Email subject lines, video, social media, oh my!
During our recent webinar, Connecting the Dots: Online Engagement For Universities, my colleagues Claire Burns and Sam Farkas presented to an audience of more than 400 attendees. If you were among those, you didn't hear me on the webinar or see my smiling face in the slides, but I was there, behind the scenes, organizing the incoming stream of questions for my presenter friends to address in the Q&A section. We received so many great questions from attendees that we didn't have time to answer them all!
Whether or not your marketing efforts are aimed at the higher education audience, the best practices we presented apply to all audiences, and I'd love to share some favorite questions from our star pupils — no hand raising required.
Q: I know that subject lines are important, but what are some specific ways that I can get my PhD in Subject Lineology?
We used to say that subject lines are the 6-10 most important words in your entire email, and while we’re still big fans of subject lines, the game has changed a little bit. Over half of all email gets opened on mobile devices, those 6-10 words have been reduced to 30-40 characters max. And actually, subject lines with fewer than 10 characters had the highest open rates in 2013.
But the best way to see what resonates with your readers is to test it yourself. By playing with things like personalization and length of the subject line – and always keeping in mind that the subject line should tease the content and singular goal of the message you’re sending — you’ll get that diploma in no time!
Q: What are some helpful tips for incorporating video content into our email communications?
Video is a powerful way to engage your audience. And by including it in your emails, you encourage click-throughs to where your content lives. One reason that video performs well, in general, is that our brains process images a LOT faster than text. 60,000 times faster, in fact (and, no, that’s not a typo).
We get a lot of questions about embedding playable video into the body of your emails. While this is possible, it’s actually much more effective to take a screenshot of your video, upload that as a clickable image (preferably with a play button, so it’s clear that the image links to a video) and then direct your reader to the page where that video lives, whether it’s hosted on your university’s YouTube channel or on your own website.
Make sure that the video supports the main goal of your email. For example, if you're trying to entice prospective students to apply, include a video that shows the benefits of campus life and a short interview with a current student. You’ll be able to track the clicks on the video image in your mailing, and those metrics will give you a better idea of the interest your video drummed up.
Q: We like the idea of having multiple Twitter accounts for different departments or schools within our university, but does this tactic also help with Facebook or Instagram?
Because a university has a varied audience of alumni, parents, students, prospective students and so on, it’s definitely popular to feature more diversity in the social media landscape than most traditional brands. Having multiple Twitter accounts for the groups, departments and schools within your institution allows your followers to self-select the timely 140 character news and views they find relevant. However, your school may only have one Facebook page and one Instagram page.
Facebook pages allow for a more varied, tabs-style approach to communications. So, it’s not always necessary to have multiple Facebook pages for each program as much as it’s a good idea to provide helpful navigation or links within your page. Some of our favorite university Facebook pages act a microsites with helpful links built in for fans to find visual content they like, links to apply online and links out to specific alumni pages that operate independently from the school’s main page.
With Instagram, most schools are using this platform to tell a larger story, encourage engagement with contests and visually highlight events that appeal to everyone following the account. Whether it’s a statue in the middle of campus covered in snow or a crowd shot from a winning game, Instagram is a great place to highlight the overall feeling one would get by being connected with your school and that sets it apart from channels like Twitter, where people are going to get breaking news.
Want more ideas for how to use social media to tell your story? Read how our own staffers engage with their alma maters on social.
Q: How do you determine what segment of your audience to pay attention to? Alumni, current students, prospective students – How do you please everyone?
You’ll probably never please everyone, but a good rule of thumb is to not feel the burden to make one message resonate with every segment of your audience. For instance, while email marketing is still very much alive and well (and powerful), the idea of the newsletter that goes to every member of your list is going the way of the dodo in most cases.
So, the first step to pleasing the most people is to segment those groups that matter and make strategic choices about the type of content each audience needs to know. Alumni want to know about donations and social activities for their class, but a parent may want to know application deadlines and orientation dates. Current students want to know if school is closed for a snow day or where they can see their grades online.
The key is pay attention to every audience segment, but relieve yourself of the pressure to do this all at once. Keep your goals focused and your messages timely, you’ll get into a good rhythm with communications that makes the most people.
Q: How much content is too much in an automated welcome email?
Now that you know that welcome emails can garner the highest engagement rates of any email you're likely to send (with the possible exception of the "You've been accepted! email to applicants), it’s definitely a good idea to hone in on what you want to say to all these new subscribers! However, if you ever have to ask if an email is “too long,” then it probably is.
There’s no rule having only one welcome email, either. You can tie different welcome emails to different sign up forms, so if someone signs up to learn more about The School of Music, your note can be more specific than a welcome note to a subscriber signing up from your university’s general homepage. Or, you can send one general welcome with links for new subscribers to self-select the types of information that they’d like to hear about in the future.
And when it comes to content, keep it simple and personal! You may want to have one image, a few links to helpful resources and a “signature” from the Dean thanking them for signing up, but the message arriving in the inbox in a timely manner is more important than a lengthy newsletter filled with links that may not be relevant to your new subscriber.
Does this FAQ spark any more questions or ideas? Leave them in the comments, and we'll keep the conversation going.