University Web Developers

University Web Developers

We just had a meeting today to discuss how the university is handling email communications regarding internal and external audiences. We have had them for some time now, and the focus is now shifting to make them more sophisticated. The big challenge is how to do that without more resources. Several things were discussed such as content, layout, relevancy, staff time and resources, changing mediums, etc. The primary goal being to make things more sophisticated.

The questions I pose to you are many:
Does all your email communication come from one source (PR handles the faculty/staff newsletter, Alumni Relations handles the external newsletter here)?
How do you handle college/departmental level e-newsletters, or do you bother?
What is your release schedule like?
Are you sticking with email, or anticipating changing mediums?
What goals are you measuring to determine success or what needs changed?
What was the most benefit to determine what people want to read (focus groups, surveys, etc)?
Do you focus much on why people don't read the newsletter/emails?

Any other stories or advice would be well received as well. It's a little like herding cats trying to get everyone on the same page and explain the nuances of how to track, measure, improve, rinse, and repeat, so examples would do us well to show where others have had success.

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Our MarComm office handles as much as other departments on campus can throw at us. From admissions for traditional undergrad, transfers and grad to alumni info, events and general newsletters--there's seemingly a need from every aspect of the institution to have a message relayed through our ecomm channel.

With College/departmental newsletters we try to limit the content to something equal to 4 printed pages (if that). Very recently we did our best to explain to one of the colleges that a 20+ page enews was completely out of the scope of what we could create. About a month later we're back at the beginning with them in terms of the work on our end to create the enews but we did get at least 16 pages cut by the College.

Some cases we send out an ecomm with links to the newsletter hosted on our site, some cases the ecomm we send out is the entirety of the newsletter. That situation is determined by the depth of the content and our ability to link to other portions of our site to keep people engaged. We'd rather they scroll through on our site than their email. This is doen in hopes a user stays on our page to find related content by our design or through items the user finds relevant upon reading the content we've sent.

We work off a few different schedules for releasing ecomms. For some items (monthly alumni newsletter, quarterly updates) we are able to stick to a decent schedule with deadlines for copy, approval and sending the message. For admissions-related items, we have a more fluid schedule. The drop deads are an idea of when the message should be sent. Depending on when we get content or if another initiative is launched that takes priority, we can adjust as needed. We try to send information about an upcoming event roughly 10 days before the event if we're on short notice. Given more time, we'll send info further out and follow up as needed, with new info or incentive, etc.

Email is my major area so I hope we stick with it! Slight joking aside, we do find that it helps with spreading the word on events for which we want prospects to RSVP. We then link to the registration form and follow up via phone to confirm attendance and info. We have links to our active social media endeavors on every email we send and I recently incorporated a "share/bookmark" link via addthis.com. We can only anticipate so much so the current idea is to try and hit as many channels as plausible. Whether that's using social media in combination with the email or looking to other destinations to plant the content, the idea is to spread it around and tie it back to our own domain.

I'd like to be able to support more personal updates. Whether it's a more significant follow up email or moving into SMS confirmation--my concern is providing that subtle touch of charm or friendliness that is at times very difficult to communicate through code.

We measure the standards of click through rates and open counts and blah blah. As far as measuring beyond those stats, we look at anecdotal information. When a parent notes that she learned about an event or was interested in more information after reading an email, we know we've done something helpful. I'm hoping the "share/bookmark" links will help me understand a bit more of what's relevant to a student. If the content is passed along (which we can see through the addthis analytic data) we know that a user is making the effort to at least save the info for later, whether or not it becomes a conversion.

I haven't ventured far into focus groups or surveys at this point, same with trying to reason why people aren't reading the communications we send. A larger digest or event listing for a month is something we've transitioned to--looking to avoid sending a singular email for each event we host. That has shown an increase in open rates and click throughs in our alumni population. My thoughts being that instead of seeing each subject and deciding the interest level before opening the message, an alum gets to see all that we offer over a period but only after opening and reading through the message.

This is a great topic to approach. I like your "herding cats" comment as we have similar difficulties in getting others to understand why 20 pages, in an email, is just not doable.
Thanks a bunch for your thoughts Nathan. Anyone want to add anything else? We're going to reviewing this issue this afternoon, would like all the examples I can take.
I can't speak to the campus level but for our College (one of many in the university), our email campaigns mainly focus on our alumni with our internal faculty/staff audience as a secondary recipient.

We work to keep the emails short and attractive. Their main purpose is to drive traffic to our websites.

We contact our alumni at least four times a year, twice specifically for events. We send an e-newsletter each semester highlighting some of our featured research and news items. It includes some class notes, upcoming events and new grants received.

Email is only one piece on the online communications efforts. People discuss how email is outdated and old but we will continue sending email since our analytics show a good response from our audience (about 30-40% open rate, 10-15% click to an item). Our goal is to strengthen our relationships, so email is part of "keeping in touch" with our audience.

Departments are usually on their own for email; occasionally I will design and development one for a department if it is related to a specific giving campaign but generally we only work at the College level.

We were fortunate to have research done earlier in the year that showed our alumni were most interested in students stories and research. Stories about other alums were lower down on the list. The research included phone interviews, small group discussion and an online survey.

We don't focus at all on why people don't look at the emails we send. It's most likely because they receive too much email. We know that we will only reach a certain percentage with this method but it's worthwhile to continue these campaigns based on the responses.

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