You might think that every parent will open every school email. After all, it’s bound to be something that concerns the welfare of their child. But you’d be wrong. Even if people are completely committed to opening the school’s emails, they may not do so, for a number of reasons.
For example, timing is important. If your parents are young professionals, research from the USA suggests that a good time to send emails is around six am, which is when a lot of folks sit up in bed and get their first electronic fix of the day. On the other hand, if many of your parents work nights, a better time to fire off emails might be around 4 or 5 pm, ie just before they set off to do their shift.
Don’t worry: you don’t have to start working shifts in school in order to send emails at such times. You can set them to go off automatically at there appointed hour. (You can even do this in ordinary programs such as Outlook.)
Another factor to take into account is how ‘email-minded’ your parents are. We in the education world seem to assume that everyone is checking their emails all the time, because those are the only kind of people we socialise with. But for many people, email is something they remember to check once a day, and sometimes not even that frequently. Indeed, some people check their email so infrequently that when they do, they cannot remember their log-in details!
Also, you have to acknowledge that someone might see an email from the school, and say to themselves “I must mark that or file it in a special folder so I remember to look at it later” — and then promptly forget all about it. Perhaps you have been done this yourself — I know I have.
So, with all this uncertainty as to whether or not your carefully crafted email will even be opened, is there anything you can do? Fortunately,there are.
One thing you can do, even though it goes against the grain if you’re wary of spamming people, is to send them a text message telling them you’re going to be sending them an email.
Conversely, if you use Emerge you can check who has opened your email, and then send a text message to those people only.
The subject line of your email needs to be interesting too, but avoid using the word ‘Free’ as in, for example, ‘Free internet safety classes’. Why? Because many spam filters will automatically throw the email into the ‘Junk’ folder without so much as a by-your-leave. If you must use the word ‘Free’, then either use ‘F-R-E-E’ instead, or (better still), say ‘at no charge’.
Another thing you can do is to get into the habit of making your messages readable, and interesting to read. There are tools that can help you avoid unreadable text, as we described in Making your messages readable. If people get to know that emails from you aren’t going to be a dreadful ordeal akin to wading through mud, they are far more likely to open them straight away.
It’s also a good idea to include a call to action. For instance, ask parents to fill out a very short survey, in which you ask them to state their name and answer an either/or kind of question. Then you can easily follow up anyone who has not replied, to ask them if they received the email in the first place.
Of course, you might also consider the unthinkable: do you really need to send any emails at all? If part of the school’s website is in the form of a bulletin board, then all you need to do is direct parents there in a text message. How to set up a bulletin board? The quickest and easiest way is probably to create a school blog.
At the end of the day, your aim isn’t so much to get parents to open emails, but to entice them to read your messages. And there are several ways to skin that particular cat!