- General Best Practices
Finalsite’s Summer Camp ended this week — so we’ve been sifting through the pages of notes from each week’s networking sessions. We noticed that one question popped up almost every single week: “What should we put in our newsletters when we don't have anything to share?”
First of all, you’ll always have something to share.
Second of all, that is a tough one. Every school and district across the country is in a totally different stage of re-opening (and for some, already closing again) — so it’s hard to say what you should “definitely” include. There’s never been a one-size-fits-all approach to email newsletters, and that feels all the more true right now.
But, don’t feel discouraged that you don’t have the “same” content you always did. Things aren’t the “same” right now, anyways. There are plenty of ways to re-think and transform your newsletter so that it remains a core communication for your school or district.
Before we dive into content ideas, let’s consider some essential best practices for a successful emails newsletter heading into the fall:
- Pick a cadence and stick to it: Choose a day, time, and frequency for sending your newsletter. When parents know when to expect your content, they’ll be looking for it! A lot of communicators are wondering: “should we decrease the frequency if there is less to share?” Our answer is “no.” If your community is used to hearing from you on a weekly basis, keep it weekly. Remember: less content isn’t a bad thing. For the next few months, we’re looking at quality over quantity.
- Pick a layout and stick to it: One of our favorite analogies to come out of a networking session was: “I think of our newsletters like walking through the grocery store. It’s frustrating when things move around, so I keep the design consistent so the expectations are there.” This is SO true! Whatever content you decide to include in your newsletter, put it in the same place every time. And, do your best to share the same types of content each week as it will make your families’ most sought-after content easy to find, and simplify newsletter creation for you and your team. But WAIT! One more important thing to note — don’t pick a layout and stick to it if your layout is confusing and cluttered.
- Design for mobile, first: Parents are still very much on-the-go, and for districts with many low-income families, a mobile phone may be the communication lifeline. For this reason, we encourage designing your email newsletter for the mobile experience rather than the desktop experience. If you’re new to mobile-first design, we’ve rounded up six tips for mobile-friendly emails in this blog post.
- Don’t go overboard: Your email newsletter shouldn’t be your catch-all for everything. Focus on the most important items for the week, and always link back to your website.
- Personalize and personify your emails: If you want to increase email engagement, make sure your emails come from the same person or entity (i.e. Elmwood Middle School) each week. In addition to adding a familiar name and email, personalize your subject line. Simply changing the subject line from “Your Weekly Newsletter” to “Your Weekly Newsletter, Mia!” can dramatically improve email engagement.
Email Newsletter Ideas for When You “Don’t Have Anything to Share”
I want to reiterate the importance of content consistency here. Don’t turn every newsletter into a smorgasbord of different content because you feel like you “don’t have anything”. And even worse — don’t omit a send because you think it feels empty. It will be confusing for your community.
For each newsletter, focus on having two or three content areas that remain consistent, no matter what. Aside from the standard “news and events,” here are some of our favorite ideas to enhance your school’s newsletters:
1. Share a Recipe
Cooking brings families together, educates your community on healthy diets, and provides a fun photo opportunity for social media and upcoming email newsletters. Whether you’re crowdsourcing family recipes from your community to share as The Woods Academy did for Woods Cooks On, or simply sharing a weekly healthy recipe you found on Pinterest, this new bit could be a fun way to unite and engage your community if and when they’re apart!
2. Feature Your Community
While you may find it easy to run out of things to say, we hope you don’t run out of people to celebrate! Your community — no matter the size — is filled with students, parents, teachers, and non-teaching faculty who make your community what it is. You can share the feature directly in your newsletter and then link back to your website. If you are already sharing featured stories on social media, you could also link directly to the social media post.
3. Share a Letter from Leadership
Hebron Academy kicks off their monthly newsletter with a monthly letter from the head of school. For private schools and districts alike, this is a nice way to incorporate the voice of leadership without needing an entirely separate newsletter.
4. Incorporate Blog Content
Before you breeze past this tip while thinking “I don’t have time to write blogs!” — wait! The blog content you share in your newsletter doesn’t have to be original. Re-sharing content you know your community will find interesting can make you a trusted resource. And of course, if you do have the time to write your own content, sharing that in your newsletter can help build trust, confidence and loyalty as well.
5. Trivia Questions
From throwback photos of faculty and students, to questions about the origin of your school’s mascot, incorporating a weekly trivia question gamifies newsletter content is a fun way to keep your community engaged. Encourage them to share their answers via email to win a prize!
During a networking session, Connor Gleason of Derby Academy shared that they incorporate a weekly throwback photo at the very bottom of the email. It helps increase their newsletter’s read-through rates because it's an anticipated piece!
6. Tips, Facts, and Social Media Holidays
Maybe instead of asking a question, you’d prefer to share a bit of knowledge or fun with your community! From fitness and health tips to practical ideas for staying sane while still working remotely, you can keep your community engaged with a weekly tip to look forward to. Bonus points if you can get someone within your school community to be the fitness, health, or history guru.
Social media holidays also fall into this “fun fact” category. Celebrating days like #NationalPizzaDay and #NationalSmoresDay is always a great way to get your school’s social media channels buzzing. (You can find a complete list of holiday hashtags here.)
7. Community Challenges
Cupcake decorating contest? Workspace picture contest? Marvel movie marathon? How fast can you put together a puzzle? Who has the most school swag? There are lots of fun ways to challenge your community each week to celebrate school spirit or find new ways to spend time together. And as long as you're consistent, the weekly challenge may become something your community looks forward to conquering each weekend, and sharing their experiences on social media.
8. Inspirational Quotes and Shareable Images
If you send your weekly newsletter on a Monday, this fits in perfect as “Monday Motivation!” Share an inspirational quote that ties to your school’s mission or motto, and design something that is shareable on social media using a free tool like Canva.
9. Positive Stories from Local News
Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, The Office’s John Krasinski launched his own YouTube channel called “Some Good News” where he looked for reasons to be positive and celebrate the good happening in the world — and you can too! There is a lot of fun to be had with this topic. You could host your own variation of “Some Good News” on a regular basis for your social media channels and re-share it in your email newsletter. Getting students involved here could be fun, too! And if you don’t have the time or resources to create a regular video, simply sharing some articles of good things happening in the school and local community could be just what recipients need to see.
10. Kudos, Celebrations, “Heard on Zoom” and Other Quotes
We have a beloved internal newsletter here at Finalsite called “The Spark” — and each week it ends with a “Spark Plug.” The “Spark Plug” a quotable fact, kudos, or compliment shared via email or slack among colleagues. Your school or district can put its own spin on it, such as “Heard on Zoom” or “Trending on Campus.” It’s a great way to give shout outs and build camaraderie among staff and students.
The intent of your newsletter has never been to stand as a podium for you to share news. It’s been an essential piece to keep your community engaged and inspired with your school or district’s culture and community. There’s never been a better opportunity to think about what your community really wants than the present. So rather than feeling discouraged about “not having as much to share” — focus on what you do have to share and the new value you can bring. And most importantly, whatever content you choose, be consistent!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As Finalsite's director of demand generation, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.
- Email Marketing