Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good old fashioned email

I've thought a lot about how we publicise our services in the last 12 months (for instance a couple of posts tagged publicity and all the Facebook stuff). I've thought about our website, social media, digital signage, email newsletters and print. All with a view to engaging students in what we do. More recently we've summarised our diverse range of services in some simple statements (I blogged about the first draft of those here), which have helped both staff as well as students understand more what we do and how it fits together. They're as follows:
  • Succeed in your studies
  • Gain experience
  • Develop your career
Incrementally we are getting more engagement, evidenced in part by the number of 'Likes' on our Facebook page (but I'm trying to get beyond likes). We've also been running a Student Development roadshow this week to get out and about on campus to tell students (and possibly staff) about what we do. In spite of all this activity I was still suspicious when I got in this morning to find more 1,800 emails in my roadshow signup subfolder. I asked on Twitter if anyone knew why it might be (I'd suspected David might have popped something up on the Students' Union Facebook page) but in the end I found out it was via a good old fashioned email from Paul Jackson, our Director (see below). It went to all students and we now have more than 2,300 responses since 17:46 yesterday (more than 500 of which were since having made the form University of Leicester login only).
So I've been musing about why this worked so well. I think there are a number of factors:
  • timing - I suspect people are more responsive to this kind of thing at the beginning of the academic year (especially freshers?)
  • tone - I think Paul struck a good tone in the email - supportive and friendly
  • simplicity - the email only asked students to do one thing 'click the link to receive important information'
  • clarity - I also think that the 'succeed in your studies, gain experience, develop your career' thing is nice and clear
  • incentive - there's a chance to win a £50 iTunes voucher if you sign up (as a University of Leicester student) - but I'd be surprised if that made a big difference
Now I need to do make sure that we capitalise on this initial interest. I also need to think about how to manage such big numbers. I'm certainly going to encourage people towards our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but maybe students just like good old fashioned email. I thought that was for old people.


  1. It's interesting to me that you got so many responses to an email that a) doesn't initially announce who it's from and what it's about (this only comes after the 'click here' link - before then it's "important information about what's going on") and b) doesn't announce the incentive!__If you'd had no responses, I'd have blamed these two things. But given that you got a huge response, maybe there's something to this:__a) the lack of info, or generally intriguing "important information about what's going on" was more of an incentive than precise info (curiosity or self-conclusion leading to engagement)__b) announcing the incentive at stage 2, on the sign-up form (where many students might just close the window when they find they have to, you, know, actually type stuff) might have given that extra umph to keep them interested.__Interesting. And congratulations!

  2. I'm not sure the congratulations should be for me! It is interesting though, innit?

  3. LOL - this is great news Stuart. I suspect your feelings about the iTunes voucher are correct, that isn't menitoned in the email and therefore wouldn't be an incentive until after they'd clicked on the link. I think timing is key here, freshers in particular will not have had many university emails yet, so the novelty is important.

  4. You're probably right. Need to think what to do with them now though...

  5. Exactly, any competent social media dweeb can build an army. What to do with it is the important thing.

  6. Hi Stu. I guess we have to give them what they've signed up to? I think you're right about the tone of the email and the timing, but also maybe not all students are into social media (including the 18-21 year olds, but I'm also thinking of mature, part-time, DL on professional courses etc - might be interesting to find out who signed up in terms of those categories?) and/or prefer to receive what they perceive as 'institutional' information through different means? Maybe it's a matter of ensuring that we have lots of different options for students to choose how they interact with us.
    Since the students signed up themselves I don't think it's likely that they'll perceive our communications as spam - perhaps we could also ensure this further by giving them options as to what they want to be kept up to date with (study skills, employer visits, volunteering etc?) With study skills we could send them fortnightly/monthly workshop updates (and info re Essays in Focus when that happens) - last year we had a module on the front student page of BB, where we listed the fortnightly programme and a fair number indicated that this was how they'd heard about us. Unfortunately we don't have that this year as there's a separate tab they have to click on and the space we have on there is more suitable for just a general advert, so I'm a bit concerned this could affect our numbers - the email list might be a good alternative.
    Also, since this has proved so popular, it might perhaps be worth including the option of signing up to the email list on our website, in case other students want to do that in the future, and also giving them clear options how to unsubscribe if they decide we're not for them (to signal we're not spam?).

  7. Hi Marta. Thanks for these comments. There's now a sign up page linked from every contact us portlet her I'm hoping to be able to embed the form in the page rather than just link to it but there are plone issues re java - Matt is trying to figure a work around. Re the options - I've now added 'Year of study' but could add one more re interests. Though I'd need to check if MailChimp can cope with multiple criteria in terms of which groups to send it to. E.g. 3rd years with an interest in vacancies. The thing we need to be careful with is not to send them too much...