How much effort does it take to put out your school newsletter? You search for content ideas. You beg, plead, and bribe faculty members into contributing to the process. You scramble to pull it all together and get it in PDF format. Then you email it out to your parents. Does the process sound familiar?
What happens next? Does anyone read it? Do you get any feedback? Does it disappear into a black hole? Maybe you've got the best-written articles and artful photos in your newsletter, but it's not generating much interest much less reaction.
In theory, a newsletter should be a valuable communication tool. A key to a strong parent involvement program, it’s an effective way to get information to parents and keep them engaged with the happenings at the school.
In practice, though, it can be a thankless task. Producing your school newsletters often takes a great deal more effort than it should. What's worse, they often don’t get read. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You can turn your newsletters into powerful communication tools by doing some planning and adjusting your process. Here are a few best practices to follow for an effective school newsletter.
1. Set your goals and know your readers.
Yes, you know you should have a newsletter. But have you ever thought about why? What purpose does it serve? Who should it reach? What action should they take after reading it?
Before you start your next newsletter, organize a team of administrators and teachers to sit down with you to discuss what they would like to get out of the newsletter. Who is the audience? If it's a parent newsletter, I'll let you in on something: it's for more than just your parents. Faculty, staff and students are going to be reading it too, but don't lose sight of who your primary audience is.
As far as goals, what should the newsletter accomplish?
Maybe you’d like for parents to contact teachers to set up a meeting. Maybe you want greater attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Maybe you just want them to share school information with their friends and within the community. Whatever your goals, getting your audience to read it is job one. Sharing the newsletter or content therein, is a close second.
2. Create a content calendar.
You know that mad scramble to come up with content right before the newsletter deadline? You can eliminate that chaos forever by establishing a content calendar.
A content calendar is a planning tool that allows you to chart out your newsletter content well in advance. A good practice is to keep some elements consistent in every issue. Maybe each issue can include a classroom spotlight, a feature on a faculty member, or a sports update. With those standard features in place, that limits the amount of custom content you have generate for each newsletter.
3. Use a compelling subject line.
Just as a headline to the article itself can mean the difference between someone moving it or glossing over it, your subject line in your email hauls a lot of weight. It may be only 30 - 70 characters, but it has a big job. Often, people make a decision whether or not to open an email solely based on the email’s subject.
Example subject line #1
[box]Newton City Schools Newsletter March 2014[/box]
Example subject line #2
[box]New Chromebook Initiative for Grades 6-8 | NCS News[/box]
In general, you want your newsletter subject line to accomplish two things:
- Let your audience know what is in the email
- Give them a compelling reason to open the email.
You can accomplish the first by keeping the subject format consistent from month-to-month. For example, a good subject line could be - “The ABC Elementary School Newsletter: Reason Why You Should Open….”
Always keep the first half of the subject the same to create consistency. Change up the second half - after the colon - to give them a compelling sneak peek into the newsletter’s content.
4. Make it mobile friendly.
According to email data company, ReturnPath, about 48 percent of all emails are opened on mobile devices. If your newsletter isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re likely losing nearly half of your audience.
What is mobile-friendly? For starters, your newsletter shouldn’t be a PDF that’s in the email as an attachment. Opening the PDF is an additional step that many people won’t take. The PDF also may not load correctly, so even those that do open it could have a poor reading experience.
There are numerous ways to get your newsletter into the email itself and have it responsive to mobile devices. A responsive newsletter is one that adjusts to fit any size screen and still looks the way you want.
Services like MailChimp or Aweber can help you set up an email newsletter. Your content management solution for your website will also likely have email newsletter tools.
5. Personalize your email.
When someone gets an email from you they only have two pieces of information available to make a decision about whether to open it: the subject line and the “from” field.
We’ve already talked about the subject line. The “from” field also presents a great opportunity to convince your audience to open the email. A great best practice is to send the newsletter from an individual’s email address. Don’t make it from an organizational email, but rather from a trusted teacher, administrator, or other faculty member.
This accomplishes two things: 1) It allows your audience to see that the email is from a familiar, recognizable name, which may encourage them to open. 2) It helps to avoid filters. Many email services, like GMail, automatically sort email into “Social” and “Promotional” boxes. Emails from trusted individuals often stand a better chance to miss those filters.
ANOTHER PERSONALIZATION TIP: Yet another way to personalize your email is in the salutation. Most email programs have a feature that enables you to drop in the name of the recipient as opposed to Dear Sir, or To Whom It May Concern, etc. In addition to a "From' field that connects, a 'personalized' email should include the recipient's name in the body of the message.
6. Measure performance.
The goal should be to incrementally increase your newsletter’s performance over time. To do that, you’ll need to track some important measurements.
One is the newsletter’s open rate. Are more or less people opening each issue of the newsletter? Your email or content management service should be able to track those numbers.
Also, are people clicking through to any links in the newsletter? If you linked to your school’s events calendar or to a particular fundraising page, was the newsletter effective in driving traffic?
Finally, you should list and categorize the types of content in each newsletter. You may find, over time, that certain types of stories are more interesting than others and increase your performance. For instance, do more people read the newsletter when it features a profile of an athlete? Knowing that kind of information can help you drive your content planning going forward.
7. Encourage social sharing.
If you really want your newsletter to gain traction and extend beyond just your email list, then you have to make it easy for your subscribers to share your content on social media. This should be one of your overarching goals. (See tip no. 1 above.)
The first way to do this is to put social sharing buttons in the newsletter, both at the top of the newsletter and in the individual content pieces. People are more likely to share if they can simply hit a Facebook or Twitter button.
Second, create a web-based version of your newsletter along with your email version. That gives people who aren’t on your email list the opportunity to view and share your newsletter content.
Finally, make sure to promote your own content on social media. Do it with open-ended questions that encourage your audience to open the link to get the answer. For example, if you’re doing a profile of a student how recently had a major accomplishment, you may send out a tweet asking, “Guess who was recently named an All-City Scholar?” along with the link to the newsletter article.
In addition, there are many school newsletter templates available online and from content management systems. These tools can create a professional-looking newsletter without the technical headaches or designer fees that have traditionally accompanied newsletter production.
The key to having an effective newsletter is planning and measuring. That’s really no different than what you and your faculty do everyday, right? You create lesson plans. You put those plans to work. And then you measure the results. Implementing the same process with your newsletter will turn that newsletter into an information and engagement machine.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com.