MMP3: E-Cards: Using a Thoughful Tool to Communicate with Current and Future Students

Thomas Marrone, Manager, Web Design and Support, Southeast Missouri State University
Lenell Hahn, Assistant Director of Admissions for Communication, Southeast Missouri State University


The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at http://highedweb.org/2008/presentations/mmp3.mp3


[Intro Music]

Announcer: Youíre listening to one in a series of presentations from the 2008 HighEdWeb Conference in Springfield, Missouri.

Thomas Marrone: All right, everybody can hear me? I think weíre going to get started and today we talk about E-Cards as a tool that communicates you all of your audiences originally advertises as more from the admissions thing talking the future and you current seen this stuff really at Southeast. We also use this to our alumni to communicate with each other in their families, and staff as well as like kind of go on that to show you guys how itís useful for everybody, all the student constituents that we serve at the university. So weíre going to start off with introductions. My name is Thomas Marrone. Iím the manager of Web Design and Support, Southeast Missouri State University and Iíve been there about three years.

I started on as a web assistant to my former boss and then she left and I took over her position. But one of the things Iíd like about it was I have a strong background in graphic design. I used to kind of design things graphically for the web and that going coming the door a little bit later.

Lenell Hahn: Hi Iím Lenell Hahn. Iím the Assistant Director of Communications Admissions at Southeast. I actually worked in the university for about seven years. Two of those were in immersive relations where our Web is housed in campus and then for five years in the admissions office.

Host: †Hey Lenell, itís ok if you donít want to use it.

Lenell Hahn: OK.

Host: You might try without it but make sure that we can hear you.

Lenell Hahn: So for five years Iíve been in the admissions office. The position I started was actually the position is the admissions web counselor. It was the first time actually that someone dedicated the admissions to work correctly with the web, and technical web skills but itís my job to try to coordinate what we want on the web for perspective students. So when they started doing the E-Cards for the public at the university at large, we had the idea of we could use those for perspective students and future students. So I work with Thomas for some different designs and ideas and they created those. So thatís my role in the office as well as I do some recruiting also.

Ok, so a little bit about the university idea of what Southeast is like. We are located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri which is two hours south of St. Louis and about three hours north of Memphis, Tennessee. And weíre right on Mississippi River. The university is a comprehensive public university that was founded in 1873.

Our beginning freshman college here is a little lower 1,800 and the total student population is right over 10,800 students. Our average class size is 25 to 30 students. Our students and faculty ratio is 18 to 1. And then we have over 200 areas of study and about 120 student organizations.

Thomas Marrone: All right guys, can you guys hear me in the back? So I was talking to a friend of mine who works at a design firm in St. Louis. And I was telling her I was going to do this presentation at a conference and he was like, ďE-Cards really?Ē Because they are basic like theyíre Web 0.5. †

Like theyíve been around forever and thereís nothing innovative really about them. Everybodyís got one. Everybody uses one but itís just a scenario where itís been kitschy, itís been done before but itís the thought that counts. If you put enough thought and consideration into the design of your E-Cards and theyíre easy to use, they can go a long way and they can really make an impact.

I heard a quote on the radio a few months ago that kind of stuck with me and it was some big wave of some company and he said that he would rather have a mediocre idea executed brilliantly than a brilliant idea executed poorly. Whatís nice about E-Cards is that theyíre really easy to get right. You donít have to spend a lot of time among your buy really expensive software to implement this. And you can have something public as short as a week or a day to depending on how fast your designer works and you can get it out there really fast.

So letís start off talking about our E-Cards for our public audiences and we have lots of designs that are publicly available for major holidays, university related occasions such as moving, sporting events, commencement, general greetings, birthdays, greetings from southeast, thank you cards just saying hi that sort of thing. We try to cover a lot of occasions that not just sustaining for our faculty might want to use Alumni things like that. And so hereís some examples and what I did when we got started with this project was I went to a publications department and got permission to kind of take the mascot. Take our branding with those and go a little bit off the beat and pack with them.

They let me do different things with them so that whatever that we included in these E-Cards it would fit the occasion. So I could do things like dress our mascot and thoughts for Valentineís Day or turn our logo into fireworks on the 4th of July. And then you see that we have a lot of different styles and that was just so that people could get Ė yeah sure.

Audience 1: I was just confused with what the E-Cards were. At first when you come in I thought it was for the marketing department to send this out to perspective students. Well, these sounds like these are cards you let your audience use and customize and send them out to their peers or friends.

Thomas Marrone: Well, we have the second from the public and then we also going to talk about the cards we send out to perspective students.

Audience 1: This is the ladder. Ok, thanks.

Thomas Marrone: Yeah sure, any other questions? So for each category when we started this account with three different designs to kind of appeal to different case, we have only one feature and thatís strategy has always been something according to whatever card that weíre featuring. We back ourselves at point people to get well. We also have one thatís kind of photo card with Hallmark, we saw our message featuring our students in class piece. I think thatís for our nursing program. And then the one on top is just kind of a generic image featuring our logo and itís one of the things where you can get as creative as you want or as your budget allows, depending.

The whole idea is to go beyond the postcards so you donít just have images of campus people can send which are not spread. Whatís really catching about this is they feel certain need for people if they want to say thank you or if they want to say, ďHow are you doing? I havenít heard from you in a while.Ē You can send those messages with the branding of your university attached and stock numbers like that because it gives them something to be as proud as I was working at Southeast System and personalize for them.

And then finally, once you have these cards built you want to make sure that people know about them. If thereís low I actually will put it down here. Just a little banner on the home page and Iíll do that whenever thereís not something better to promote Iíll put that up there, or Iíll seal sometime around moving, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas and put a banner up there just to let people know that these cards are available during the appropriate season.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I was hired because I had a graphic design background and I know a lot web departments donít have easy access to someone like that. A good option is to find a graphic design student, an art student and work with them. If you have someone available Iím sure the graphic designer publications probably already has enough to do but if you canít get time to work on it thatís fine. Itís just worth investing professional time to get cards that look good and will communicate your message and include elements of your universityís brand. All of our cards have Southeast watermark on them and they all have the red and black colors in some way and all the things like that.

Lenell Hahn: E-Card permissions. Like I said earlier we started out with the public with the university hall and we sold these and thought this would be a really cool way that we can communicate with future students or perspective students. So there are so many different types of E-Cards that we had created. But first one that will sit here is a personalized greeting card from our admissions staff. And itís an individual card from the Admissions Counselor to a student that the Admissions Counselor is for. So in our admissions office we have nine admissions counselor and each have a territory of school.

Someone is designated in the Southeast Missouri, Southwest Missouri, in St. Louis area. And what I would do is I would pull a list of students from the St. Louis area and then send the E-Cards to those students from Theresa Maine which is the admissions counselor for that area. And the card just says, ďHello, Iím your facultyís admissions counselor.Ē And then in the message over the card, you get to see a link on this card on the next side but in the message of that card we put a direct link to her website.

Each of our admissions counselors have their own page that has a mile. Tells them a little bit about them, where they went to school, some of their hobbies. It also has their contact information and email and instant message text messaging, their office number. It has their travel schedule for the admissions counselor. What high school theyíre going to be attending and what college fairs theyíre going to be at.

And our goal for these greeting cards from admissions counselors is to create a relationship with the students before we get to meet them in the high school or at the college fair. It lets them get a visual image of who their admissions counselor is going to be and start building that relationship before they actually meet in person. Other cards that we do and I want to go back to the first one, we usually I donít know how many of you are admissions staff and coming here to confirm the admissions.

We usually send these to subset, a subset is a student who we purchase their name. They never contact to the university to say, ďIím interested in SoutheastĒ but we purchase their names from ACT or College Board or some other resource to get the information from the student. And then the second was the part here will just send it to prospects. These are students who have responded back to me and said, ďYes, I am interested in you I do want to receive information from Southeast.Ē So for this group of students we will send E-Cards to them to let them know when their admissions counselor is going to be at their high school and so as the upcoming high school visit by the counselor. That is to encourage attendance of our visits in the high school and we havenít seen right attendance by our visits when weíre actually at the high schools.

And then secondly, we send an E-Card to encourage students to sign up for instructional orientation. These E-Cards are sent to students of course who have already been applying and then accepted to the university. We usually wait until we had two or three orientation sections so we kind of catch those students who are fond of waiting and signing up for orientation to kind of increase their interest again in the university and take a look at our orientation program and decided they wonít enroll in classes at Southeast.

And then we also this is a new thing that we just did this year. We decided to not only use these to reach perspective students, future students but to even contact some of our high school guidance counselors because one of the top resources for high school students is their guidance counselor when they are choosing his college or a university to attend to. And so we develop an E-Card this year to invite high school guidance counselors to come on our campus for admissions and financial aid training session.

And in the message as E-Card there was a link to the online registration form for the event. And then lastly we do cards that are just kind of feel good cards kind of like the ones that we have to the public. Of course we send birthday E-Cards, and we send holiday E-Cards, and we send high school graduation E-Cards. The high school graduation E-Cards of course we send to students who have enrolled in classes at Southeast and do intend on attending Southeast in the fall.

Itís kind of our final last E-Card that we send to the students saying, ďCongratulations on your high school graduation! We canít wait to see you in the fall when classes start.Ē Here are some design examples of the E-Cards that we send from admissions. The first one there is my counselor introduction E-Card and that I spoke about just a minute ago that we send with a message with a high school direct link to my web page and all of my bio and contact information and my travel schedule.††††

The second one there is our high school graduation E-Card. Something is really important to us when we design these E-Cards is we use the university photographer one of those because they have high end camera. They have an eye of taking good quality photography so we donít do any of our photographs in the admissions office. Any photographs that are going to go on not only these E-Cards but our website, we use the university photographer because we want quality images. It is something important to us is to use our admissions staff in the images like the high school graduation our admission counselors theyíre throwing at those caps. And again when the high school student get that card they recognize us and the E-Card so again itís just they know whoís in that E-Card they can make a connection with the person in that photograph.

And then the last example there is our first set orientation E-Card that we send out of course to students who didnít sign up for orientation right when they receive the information. This is a reminder that they do need to sign up for orientation to Southeast. Again, they are explained in the message of the E-Card for the registration form to sign for orientation. We get a lot of feedback from the E-Cards that we send to future students. One of the great ways that we get feedback is that each of these E-Cards when they are sent, they are sent directly from their admissions counselor email address. So if a student decides to reply back to the E-Card, theyíre replying directly back to their admissions counselor to answer their questions or get their comments which is really important versus if we send this out from just our generic admission that seem like the email account you would have a student or someone getting those.

So itís great that it goes directly back to the admissions counselor so again the biggest things for us are to continue to build that relationship between the high school student and the admissions counselor. And example of some of the replies that we receive from students the first one there ďOh thank you. Iím very excited about starting in the fall. I canít wait.Ē This is a response from my graduation E-Card that we sent out.

The second one is ďMs. Hahn, thank you for the card it was so cute. This is maybe a birthday or holiday E-Card, remember which one it is. The third one there, ďHi Lisa, are you the admissions counselor taking over Mandy? Thanks for the card. I canít wait to meet you when I come down the rest of the month. This is one of the introduction E-Cards that we sent out and it was a counselor who is new to that territory.

The old admissions counselor had left and the new one was starting in the school, and then you know if we work on students we may see them then first time at Southwest and work with them on their way to their senior. In admissions itís high turnover for admissions counselor so this is a great way to reintroduce if their contact person for the university has changed. In this case, it did change at least weíre trying to go back that relationship with that student that had already been built with the old counselor Mandy. And then lastly thanks a lot for the birthday card I really appreciate it.Ē That was the feedback from the birth day card that we sent out.

Thomas Marrone: Now Iím going to talk about our software a little bit. The software we use is called ďGreeting Card Pro.Ē Thereís nothing fancy about it, it was really cheap. I think only $40 or $50 but it was actually purchased before I arrived and then we just started using it once I started working in Southeast.

How those cards are generated? There is a form you fill out. You can add your own just text message to the card before you send it off. And you can also for the admissions cards for an example in the control panel you can set cards to have default messages in that text area as well if the counselors donít want to retype the same thing over and over again.

But the cards are posted or automatically generated web pages. Those URLs are persistent so that someone gets an email saying, ďYou have a card, hereís the link.Ē And that card will stay up as long as you want to you could set it after a month, two months, six months etcetera. But they can just click on that link and go to the card.

The card is separated by categories. I showed you the Get Well Category before. You have many cards in particular categories youíd like. And emails that people gather are just plain text emails, really quick to download. They donít put up their inbox with images in their outbox.

You donít have to click to download to see anything itís just the link. And you can also set it up I donít know if theyíll put them on the top point but you can set it opposite it. When you send a card you can ask what you want to know when someone has picked up off that card which is kind of handy. The system allows HTML format and emails sent of the category pages that you built in your website.

Audience 2: You say in the JPEG or in a Flash. They did email in the internet for actual email application like that was able to do Microsoft and all that, it happens as a portal...

Thomas Marrone: No. Well, again itís just when you got an email, all you have in email is the link. Then you click on the link and it goes to the persistent URL.

Audience 2: They donít actually open it up in their browser and hit it. †

Thomas Marrone: Right, right it send them to our website which is one of the things where they donít have to download unless they want to. And again that works for all your standard image formats or you can do a Flash.

Lenell Hahn: I do want to jump in there. Our Alumni Office, they are using Thomasís design work, and they also uses with the image embedded in the message of the email but that thereís decision that theyÖ

[Cross-talk]

Thomas Marrone: They just kind of copy the artwork using our separate system. I kind of like the fact that it just gives you a link because it doesnít force you to download it in your inbox especially if youíre on an institutional mail server like a lot of us are. You run out of space in your mailbox pretty quick with people just sending you images and attachments. It does support Midi files if you want. We never use that, I donít think Iíll ever use that. I think those cards are kind of but you could have a fight song or something.

I have to check, I donít know about MP3 files but that might be an option. All the messages that the card sent, all the cards that are sent on persistent URLs you can access from the administrator panel. If you want to get an idea of what people are saying to each other. This data is available for you to view but itís kind of fun. It tracks statistics on what cards you send.

That is pretty self explanatory. Our database that runs on for us runs on Microsoft Sequel Server, and the way our database is setup anyway kind of run out of space after a while we sent so many cards, send some of that stuff. We have to get our IT to fix and delete older cards but right now weíre sending it 6,000 something and thatís after we cleared out since we started till about six months ago. So we sent out a lot of cards and thatís probably the best measure of our success is how often theyíve been used. Yeah.

Audience 3: Have you been able to track what percentages of students are clicking on that link and to go get that card for a while than or just deleting other requests or recognizing.† †

Thomas Marrone: Right. So from the emails that you were asking, no we havenít really been able to track that. Our deans of the admissions counselors if theyíll say because you canít have the program send you a notice when the card has been picked up. I guess that doesnít actually act in until theyíve clicked on the link and gone to the URL. If you have the admissions counselors turn that notification on or not.

Lenell Hahn: We donít turn that notification just because we donít want all of those kick backs into our inbox that the students are picking up the cards. We could though but we choose not to turn that notification on.

Audience 4: Even though students use email these days, is there anyway to hook this up having the link in Facebook or actually having the card in Facebook?

Thomas Marrone: Well yeah, letís talk about that because Iím using of our example of what software we use. The principle of E-Cards, you donít even need to have an E-Card program to set it up. Itís just the idea of having a thing to send out to let people know that youíre thinking of them and is well designed and put together. So if you worry about people not checking their email then you could set something like this off on a Facebook page.

I havenít tried that personally but Iím sure itís a solution that itís pretty easy to figure out. Iím not trying sell Greeting Card Pro. Honestly we tried the software for so long I donít even know if the company still exists. It still works so we still use it but I thought that people might have technical questions about this.

And then these links are just kind of our emails those are all handouts for this presentation in your book.† We do have quite a bit of time. If there are any questions Iíll also go ahead and I pulled up what our admin panel looks like for Greeting Card Pro. Yeah sure.

Audience 5: If you are aware of the click through rate to the cards, I mean when you get some responses back from students who love it. So if youíre unaware of your click through rates, how do you still have buy in to take the time to do that like how is it just often your school?†

Thomas Marrone. Sure. Well, the easiest way to say it is just that with the system I set up it always takes me an hour or two to design one of these cards. So really the investment here we only have five people who like their cards probably worth my time. And the other aspect of this is designing something I like to do and I donít have to do it all that much so they donít mind if I take a detour down and build a new card for admissions. But itís simple and you have an eye of standard format and change names and dates what I want.

Itís a simple product that doesnít take a lot of time to do so even if itís not that successful it still probably worth the small amount of time invested. But I do think that Ė go ahead.

Lenell Hahn: I do, letís say start in the admissions standpoint. At the university we focus on personal occasions. I thought we have a large admission staff and pretty easily we were sending hand written birthday postcards. Each admissions counselor created a postcard so for us itís a postage savings and time saving on the admission staff. So even if we donít know how many of them are opening up and the E-Cards weíve given weíre still making the effort to send that greeting to them whether theyíre opening or not.

Thomas Marrone: So any other questions before we go on?

Audience 6: I can see that there are universities in it. It would be very hard to go, assuming I could get the email of the student. You must have a way to do this better.

Lenell Hahn: We call them of course when we purchase the names we get email addresses and usually we will have email addresses that are not email addresses and we may have multiple email addresses on the student and we also train people for farmering one. Anytime the student inquires with the university we always make sure we get an updated email address or if they visit sometimes fill up an update sheet. And we require an email for students who apply at the university online and so weíre hoping that we do have the most up to date email address. And we always make sure that the one we receive is the card that we sent to you.

And there were some students that had been admitted, they were signing at Southeast email address so for orientation E-Card and high school graduation E-Card are sent to their Southeast email account.

Audience 7: This is one license for the software?

Thomas Marrone: Thatís a good question. I think we just probably. Again, that was something that was handled before I donít have to explain. I see your question is about whether we should have bought it to theÖ

Audience 7: They are still in business?

Thomas Marrone: Oh great. Thanks. All right, well yes.

Audience 7: So youíre the person that handles everything as far as and in charged with the design.

Thomas Marrone: Yeah, I handle the design. We have so many IT that handles back end database management to keep that kind of thing. So I was designing and probably creating categories and stuff like that. Yeah, I do all that.

Audience 8: I'm in admissions. And how do you do it for the alumni?

Thomas Marrone: Well, we do. Our Alumni Foundation does just have whole the artwork and send them out directly in emails so they donít even use this system but they do use the art so send birthdays. Theyíre using a software network manager called ďiModules.Ē Somebody probably heard of it and they use that to get notifications on birthdays and send out emails happy birthdays that sort of thing. Faculty and staff do use it. Actually one of the first E-Cards that were sent whether the administration was the special assistance the president sent an E-Card to his wife so that kind of thing best at use whenever and that obviously spikes whenever you put something on the whole page whenever you do a holiday or something like that.

Audience 9: How do you segregate once available for admissions to send personal mail, etc.

Thomas Marrone: OK sure. We have a number of virtual partition that there are on the same server that IT had put partition also on different admin panel for the admissions cards as opposed to the public cards. So this is the admin panel for public and then admissions counselors log-in. This is the card the public will go to send a card and the admissions counselors just have a different address. Itís just admissions.semo.edu versus this other url.

Lenell Hahn: We have to have a university login to be able to send the admissions one so itís protected.

Thomas Marrone: And obviously we donít send the URL off to anybody but the admissions office. Nobody even knows it.

Audience 10: You send them to your suspects one by one?

Lenell Hahn: Yeah. Different cards we send different ways. If itís the birthday ones we had the admissions counselors send those since they did the handwritten ones and itís still saving them time. You can actually multiple email addresses in the two lines so you can send one and one at a time so that is an option when we send to suspects. If we do multiple to suspects and the recipients saying and then you can put it also on opposite ends, separated and pop it into there.

Thomas Marrone: Is it the way by semicolons. And again this whole page was actually generated by the E-Card program and you can customize how this looks with your font, with your colors on and things like that. We didnít really put that much into it. What Iím thinking about it the fact that you can embed Flash does give me certain options if you have had the resource to record like a video greeting from your admissions counselors say.

And then you could embed a side message in a Flash file with video and they could play it if they wanted to watch that. These are just basic JPEG's and you did have more time and resources than we tried to do with it you could really take it to the next level. And honestly you donít even need to make rectangles. The next ones I make I break the box and do all sorts of things.

So itís a very flexible open files whatever designs you use. You just have to make sure that you have access to someone like a science student or a designer in your institution or cheap freelance work designer who you can contact who will just produce quality work that where theyíre showing to future students. Yeah.

Audience 11: Have you experimented with embedding a Flash screen in there or is that something play with like.

Thomas Marrone: Thatís something to play with if I have a lot of time to spend and honestly I want Flash several years on school and so I have to realigned it recently for action script and stuff like that. So I would like to do that setting up personally I tried in myself.

Audience 12: Is anybody else in the room actually doing E-Cards or something similar to that. Is there anything that you would like to share that youíre doing or doing different or perhaps an E-card thought and yours might compare?

Audience 13: We had E-Cards a number of years ago when we finally re-launch their site and we actually just re-implemented them and we mainly have them as public facing and send it to wherever/ And we just recently just started experimenting with using the card we sent to our family so we were broadcasting them to our alumni. Actually we couldnít convince our alumni office to let us send it to everyone so we got as small segment we started that. We kind of repack our systems so we did it on page, virtually where we made it to the system, it went to the system and we personalized upcoming message.

That other message to went out was longer and this one is just, ďHey, Iím coming next week, isn't that great?" and another page for more. And since it took them to the E-Card application if they want to they could send cards out but eventually you could and E-Card as well. But we did from our stats we thought that thatís a small percentage of people w2ho are a lot more about the program and that the E-Card look throughout the message so itís a start for us. One challenge we have there now is weíre supposed to send all E-Cards and then so thatís kind of for a message figuring out how to use that in the next step.

Audience 14: Yes, Iím Jonathan. Iím from the University of Mexico. In our Facebook page, we borrowed an application, very popular one through the virtual food something like burger or pizza that sort of thing, local flavor. We called an actual in the University of New Mexico virtual application and then bobble heads, and hats, mugs instead of University of New Mexico. It's insanely popular. Everybody has been in the application and sort of getting stuff. One more popular item is part of a football team, the Yankees a antidoll that in campus with a friend who is in a rival college. Theyíre also a very good friend and itís pretty nice.

Thomas Marrone: And youíre at the University of New Mexico?

Audience 14: Right.

Thomas Marrone: Very good. Yes.

Audience 15: You did each program there were different E-Cards for the last three or four years as the time you raise your tool sending off to Alumni and various publications people who didnít know, people who go back in resource. At first we were tracking results and we always have the biggest drawback for us to pull that email and not sending out the right way in relation to lots of people to make that effort to click through as well. Mostly done and not shown. You actually have to click to the sorority for example, where that's from. It's my recommendation to put stats and analyze it very carefully before you invest on it.

Host: I think thatís good comment as well thatís why I want to bring up because I think you guys have a good idea of options. We tried something with our capital companion to our folks to do it. And you would actually click through to a very nice with Flash and video pieceÖ

[Cross-talk]

And youíre looking for a 100,000. So I think you all have done that in a nice variety and especially time it into enrolment which I was thinking is a good thing too. With that that kind of wraps up probably our morning on marketing and managing track.

If you see mostly enrolment kind of focus we make a change for the afternoon and talk about a variety of other things. In fact just a layout for you, we have still a couple of minutes before lunch so just to kind of reach you along the way, 11:30 to 12:30 is lunch right next to work so itís easy enough. Then one floor down at 12:45 to 1:45 is Jeffrey Vin of Google who will be with us. Heís going to share some information.

I think that would be really good. For those of you who are sticking with the track we want you all back right here at 2:00. I think itís going to be a great session. We have six web directors from different schools around our country who are going to talk about some of the things that are happening on their campuses as it relates to management and marketing. Some of their initiatives and whatnot as well as this is a great question and answer topic session whereas the audience to write down questions, topics that they want to have each panels to address about things that are happening on their college campuses.

I think it will be actually a really, really neat session. Well, I want to thank Thomas and Lenell. This is great this is really a good stuff. So thank you all very much.

[Applause]

Announcer: For more presentations from the 2008 HighEdWeb Conference visit HighEdWeb.org/2008 or sign up for our podcast and feed at HighEdWeb.org/podcast.xml

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