Do parents and pupils read your school newsletter?
I’ve published whole-school newsletters for almost 15 years. As a parent too, I’ve read the occasional one, whether printed on paper or circulated by email, but do schools really know the impact of their newsletters…
From analysing my own emails to see what type of content my teachers would read, if you publish a school newsletter, do you have any deep understanding of what impact it has? Who reads it? What time of day and how much of the information they read? It’s taken me almost 10 years to learn how to master this simple communication strategy.
Are you wasting time and money?
I have been arguing for years that schools who still send paper-based newsletters are generally wasting their time and money. With access to increased technology, and long before the pandemic, there is no excuse for any school to not be using a wide range of apps and software to reach their parents.
Let’s consider some basic costs.
If we apply between £0.04p to £0.10p per A4 page as a ballpark figure for a photocopy and printing ink, then assume that the simplest of newsletters is 2-3 pages long, plus use a one-form entry primary school with 180 pupils on roll and newsletter copies reaching every family, we can expect a rough cost of £21.60 per newsletter.
Of course, with text alerts, this cost will be cheaper. With emails circulated to a small database of families, even more!
Many schools are now circulating their newsletter electronically to their parents and families and have almost abandoned paper communication. I’ve equally advocated that this process can also be applied to written reports. Gone are the days when pupils were sent home and trusted with a paper newsletter to take home on a Friday afternoon, or parents asked to come into parents evening to sign off and collect a physical copy of the report because it may not reach home. But, this still does happen…
How do you know who is reading what and when?
Software available today offers basic analytics, and with an increased monthly cost, you can unlock unbelievable amounts of data.
Just imagine for a moment, if you were able to evaluate: When did a parent open your email? What device did they use? Where was their location? What device did they use? What links did they click on and which parts of the newsletter did they download?
Imagine what schools could do with this data?
Imagine around the leadership table you heard this: “Well, according to last months newsletter data, we can see that all of our White, British families are not opening the newsletters, although when we did email them on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday evening, there was a 5.7% open rate when ‘XYZ’ was used in the subject title…”
To a degree, although I am working with teachers and not school families, I know all of this information and it’s something I wish I had used over 15 years ago when I first shared my first whole school newsletter. Just take a look…
I can track all my emails in multiple forms, with a calendar view, peak time, overall analytics, comparative reports and click rates. My favourite feature is the ‘click map’ which shows me explicitly what part of the email teachers interacts with. I use this information on a weekly basis to create the content going forward and also ‘resend’ to non-openers.
No matter how much I want to insist that teachers should have a weekend and not work on a Sunday evening, this is when they are most likely to open and read my newsletter. So, I build it a few days before and automate it, so we can all choose to get on with living or working when it suits.
What should schools do with their current communication process?
Well, the first thing to consider is what do you currently use and are you using it to its full capacity? The second question to ask is, who is responsible for organising the content and analysing and reporting on the data? How do you evaluate this data in various forms? For example, when reports are published, when emails are sent to parents, when text alerts are sent home or when newsletters are emailed to families…
Having written newsletters now for many, many years, here are my top suggestions to improve engagement.
Solution 1: Less is more
I know this is obvious, but it truly is the best advice. Where I spend hours writing very detailed newsletters, I drive less engagement from my readers. When I make my emails concise, with just on one or two paragraphs and key images, I reach almost a 60% open rate (see images below). Imagine that? 60% of 45,000 teachers reading and downloading my ideas!
Solution 2: Layout
I have a colleague at Cambridge University who is analysing screentime and how pupils read on their digital devices. It’s no surprise to learn that the majority of readers skim over the top line and then skim-read from left to right gradually reaching only the first two or three words on the left-hand column as they navigate down each line on the page.
Knowing what I know about the 14 million teachers that have read this website, and with analytical data highlighting that they access the site, on average, for one minute and 30 seconds, even writing this exceeds the average reading time; I risk people not reading as far down to see what is written here.
In essence, keep the key message at the top of all communications. (I hope you don’t miss this one!)
Solution 3: Subject titles + Emojis
I use Mailchimp to curate, send and analyse my communications.
As soon as one tries to email 100+ people, any bog-standard email platform struggles with the data. On that point, I also have to follow data protection guidance and ‘opt-out’ GDPR policy.
As I reach my 14th year of writing this blog and using social media, newsletters are now the key source of all my engagement with readers to this website. One simple, yet critical strategy, is how to build a key sentence which reaches a teacher’s inbox and makes them want to open any email.
In essence, 6 to 9 keywords plus the use of an Emoji. Take a look:
- 😭 Want To Reduce Your Marking Burden? = 45.2% open rate / sent to 45,000
- 💡 15 Remote Teaching Ideas + 10 Marking Strategies! = 21.9% open rate / sent to 45,000
- 🚀 Assessment in 5 Minutes? Plus a FREE Webinar = 19.6% open rate / sent to 45,000
- 🚀 YOUR NEW MEMBERSHIP RESOURCE = 39.3% open rate / sent to 1,500
- 🚀 New Membership Resource Available! = 40.4% open rate / sent to 1,500
Mailchimp recommends my subject lines are short and sweet, informing me that 9 words tend to perform better. No more than one Emoji with sub-text in the email, to keep to 60 words or less – and with fewer exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!
Solution 4: Photos speak a 1,000 words
Instead of writing in great detail, let the images do the talking.
Add in hyperlinks. Where more detail is required, include a short one-sentence introduction with a hyperlink where people can click on and read further. Using bit.ly shortcodes will allow you to know exactly how many people are clicking on each hyperlink and where the source has come from.
In a tech world, and for a small fee – use Mailchimp if you are not already using a school-based management system – otherwise its guesswork! Plus, I advocate using the same methods for writing pupil reports, adding video recordings or voice annotations and sharing this data via a hyperlink – this would allow schools to truly understand which parents are engaging with content, when, who and how long for!
If you’re still emailing parents or sending home paper newsletters on a Friday afternoon, come on. Catch up!
It’s critical that schools share success stories with the wider school population in a school newslwtter, but in a connected world, it’s useful to know who is connecting with you, and where best to spend your time, money and efforts.