Are E-Greetings REALLY Worth It?

By Director of Web Marketing

As I replied to you over Twitter when you mentioned the topic, don’t you think that holiday cards are like hand shakes (or milkshakes if there’s snow involved ;-) ? Kind of like social media, right?

I’ve seen really good creative holidays videos - true, not all are great - but if you can do it right, why wouldn’t you?
Just because, it’s the holidays?

Merry Christmas, Mr. Grinch ;0)

  • Says:

    But I shake people’s hands when I am formally introduced to them. I’m making a personal impression. I want to engage them (for reals, yo). The way schools use e-cards is not personal, it’s borderline spammy, especially since this isn’t an introduction, it’s just one more email they get from us in the course of a year.

    I would absolutely say, if you can do it well, then do. The equation does have a solution, several in fact, but I don’t believe many schools have what it takes to actually do it correctly (as Ms. Lomas mentioned, make it seriously good, or seriously funny). For every good holiday blast you show me, I’ll pull up ten that are just awful. Their audience would be better served other ways.

    At least, that’s my position. I am open to being proven wrong here, but I have yet to see any stats that show either way.

  • Says:

    I don’t think we disagree that much, Michael.

    Well, especially you can get a lot from a hand shake (including the flu ;-)

    I’m not sure higher ed is ready for data-driven decisions, anyway. Just getting the data for 12 metrics per month for the benchmarking survey seems to be a tour-de-force.

    And, that’s not because people don’t care about benchmarking data. My report about the state of print and electronic publications in higher ed was downloaded more than 2,000 times since I made it public yesterday.

    Have a cookie and relax. I’m off for a breakfast with Santa (not kidding)

    • Says:

      Tell him I’m coming for him in his sleep…

  • Says:

    You were so nice and didn’t even mention that people use the old classic Ashland ecard from 5 years ago to rickroll one another every year. =)

    • Says:

      You know I would never, EVER, bring up this card from 2005.

      • Says:

        well I just got forwarded this from an old coworker.

        Subject: Merry Christmas to all …..

        Ashland College in Ohio always does a beautiful Christmas card and this year they have done another one. This should get you into the Christmas Spirit. Make sure you have your speakers on and enjoy.

        Just thought I’d add to the merryment. giggle

  • Says:

    First off - I really enjoyed the post. I’ve been thinking of some similar things in the past few days, so your comments helped me to process my thoughts on this a little better.

    That said - here’s my two cents. For the most part, your point of view is that if there is not some measurable response from getting the e-card, it is not worth it - which is a perfectly legitimate viewpoint. It makes sense…why would we spend our time doing something that doesn’t have any sort of measurable return? And a certain part of me agrees with that.

    But at the same time, universities spend time doing plenty of other things that no one will ever really consider measuring that still do provide benefit. For example, our campus has a fair amount of holiday activities - things like our “Lighting of the Quad” (a student oriented event at which the Christmas lights are “officially” turned on), the “Festival of Lights” (a musical performance which has become quite a tradition not just for our school, but for our community as well), among other things. I think we all have events and efforts at other times of the year that are similar in nature. No one really measures the return of these events (I’m not sure you even really could), but I think it’s safe to say that they provide reasonable benefit for the school. It brings a certain level of excitement and, for lack of a better phrase, “boosts the morale” of the student body, alumni, and the community.

    I think holiday e-cards fall in the same category. Sure, we track the stats on our e-mail opens and views of our card, but the point of it is not really a hidden agenda of asking for money or something like that. I’d say that our main goal is to put our school in a good light and help people to think positively of what we stand for and what we do. We had several responses on Twitter of people responding with things like “Such a classy school. I love some MC”, “Awesome job on the Christmas Greeting! Loved it”, and “My alma mater (@MissCollege) did a wonderful job on its Christmas greeting.” And I think that is the goal. It helps to install pride in alumni. And while there may not be any measurable benefit of that, who knows what that effect that may have in the future.

    Well..that was long. For those still reading - here’s our card: (look ma, no Flash!). We did something a little different by providing mp3′s of the aforementioned Festival of Lights performance as well as desktop backgrounds of last year’s big snow (happens about once every 5 years for us Mississippians).

  • Says:

    Thanks for starting this, Michael. I agree with your four arguments above, and will be interested to see what experience others have had this year.

    Despite my rantings of the last couple weeks, I am actually not entirely *anti* holiday e-card. I think as long as they are either fun or show something very specifically cool about your university (generic=blech!) then they can provide a 7-second warm-and-fuzzy for the recipient.

    The one we ended up doing is fine as these things go. But the process to get us there was torturous. Concepts were scrapped at the last minute, video re-shot, audio re-recorded, rounds of approvals and re-approvals …

    I’ll have some more concrete stats I can share next week, but for now may I humbly submit the following proposed e-card development process:

    1 - Gather the creative people in your office and have them brainstorm lots of concepts for an e-card. That’s how fun/cool ideas happen. Narrow the ideas down and start to focus on what it would take to pull them off.

    2 - Empower this group to present the best two or three concepts *to the client.* If the client is the dean, then talk to the dean! Not the dean’s staff or assistant.

    3 - Everyone should leave that meeting in agreement as to what the e-card will be, or a directive to go back to the drawing board.

    4 - Let the creative people go off and create the first rough of the e-card, then present it to the client for notes. “That transition doesn’t really work. We need more footage of that one kid in the library.” That kind of stuff. This is the *one* opportunity to make major revisions.

    5 - Make the changes based on the notes and feedback, and present the card to the client again for one last (and I mean, last) opportunity the make minor (and I mean, minor) fixes.

    6 - When the dean has a “better” idea at the 11th hour, scramble to pull something out of your left ear anyway. :-(

    Actually, re-reading this, that sounds like a good process for any design project. But watch out for that last step - it’s a doozy.

  • Says:

    Even a non-electronic holiday greeting can suck. To wit:

    I hold in my hands (or did before I started typing this) a postcard, the front of which presents an old-fashioned, pen-and-ink drawing of some stately building. The drawing is black and white with one exception: a dab of holiday color (a green and red holiday wreath) above the doorway. This building does not look familiar to me. It could be from a college campus. It could be someone’s home. I have no idea.

    Turning the card over, I read a Charles Dickens quote: “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” That is followed with a paragraph calling the Dickens quote “a humbling reminder of the power of your own face and voice in influencing others.” The card closes with a typical holiday greeting from the company, which happens to specialize in strategic communications.

    There are several things wrong with this greeting card, but I’ll just point out three:

    1. I had no idea who the sender was or why I should care.

    2. The quote talks about how important “the face of someone” is — yet the postcard’s cover depicts a building, not a face.

    3. This from a strategic communications consulting firm? How do they stay in business?

    I use this illustration to point out that even paid professionals outside of higher education communicate poorly during the holidays — in many forms of media. We’ve been missing the mark for years. Only now we can do it so much more efficiently and to so many more victims.

  • Says:

    A really interesting blog post, thanks Michael.

    Working in the online communications team at the University of Warwick in the UK, the Christmas greeting is something of a challenge each year. Just last year, we tried an online Christmas greeting for the first time as an alternative to sending out hundreds of printed Christmas cards.

    Rather than the standard “e-card” (which, let’s face it, is usually a pretty unimaginative wintery image of the campus with some festive music in the background and a nice message from the Vice-Chancellor/President) we chose something more interactive to try and communicate some of the key stories/messages from the year at Warwick. We used an advent calendar format, where each day, users opened a new window to find out something new about the University and in many cases received some sort of “gift” whether it was a winter recipe from our chefs, a music download from our resident string-quartet or a competition to win some books by our academics. The feedback we received was great, and whilst the stats showed that the webpage received a lot of hits at the start of advent but less as the month progressed, the number of visitors over the whole period was significant.

    This year we adapted the idea to allow users to explore the content in one visit rather than relying on them to return each day. You can visit this year’s “Christmas campus scene” here

    We see the online Christmas greeting as a novel way to communicate the University’s achievements throughout the year, and I hope that the unusual format of the content makes it more enjoyable for people to discover more about the University (a few hidden gifts/competitions are another incentive for visitors to explore the content!). I realise this chimes with your comment that “in a way, university holiday e-greetings…are sort of like those letters people send you at the end of the year that tell you how their root canal went and that little Susie is no longer wetting the bed. If we were really your friend, if we were close with you, we’d already know and care about such things” which I agree is true, but the point is you still read those letters and at the end, you know more about the sender than you did before (although that might not always be a good thing!) :)

    Admittedly there is more that we could be doing to measure the impact of these communications but from the anecdotal evidence we have received through feedback, I am pretty sure we will be coming up with another novel way of communicating the University’s achievements throughout the year through our online Christmas greeting, building on the feedback and lessons learnt from this year’s creation!

    I guess my final point would just be, if you’re not going to do some sort of online Christmas greeting - what’s the alternative? Sure, you could just send a written message by email to your key stakeholders (or the vice-Chancellors closest contacts) but are they more or less likely to read that (and pass it on) than they are an interactive-greeting? You could go back to real Christmas cards, but do they have the same potential as online messages in terms of who they reach and the level of information they communicate? Or you could do nothing, but where’s the festive cheer? :)

    I will be bookmarking this post ready for Novemberso thanks for using it to share some ideas and lessons!

    Hope you have a great Christmas!

  • Says:

    Hallelujah! (so to speak)

    I’m no Scrooge but I delete all the e-greetings I get from various organizations unless they promise me something more. That is, if they appear to be actual communication, not just a gesture.

    All the things people said in the comments about creating good communication tools are true year round, not just when they’re bringing Yuletide greetings. So why waste the creative content in the deluge of things they’re getting from all directions in one particular month?

    We took our campus “holiday card” in a different direction. It isn’t mailed out to arrive at Christmas, for one thing. It comes out in early/mid January as a year in review/looking ahead annual update-more of a new Year’s card although the text is pretty soft on the New Year’s theme. This year it will also serve as an invitation to a special event to be held in February.

    We mail the physical card to part of the list, email to the rest. We don’t measure ROI as you’re suggesting since it’s not a fundraising appeal, but we do look at the email open rate (which we wish was higher, admittedly).

    We believe (but no, can’t measure) that the content has pass-along value. No one would ever pass along a Christmas greeting, but a news summary? A lot more feasible to think that it has a wider potential reach. We also post it as an article in our monthly internal e-newsletter. (I’d post a link but working on this note has led me to the discovery that our site appears to be down so I need to wrap this up & figure out the problem!)


  • Says:

    We tried something a little different last year, and it really took off this year. In the (fairly standard) e-greeting, we also included a link to a site where the recipients could send their own greetings to *us*. Made for a nice two-way communication, instead of just a blast, and we got quite a warm feeling, if nothing else.

  • Says:

    I completely understand the over selling e-greetings. They are annoying and serve miss the point completely.

    Shameless plug: last Tuesday we sent out our Dec Brand Bounce with the top article talking about the exact same subject. See (top article titled Usable News: Deck the brand!

    Enjoy the holidays!