by Sarah Norek
Part of my role at the Academic Success Center includes drafting and sending the Transition Communication Campaign (TCC) emails to all incoming first year (FY) and new-to-OSU students. It’s one of my very favorite projects to work on and learn from, and offers a lot to consider and explore.
For folks unfamiliar with the TCC, I begin emailing students in their first term at OSU, and continue throughout the entirety of their first academic year (here’s an example from week 2). Content is timely to each week in the term and covers academic support and advising information; resource spotlights; and processes, strategies and tools. Messages are sent via Marketing Cloud using student lists created through Banner, and emails go out each Sunday as well as the Wednesday before add/drop deadlines.
During Academic Year 2022, we wanted to look more closely at the FY engagement with emails throughout fall 2021. To do this, we used reports from Marketing Cloud to determine students who received all 13 messages (a total of 3596 students), we looked at patterns of engagement (opens and clicks), and we also invited folks to participate in focus groups or complete a brief survey. We learned so much! It was so much fun! And a lot of what we learned was counter to what I’d thought to be true, which was delightful and curious and exciting. Here are some of my favorite perception shifts:
- I thought students weren’t opening emails, but when we looked at reports, it turns out that they were: 69% of students opened 8 or more of the TCC messages in fall, and about 25% of students opened all 13!
- I didn’t expect students to return to the messages, but the average opens per messages was two; and, on average, 41% of students opened the messages two, three, or four times. Students found reason to revisit the content.
- I was pretty sure receiving duplicate information would be a total turn-off. In our focus groups, students shared that they’d received similar messaging from other sources (at times ahead of the TCC’s arrival), but also shared they still found value in the campaign, even if it was redundant, especially for students who might not be getting this content elsewhere.
- I was under the impression that the email’s organizational sections were more for me and my drafting process, but it turns out that students used the sections too, as signposts to focus their content consumption.
- I was convinced my subject lines were boring (and I don’t think what I learned means they aren’t). I started each subject line with the week in the term, a move that felt uninspiring but also helped with my organization process. Lo and behold, students shared that they appreciated the naming of the week because it helped orient them within the term.
- I’d had a feeling that the messages were too long, but continued to draft under the (old? outdated? incorrect?) impression that folks were willing to scroll; students said that, no, the messages were too long (especially when accessed via phone), so much so that certain sections were never reached. Noted!
- Even though I focused most of my energy on the body of the message, the two sections folks went to most were Important Deadlines, at the top of the emails (highlighting deadlines for registration, change of grading basis, course changes, etc.), and Upcoming Opportunities at the end of the email (naming events, engagement opportunities, workshops, etc.).
Are these all the ways I felt surprised and delighted by the data? Nope. Do I wish we could’ve heard from each of the 3596 students who received the 13 total messages? I do. But still, we learned a bunch! And, I think what we learned could contribute to conversations and thinking around how campus communicates with students, how to be effective in our communications, and how to encourage engagement. This fall I’ve made changes to our TCC messages based on last year’s learning; already I’ve noticed higher open and click-through rates, and I’m totally pumped to see how engagement plays out for the rest of the year. More data to consider! More questions to ask! I’m not excited, you are!