Does anyone read our emails?

Our school switched from paper to electronic newsletters some years ago in order to reduce paper consumption. Since that time, the question has lingered. “Does anyone read the newsletters?” As teachers struggle to keep up with a rapidly growing inbox during free periods, and parents sometimes appear unaware of information distributed to them, it’s easy to reach this conclusion.

Thankfully, we have found a way to collect some data to allay this concern. We installed the Drupal module Simplenews Statistics on our site, and now our main newsletters include an invisible image that sends a request back to the website each time the email is opened. Our kindergarten email newsletter, sent to 40 families, was opened 108 times within 24 hours! Although opening an email does not guarantee that a person reads it or digests its contents, it at least it suggests that email is effective at putting the news in front of our readers.

If you store email addresses for newsletter subscriptions in your website, this module will even tell you which individuals opened the newsletter, which didn’t, and whether they clicked on embedded links. We don’t seek that level of resolution of data, since just the total is a relief to see, and we subscribe a Mailman listserv address to each newsletter instead of individual addresses.

We learned another lesson from this investigation. Data can really help soothe anxiety over changes that involve technology. Looking at our website statistics helps in a similar way. Data won’t answer all of one’s questions, but it helps challenge some deeply held assumptions about the perceived ineffectiveness of some forms of electronic communication.

Your website or listserv platform may include a tracking feature like this.

2 comments

  1. Ben Chun says:

    Not many of your families are on gmail? Or they click the button that allows your email to load images?

    I’ve been struggling with a similar question about update emails that go to parents and students.

  2. Richard says:

    I’m sure many are. However, each division newsletter includes a graphic header image and some inline pictures, so it should be pretty obvious that some content is missing, and I bet most parents load images for each newsletter. We also include a "view as web page" link, so that recipients may view the newsletter online in case they have a plain text or less popular email client.

    If the statistics program slightly under-reports the number of people who open the mail, that’s okay. The point is to demonstrate the readership is the vast majority of parents instead of what sometimes feels like half or less.

    Richard