New Uses for Tech: ConvertKit for Engagement

Let’s Talk Audience Engagement

How do you know if your students, staff, and/or faculty are engaged with the services and/or products that you are promoting at your institution? Are you collecting metrics? How do you collect them? Oh, and if you are collecting metrics, what are you doing with those metrics? Do you look at them? How often? 

Whether you are a higher education administrator thinking about how to promote your department or unit’s next service or product launch, an academic librarian trying to figure out how to get more students to attend and actually engage with your information literacy session, or an academic with a small business or a “size hustle” that you are working to develop into a full-scale small business, metrics, data about what your target market wants – and how those individuals engage – or don’t engage –  with your content / products after you share it with them – is crucial to increasing and sustaining meaningful engagement with your audience.

Email Marketing

One way to promote your products or services is through email marketing. You know those pop-ups you experience online that ask you to share your email for a free X or Y thing (typically a PDF download) or requests to sign up for a newsletter? Yes, that kind of email marketing. I was pretty impressed with some email marketing campaigns I came across recently which resulted in me buying products and services – and I’m a picky shopper. So I decided I wanted to learn more about email marketing for a few reasons. Back to those in a minute. Right now I’m working on learning more about email marketing from people like Jenna Kutcher, with her List to Launch Lab, and Sarah Anderson with her Pro Email Copy blog, which runs a really interesting feature called “Email Teardowns” where she analyzes recent email campaigns and talks about the hits and misses (from her perspective) from those email campaigns. 

I’m not an expert in email marketing. But what I am an expert in, however, is training, specifically educational technology (ed-tech) related training, and on best practices of integrating technology into classroom and other academic environments – like libraries, for example. One of my favorite things to do, with my love of most things technology-related, is find new uses for existing tools or multi-uses for tools I’m thinking of picking up. 

The Current Issue: Lack of Sustained Engagement with EdTech Training

The department I lead at a small private college runs educational technology training for faculty at my institution (among other duties – it’s the office of Institutional Research & Training). As with many institutions, the vast majority of our faculty are adjunct faculty, and as a result, have a variety of personal and professional schedules that make attending face-to-face training difficult. Knowing this, my department has focused on developing online trainings – first we create training guides or FAQs, as faculty feedback has taught us that most faculty tend to prefer guides over videos, but after we create step-by-step guides we create videos because sometimes it’s really just simpler to watch someone do something as opposed to read about it with screenshots. 

Recently, I really wanted to mix things up with our training. We track engagement with our training guides by looking at the analytics afforded to us by the system we use to house our trainings – Springshare’s LibGuides. As you might have guessed, LibGuides is a traditional “library” tool – a content management system (CMS) – that I share with Rusty’s library. Two departments using one system saves the college money, and there are now two directors who are experts on the system, as opposed to one, which provides redundancy (this is super critical at small institutions like ours where most people wear many hats). I noticed, by looking at the analytics, that engagement – which I track by looking at page views / hits – was going down on most of the guides. I saw a spike when new adjuncts were hired, which made sense because they were learning all the tools and systems. I noticed a bit of a spike when we had new project launches (I can easily compare dates over time using the backend analytics in the LibApps system), but I wasn’t seeing sustained engagement, sustained visits to our training guides over time. I also didn’t know to what extent the hits were returning or new visitors as LibApps statistics aren’t that granular (or frankly it’s not clear if these visits are just from faculty because the guide is open to those with our institution’s email domain). 

Similarly, Rusty and I run our Information Literacy Assessment (ILA) program – an online IL pre-test/training/post-test program we developed a few years ago and published about here and here –  with several groups of students, but the target market / audience we are struggling the most with is our graduate students. The students are invited and encouraged to participate in the program when they join the college as graduate students, but because there is no real carrot (other than the joy of learning but yes, I know the issues with assuming that will work) and absolutely no “stick”, our participation rate hovered around 10-13%, which was rather disappointing. 

What I’m Trying: ConvertKit

ConvertKit is an email marketing service similar to MailChimp, MadMimi, and ClickFunnels. ConvertKit is an online service that enables you to build a list of subscribers with opt-ins, i.e. sign up forms or pop-ups that gather new subscribers email addresses so that you can email them content. 

How I’m Using ConvertKit

I’m trying out ConvertKit in a rather untraditional way: I’ve created email “lists” with defined groups at the college: faculty (all faculty, full-time faculty, and adjunct faculty) and specific groups of students (at the moment, the new graduate students who are being invited to the ILA program and an IT course I’m teaching this semester). 

Note: A very important point about email marketing is that people need to be able to opt-out or “unsubscribe” so every email I send has the required opt-out link. 

I’ve started out using ConvertKit with what they call Sequences. According to ConvertKit, “A sequence is a series of automated emails, timed directly to when a subscriber first signs up, or is first added to the sequence by another action.”

To date, I’ve designed two complete sequences and one is in progress. The first complete sequence is for new Adjunct Faculty and serves as part of my departments onboarding strategy. Once my department receives word that we have a new adjunct hire, the adjunct faculty member is added to the New Adjunct Hire Sequence. That individual, after being added to ConvertKit as a new subscriber and is added to this sequence, automatically receives the first email in the sequence. As shown in the image below, there are then a series of four additional emails that are sent over the next 28 days after the initial email. 

New Adjunct Email Sequence

Each of the emails is less than four paragraphs long. The purpose of each email is meant to introduce something specific in a quick way. The first email discusses the required onboarding edtech training so faculty can learn our LMS, the second is a check-in that describes how new adjuncts can get help from my office if they need it (and reminds them about expectations for using the LMS), the third email explains the process for reserving a teaching lab (and why this could be helpful to new adjuncts), the fourth describes our Office 365 services, and the 5th email in the sequence explains proctoring and tutoring services offered by the Academic Resource Center (a department Rusty also supervises). All of the emails include details about contacting my office and how to set up an appointment.  

I’m not sure how the open / click rates of this email communication sequence compares to my office’s previous communications with adjunct faculty because we used regular email without that information before.

The second sequence I’ve designed is the Graduate Students ILA sequence. This sequence was just launched this past week and is one I was very excited about! As I mentioned earlier, our graduate student ILA program had minimal participation, so trying a new way to reach out to these students to inspire participation was high on my agenda. First, I rewrote the initial invitation email and changed the language to be more conversational and instead of asking students to complete the ILA, I invited them to participate in a challenge – a challenge to prove their Information Literacy Mastery! The image below shows you the 5 emails that are presently part of this email sequence.

Graduate Students ILA Program Sequence

As with the first sequence, this sequence is kicked off by adding new subscribers, new graduate students to the college, to ConvertKit and then adding them to the sequence. I learned something new with this sequence – filtering. All new graduate students receive the first email, which explains the “Challenge” and invites students to participate. Students have an option in that email to either begin the program immediately by clicking a link to read the full directions, or to wait to receive the 2nd email (Challenge accepted? Let’s get started!) the next day for the full directions. IF students click the full directions in the day 1 email they will not receive the day 2 email. Then, all students receive one week later email (How’s the ILA challenge coming along?) which is a check-in email. In the third email, as well as the fourth and fifth emails, students have the opportunity to choose to stop receiving the reminder emails with a custom opt out link (the required unsubscribe link is at the bottom of every email) by clicking a link that indicates they are finished (and sends them to a Thank you/Congratulations page on our ILA program website) and subsequently opts them out of the remainder opt out emails. 

A current limitation of this particular email sequence is that the students have to opt out themselves if they finished the ILA (or they could say they finished the ILA when they actually didn’t, but that’s another issue), the system doesn’t automatically opt them out. However, since students complete the pre and post-tests in Qualtrics, there is a possibility that I’ll be able to connect the two systems via API so I’m going to work on that. 

This compares to previous invitations in a rather exciting way. We used our online survey platform, Qualtrics, to invite students before so we knew our open / click rates, around 12%. We’ve already surpassed that with both the first and second emails of this sequence.

The third email sequence is the one in progress, the Spring 2019 Faculty Campaign. This email sequence is sent to all faculty teaching during any of the Spring 2019 sessions. So far I only have one email in this sequence and it was sent out earlier this week. It reminds faculty about expectations for using the LMS, a tip for how to use a specific type of assignment, and how to get help from my office. 

Spring 2019 Faculty Sequence
Spring 2019 Faculty Sequence

We didn’t have data for open/click rates before since we used regular email, so having any kind of data is exciting for this sequence!

What’s next

This weekend I’m working on writing out the content for a rather (to me) complicated sequence for the Spring 2019 Faculty Campaign. In the next email, which will go out Tuesday, I’ll share a few more LMS tips, remind faculty how to get edtech help if they need it (see a pattern?), and then give faculty a multiple choice quiz that asks them to indicate which topic they’d like to learn more about next. Based on each faculty member’s choice, they will then be opted into a series of emails specifically about the topic they chose – an email course of sorts that’s designed to peak their interest in the topic selected and will ultimately lead them back to our EdTech training website for basic or advanced training depending on their needs. 

Have you used an email marketing service like this?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feel free to share any questions!