photo paired with a strategic caption can outperform any paragraph of copy alone. Whatever you can say with a photo will get more attention and will be more compelling. However, not all photos are created equal – and some, if not most, of the ones provided to you should likely not be used. The group photo of 25 students who participated in an event will be indiscernible. Rather look for shots of one or two people who look interesting or are doing something interesting. Remember – you can fill in the details in a caption or short story that accompanies the image.
- What’s the subject.Data indicates that 33% of email recipients decide whether to open an email based on the subject line alone. And get this – there’s an 18.7% decrease in open rates when the word “newsletter” is used in subject lines. Don’t fool yourself into imagining that your e-newsletter is so important to parents that data on subject lines don’t apply. So, instead of “Your newsletter for the week of September 18” try writing a creative subject line about an item in the e-newsletter – maybe something like “Our B-Ballers Beat the Best.”
- Be a tease. Not every detail about every item has to appear directly in the e-newsletter. By using links to pages on your website or other sources, you can provide readers with just enough copy to “tease” them or for them to decide whether it’s something they want to know more about. It’s a win-win approach that conserves space and respects the reader’s interests and judgment.
- Make it mobile.It’s critical that your e-newsletter can be easily read on a smartphone. Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of email open on mobile devices rose from 20% to 55% and from my experience the percentage of independent school parents using smartphones is higher than that. Content viewed on a mobile device always feels longer than on a tablet or desktop. That magnifies the importance of almost all of the points above. For example, the average mobile screen can only fit a 4-7 word subject line. So, in addition to being interesting, subject lines need to be concise.
- Draw on data.Take advantage of the incredible array of data that is available to you in almost all email software. You can see which subject lines get better open rates and which items are more attracting clicks. You can even see who is opening emails and segment them by gender, location, campus or the grades of their children. All of that can be essential in the ongoing evaluation of the e-newsletter.
By using these nine points (and probably a bunch more that I didn’t think of) you can transform your weekly e-newsletters from a necessary evil into a superhero force for good.
What do you think?
What are your best e-newsletter tips? Or better yet, let’s see some examples of your outstanding e-newsletters.