Chapter Building Strategy 5: Effective External Communication

Don’t you hate getting a mass text and an email from two different sources about the same event, but one says it is at 6 PM and another says 7 PM? Or getting a thread of messages re-correcting itself from prior mistakes? Yeah, so do students.

Developing an effective communication structure is vital to the successful organization of your YAL chapter. Networks of communication must be in place for leadership, members, and the community you intend to reach. The modes used must be clearly defined and used consistently to avoid confusion and eliminate redundancy.

Separate your networks into two modes:  internal and external communication. Internal communication is to be used between leadership and other key members. External communication is to be used for reaching the general membership and for promoting the chapter.

Setting up an Email Account

You likely have several options for setting up an email service. Your school may provide you with access to a simple “list serv” service to contact other students, however, the existence of additional tools and applications may be limited with such a service.

Many YAL chapters have found Google’s Gmail useful and easy for internal and external communication. Although there are many webmail services available, the functionality and broad accessibility of Gmail make it very useful for communicating with large groups of people as well as person-to-person internal communication. Gmail also allows easy access to other incredibly helpful features such as digital document storage in Google Docs and access to Google Calendar which can be used to plan and remind members of events. A Gmail account also allows you to quickly setup access to other online services such as YouTube and Picasa.

Gmail is useful because it allows you to create multiple contact lists that make it simple to address your emails to specific groups of people. Organize contact lists based on the type of involvement of the contact. For example, have lists such as YAL Chapter, Leadership, Media Contacts, School Contacts, as well as lists for members in specific sub-groups (e.g. Ron Paul Petition Gatherers, Book Club, etc.).  When registering for the account, select an account name that will be most descriptive to your chapter, but short enough that it can be remembered and placed noticeably on your literature (i.e. AcmeSouthYAL@gmail.com).

External Communication

External communication refers to your communication with your entire contact list and with the public at large. These are mass emails that inform members of meetings, chapter-wide activism events, and general information. However, your contacts lists may also include persons who may only be moderately interested in your chapter or may be just “watching,” so more care should be taken when releasing information through this outlet than would otherwise be necessary for internal communication.

In general, attention should also be given to how your mass emails and other forms of public communication are presented aesthetically and how often they are sent out. You do not want to be sending follow-up emails correcting information that was not thoroughly reviewed and edited before being mailed.

Use the following tips when utilizing external communication via email: 

  • When sending mass emails, always “blind carbon copy” (BCC) the entire list of names/emails. First, people may not want their email sent and viewable to others that they don’t know, including people on the list who may be “spying” on your chapter. Second, and more importantly, this saves tons of space when the email is displayed, especially when viewed on a mobile device.
  • Attempt to include a bulleted summary of the content at the beginning of the message, especially if your email includes a lot of information. People will be more inclined to read further down if they see something that catches their eye in the beginning. 
  • Use an automatic signature that can be added within the settings of your account. You can tailor this however you like, including liberty quotes, reminders about ongoing events, a link to join your Facebook group, the personal contact info for the officers, etc.
  • Include an “opt out” message at the end of your email and programmed within your automatic signature. For example, “P.S. If you have been added to our list in error, or you no longer wish to receive emails from Acme University YAL, please let us know. We hate spam too.” The fact is that if people don’t want to be on your email list (they likely receive too many messages or were mistakenly added to the list), they won’t be involved in your chapter anyway. This is just a standard courtesy that shows you respect people’s wish not to be spammed. Note that email management services such as Mail Chimp will automatically allow recipients to unsubscribe themselves.

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