It’s the workhorse of school communications. It’s direct, measurable and can be one of the most powerful tools in your communications mix. Unfortunately, however, few school administrators understand the science behind creating ones that get noticed, opened, read and acted upon.
So what makes an email effective – one that your parents not only read, but then do what you want them to do?
A few savvy businesses know the formula. I’m not talking about the spammers who might slip through your spam filters. I’m talking about senders with whom you have some established relationship. The sharp ones know how to make the most of their email campaigns. Hubspot, an inbound marketing juggernaut, has taken a scientific approach to email, and breaks down the Anatomy of an Email in this super article by Meghan Lockwood.
As a school, you’ve got a one-up on all the email cluttering up your parents’ email inboxes, because you already have a solid relationship developed. Your their child’s school, after all, so your message should at least have a fighting chance to break through the many emails making their way to your parents’ email inboxes every day.
A recent survey of school communicators, IT managers and school administrators by the Campus Suite Academy professional development team found that email is still the most preferred and effective way of reaching parents. Makes sense, really. With the popular channels being used to engage parents – school websites, social media, notifications, voice – email remains a very personal way to connect.
Email is still the most preferred and effective way of reaching parents
Another important trend to factor into your email strategy is the fact that many parents are viewing emails on their phones and tablets. So you need to be sure your emails are not only created using content best practices, but optimized technically to reach this growing number of mobile parents.
To make the most of your school’s emailing, we’ve outlined the key components of creating killer emails. Use it as your checklist for email effectiveness.
1. Write attention-getting subject line.
It’s critical you spend time on this. Be concise, give the reader a good idea of what’s in store if he or she should open it. Your goal here is to have them click. Sorry to say, but “Message from the Superintendent” may not be compelling enough. The wording in the subject line is so important, you should re-visit it several times before creating the final version.
2. Personalize the “from” line.
Including a name rather than “XYZ School” greatly improves both the open and click-through rates, according to Hubspot marketing, experts in online marketing. People prefer to deal with people, not institutions, so use individual names when filling out the from field.
3. Make your mark with clear school identity/brand.
The general layout, school colors, logo, signature set ups all play a part in the image you want to project for your district. You should strive for consistency here. Make sure your school communications lead is involved in the overall design of your email designs and templates.
4. Personalize the salutation.
There are three main parts/sequences for good communications: 1. Connect; 2. Tell; 3. Action. You want to connect with the reader, tell them why you’re communicating, then elicit some sort of action. A personalized salutation is a good start for connecting. Hi Brian, is so much better than Dear sir.
5. Get to the why.
You want to show as quickly as possible why your communication with the reader is important. Don’t beat around the bush or be unclear about the benefit to the recipient and/or others. Don’t waste their time. e.g., “Attending the open house will show your child you want to participate in his or her schooling.”
6. Clear call to action
What is it that you want the reader to do? Register for an event, click to go to a page on your website, share this email via their Facebook page? Use links and call-to-action buttons that stand out and make it easy for the reader to see exactly what it is that you want them to do.
7. Insert a cool, relevant image
Everyone loves a good image. It could be a photo or a cool graphic, but emails with images get more attention than text-only ones. Perhaps a simple pie chart showing how your school budget breaks down. Don’t be afraid to use more than one, but be sure they’re applicable to the goal of the message.
8. Include social media sharing buttons and links.
If it’s important enough to be read by one parent, do all you can to get them to share it with other parents by including the array of social sharing buttons and links. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the must haves.
9. Add a second call to action.
Another call-to-action enables the reader to dive a little deeper into your school communications. Maybe it’s a visit to your school website or a hop over to the school calendar or superintendent’s blog. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have your parents stay in your communications sphere.
1o. Include privacy/unsubscribe info.
This is the fine print stuff that’s required by law. It goes in the footer of your email, includes anti-spam regulations, and allows the user to “opt-out’ of receiving future emails from your school (why a parent would do that is beyond me, but it’s the law.) Check with your school’s legal department, or look to your email services vendor for help developing this.
P.S. Hitting your target with great school emails
Now that you know what comprises a great email, a quick word about sending it. First off, I strongly recommend you use one of the several third-party email services for schools. In addition to providing all the features and support that will make your day easier, they offer enhanced security precautions that you won’t get if you use your own email server.
If you try to manage your school email blasts on your own, you are susceptible to email hacks and other problems that can, for example, mark your emails as spam – even to a vetted distribution list. Check out this article on how to keep your school email from being blocked.
One last consideration when sending mass emails is being sure you segment your mailings by audience type. Certain emails are meant for all your parents at all your schools, some are meant for certain schools, or certain grades across all your schools. People don’t like to be bothered with emails that don’t pertain to them. If you don’t spend some time sorting out who gets what, when then really need something that does pertain to them, it may go unopened.
So take a cue from businesses and other organizations that have been using these email best practices to break through the clutter and get their messages across – and acted upon.
Do you have any tips yourself on making your school email campaigns more effective?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.