Best Practices for Your Alumni Emails

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The previous two posts have been about connecting with your alumni via email. In this last post on the topic, we’ll take a look at some good practices to use in those alumni emails.

  • First, the email is only as good as the email address. Lots of things can happen to an email address between the time you collect it and the time you send that first email to it. It can be captured incorrectly. The handwriting can be hard to read. It can be typed into the email wrong. These things will prevent your emails from reaching their intended audience. I recommend making email address collection automated. In Starting Your Alumni Email List I talk about how you can create a sign up form and add it to your Facebook page (or website). I also recommend making sure that you give your alumni an opportunity to update their email addresses.  You can do this by posting a regular reminder on your social media or getting an export of alumni email addresses from your university.
  • Let your alumni know that you never share or sell their emails. I add this text to our sign up form and then once a year send out a little reminder to our alumni. I want our alumni to be confident that we will not use their emails for purposes other than club news. iphone-410324_1920
  • Format emails for mobile devices. Most people these days read emails on their tablet or phone. Make sure that your email is formatted so that it shows up on those devices in an easy-to-read format. If you’re using an email tool, it will include a preview mode that will allow you to view the email on a simulated mobile device. Make sure that you always check this before you send your email!
  • Give your subscribers an option to unsubscribe. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I get emails that I’m not interested in and I would like to anonymously unsubscribe. Let’s face it, some of your alums will feel the same way. They may be hesitant to ask you to remove them. Give them an online option to unsubscribe. This is built in to email tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact. And don’t be alarmed when people use it! For every club email we send, we have at least one unsubscriber. That person will be satisfied that they are not receiving an email they don’t want and the fact that they’ve unsubscribed will help your send averages.
  • Clean up your email list regularly. Emails bounce or, despite our best effort, they go straight to a spam folder and are never seen by your intended recipient. Here’s where having an email tool can be a real help. Email reports! Check those reports regularly and remove emails that have bounced (we remove addresses that have bounced 5 times in a row). I also recommend removing email addresses where the recipient has not opened the email in the last 10 sends. It’s not impressive to have 1,000 emails on your list if only 20% of emails you send are opened. Grooming your list keeps it current and will improve your overall send numbers. If you’re just sending emails from an email account, I recommend at a minimum immediately removing any email addresses that bounce when you send them. blogger-336371_1920
  • Avoid the spam black hole. One thing I discovered is that many spam filters look for certain email domains (@gmail.com, for example) from senders and move these to a recipient’s spam folder. This can prevent some of your alumni from ever seeing your email! If possible, avoid Gmail and Yahoo email addresses (plus Yahoo has had way too many breaches). Ask your university club coordinator if he or she can setup an email address for your club (e.g. OrlandoClub@university.edu). If your club has purchased a domain for your website, you can either purchase an email account for that domain or fake it and create a forwarding address from that domain that sends emails to your Gmail or Yahoo account.
  • Send emails at reasonable intervals so as not to send them too frequently or too infrequently. This may depend on the time of year or what you have going on. Our club sends one big email a month to our large list and we send 2-4 emails a month to our local list.
  • Content is important! Grab your readers by sharing content that is meaningful and timely. We organize the content in our emails in date order. We also include a Save The Date section for events that are coming up. When we are light on events, we include pictures, notes of gratitude and updates on topics of interest to our alumni in our community.
  • The Subject line matters. I recommend using something more exciting than Your Alumni Club Update for every email. Give them a teaser about what’s in the body of the email. Be clever. Include key words that mean something to your alumni (“Rock Chalk Jayhawk” or “Big Blue”). Use emojis. That Subject line is important to getting your alumni to open the email and read it. (One of my recent favorite Subject lines reads “Our April Events and, oh yeah, 2017 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! 🏀🏆🎉“. It was opened by 43.5% of the subscribers on our email list.)
  • Have a policy on what non-university content you will share. We realize that our email list is a source of consumers. We often have well-meaning alumni and local businesses that want us to share something about their business or pet interests in our emails. We keep our email list strictly for club and university news and events only. We encourage businesses and charities to tag us in their posts and we will share on our social media.  I recommend establishing your policy soon even if this isn’t an issue for you today.
  • newsletter-2123474_1920The shorter, the better. Some folks use their emails as newsletters – long, long(, long) narratives about club events and news. Emails really should deliver short bursts of information with event and contact details. Most people are going to scan their emails in a preview mode on their device and will likely not take the time to read a really long email especially if it doesn’t contain pictures or graphics. I recommend creating shorting sections for each item with just a few sentences about each. If you need to provide more information (directions, special details, etc), include a link to a location where they can get more information, like your website or an entry on your social media account.
  • Include pictures and graphics. Plain text is hard to read. Especially if there’s a lot of it. Break it up with pictures of your club’s events and graphics. Many times, your university will have a collection of graphics and pictures available for you to add to your content. If they don’t, ask them!
  • But be careful about what pictures and graphics you use. Not every picture or graphic you find on the internet is free to use. Some require permission and/or photographer attribution. While this is usually more an issue on websites, it’s something to consider for emails as well. Be discerning when sharing content from other sources. I also recommend scanning the pictures and graphics you are going to use to make sure they are appropriate and represent the university professionally. twitter-1795652_1920
  • Include links to your social media and websites. Let your alumni know that there are other ways to keep up with you. Not everyone will want an email but they may follow your social media pages. Make sure they know where they can find you and include a link to those places in your emails.

Do you have email practices that you use for your club’s emails? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a note here!

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