Timing the Email: Chats

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Technology | Posted on 04-14-2008

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Tonight we’re doing another Butler Bloggers chat, this time for admitted/deposited/matriculated students. Last time’s chat was open to all Soph/Jr/Sr prospects and Sr Admits, which was ~19,000 students (with emails) and had about 100 show up. This time we’re looking at closer to 3,100 invites, which might yield a smaller crowd.

I’m trying to decide when to send the ‘Click to Chat!’ call to action email. Here’s the one I sent last time:

Pretty simple, to the point. Here are some stats on it.

So we had a good amount of clicks before and during the chat. But look at after the chat. Even YESTERDAY, someone opened the email about the 1/30/2008 chat. Luckily, Clickthroughs decrease as time goes on (see chart below), meaning that students opening the email understand they missed out on the chat.

So what are some of the implications here?

  1. Students react to a ‘click here’ at the time of the chat.
  2. Students continue to open/clickthrough after your chat has expired.
  3. Your Email Service Provider might not be able to send all of the 19,000 emails instantaneously. About 80% of our emails went out of the door right at 6:30. Nearly 4,000 were hung up and didn’t even get out before the chat was over, so I canceled the queue.

So there are some options here. First, proceed as previously done. Or, send the email earlier to make sure more students have it in their inbox at the time of the chat; but by doing so, risk missing out on the core group of students who ‘open and click’ right into the chatroom.

Then there is this whole other issue about the 71% of kids who open the email after the chat has occurred. Currently, they would just end up at our Chat University page (which, besides being ugly and miserable, doesn’t allow us to control the content.)

So on top of deciding when to send, you now have to decide what to do with the ‘late’ kids. One option would be to send all email recipients to a page on your Admission or Blogger site, so that even the late kids will get to somewhere of relevance. However, that just makes 1 extra click for those who do open the email on time, which is a hindrance and bad web usability.

……………………and you thought it was just as easy as clicking ‘Send’. Silly you.

Well, here’s the game plan. We held the last chat from 7-9pm. This time we’re going from 9pm-11pm (EST). With American Idol stuck somewhere in there (or so my boss tells me..), we hope to still get a decent turnout. Like last time, I’ll be posting videos to YouTube using the Flip camera as the chat happens.

The email will start sending around 7:30pm EST, 60 minutes before the chat. With the chat being a little later, we want the students to get the reminder earlier so that they remember. We will still link them directly to the login page, but AFTER the chat make a pseudo-chat dated around 2020 titled ‘No Chats currently scheduled. Please go to http://go.butler.edu for more information.’, or something to that effect.

This will get the students who are ready to chat straight to it, and the 70% of the late clicks will still be presented with some information about where to go since they missed the chat. Of course, hopefully these admits already know where our website it… but you never know.

So here’s the email. Because our Bloggers truly are Rockstars. And I also get a special feeling of rawkness scribbling all over the University logo and seal like that. :)

What do you think? Good strategy/implementation? What would you do differently?

Comments posted (2)

A couple thoughts on the e-mail itself:

Subject line? Impacts when and how many people open it.

The original message had a very high image/html to text ratio, and the new version even more so. And the images themselves include a lot of text, which filters do score against. Your message might be getting filtered as spam for that and/or other reasons. (Don’t put full trust in built-in spam assassin scoring. Messages can score well and still get filtered by various ISPs.)

Include Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, etc., seed accounts in the send list to see if messages get filtered. Also note the image blocking. Code the e-mail to take advantage of image alt text and Gmail snippets :)

Consider having a list of potential discussion topic bullet points. That one bullet out of those listed might lure in a student to chat. (“Come to think of it, I do have some questions about housing…”) Plus if you add bullets (using hyphens in place of html bullets) you can lower the html ratio and decrease your spam filtering risk.

Thoughts on an interim page:

“One option would be to send all email recipients to a page on your Admission or Blogger site, so that even the late kids will get to somewhere of relevance. However, that just makes 1 extra click for those who do open the email on time, which is a hindrance and bad web usability.”

Personally, I’d send them to an Admissions page and have them click from there. You can make a relevant landing page with useful links regardless of when they click, as you mentioned. Maybe do some heatmapping to see what catches their interests among the carefully-chosen links. And click counts as a hindrance is an overrated concept, imho. If you think about your own Web surfing habits, what may be more important to you is if you think you are heading in the right direction vs. how many times you click. That reflects my own surfing habits, anyhow.

I’m a big fan of the page paradigm:

– - – - – - – The Page Paradigm – - – - – - -

On any given Web page, users will either…

- click something that appears to take them closer
to the fulfillment of their goal,

- or click the Back button on their Web browser.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Source: http://goodexperience.com/2004/02/the-page-paradigm.php

Good luck with the chat. Chats I’ve done this time of year with incoming students have largely turned into the incoming students chatting with each other. Not the original intention, but not harmful, either.

Greetings! I’ve been following your blog for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!

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