Sent weekly, monthly, or in rare cases, daily, higher education newsletters give readers an opportunity to hear top-line news, interviews or academic insights. They give us the chance to raise our voices, share insights and build community. But there are pitfalls: irrelevant content, opportunities missed, accessibility overlooked.
At Adelphi University in New York, our University Communications and Marketing group has seen the number of newsletters jump from one per month—sent from our president—to over 200 per year, each with their own messaging and distinct point of view. This explosion of work— in design, writing, strategizing and sending—can strain the resources of any university. So all content creators are wise to step back and take a second look at your newsletter’s effectiveness and strategy.
Here are eight strategies to improve your higher education newsletter.
1. Consider your email list carefully. We have seen department newsletters that omit alumni, a missed opportunity for engagement and scholarship support. We have seen newsletters that omit families and parents; an unfortunate decision when they are likely footing the tuition. So work with your admissions, alumni relations and registrar teams to get the right email list. Track your open and clickthrough rates to make sure you are sending to audiences who are interested in your story. If they are not, you risk an unsubscribe—losing all connection to an individual.
2. Ensure your content, and your imagery, reflect diversity. Before you hit send, review your newsletter for gender diversity, cultural diversity and age diversity in both visuals and content. If a newsletter is about people who are one race, one gender or one age, you risk needless insult. There is always another image, another story or another approach to help you build a more inclusive community.
3. Don’t overwrite. The trend is for more powerful, arresting visuals—and text that summarizes and links out to more information. Make this an easy step: live link the visual, the headline, a call-to-action button or an email address. Readers who are interested in a topic will click into a story to read more. You may prefer longer text-heavy emails; just be aware you may be turning away many readers who would otherwise be part of your community.
4. Include a link for donations in the footer. Although this may seems like begging to some, your readers may appreciate a quick link to donation—particularly if your content is compelling. Readers may want to be part of your mission. Give them the opportunity to donate, so they can join your shared values and take pride in shared results.
5. Be mindful of accessibility. Although some still have heart for a PDF newsletter, it has limitations. It’s hard to read on a phone, does not allow readers to enlarge or click through to stories, and does not allow moving imagery. If your college does not have email marketing software, a simple email offers more flexibility, and better accessibility, than a PDF. Font size should not go below 12-point. Videos should be close-captioned.
6. Honor the accomplishments of your alumni. This will inspire current students and build your credibility. Tracking your alumni can be time-consuming and difficult; before your students graduate, encourage them to join LinkedIn so you can stay connected through the years.
7. Include future event listings—and do not post events that have passed. We often see a request to include past events in newsletters; but we find these are poorly read and rarely clicked on. No one wants to read about something they missed. The best guidance is to send information on upcoming events that show you are pushing your mission forward, and leave expired events where they belong—in the past.
8. Video will lift engagement. According to Pew Research, YouTube is the most popular online platform in America—almost twice as much as the next runner-up, Instagram—and usage does not drop off for older age groups. Include a film featuring your research, a faculty member on the news—even a TikTok made by students.
If your newsletter is done right, you’ll have a higher open rate—in the education and training category, the average newsletter open rate is 23%. If you are regularly seeing open rates below that, re-strategize.
In summary, this is not the time for siloing information, holding back on your news or waiting for meet-and-greets at a conference that may or may never be live again. Your newsletter tells your story—so give it the thoughtful and dedicated effort it deserves.
Joanna Templeton is lead editor and senior director of content for UCOMM at Adelphi University.