Most colleges and universities have tapped into short message service (SMS) text messaging as a means to reach students. Somewhat shockingly, however, they’re still leaving valuable communication opportunities on the table.
There’s a popular saying in marketing (and life): Meet people where they are. When it comes to college and university students, “where they are” is often on their cell phones. A 2014 cell phone usage study from Baylor University found that college students spend an average of 94.6 minutes a day texting. And while most of that time is likely spent communicating with friends and family, colleges and universities are now racking up texting minutes, too, with notable outcomes.
According to texting survey results published in the ebook Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College, 86 percent of participating students reported that text messages prompted them to complete a task they hadn’t done, and 84 percent found text reminders useful in helping them check items off their to-do lists in preparation for college.
We know texting is a preferred method of communication for many typical college-aged students. So, when considering communication plans, it only makes sense to pump up your texting game in departments that you might have overlooked previously.
Consider leaning into SMS usage to meet your students where they are while communicating with these quick, efficient messages that produce fast results.
Here are just some of many possible campaign ideas:
- Student housing: Student housing property managers should be utilizing text messages for a number of types of communication. Texting can alert student residents of: closings and maintenance issues, safety alerts, calendar and event updates, or leasing deadlines and discounts for the upcoming year. Texting can also invigorate the social aspect of student living by sharing campus or resident hall-specific event information.
- Class information: Class registration periods are vital to university success. Utilizing text messages to ensure students know when sign-up begins, if class availability is running low, and when deadlines occur are ways to ensure students are on track for a successful semester.
- Financial information: The financial offices of colleges and universities should consider sending text messages to inform students (or parents, when applicable) about upcoming deadlines related to financial aid forms, tuition increases or tuition due dates. Consider making specific outreach lists for each type of message, so, for example, someone who is set to graduate doesn’t receive an irrelevant text about upcoming tuition increases. Most SMS service providers make it easy to create and implement these kinds of targeted lists.
- Appointment reminders: If students have a meeting with an advisor, dean, or clinic, sending reminders via text is a great way to avoid a no-show.
- Recruiting efforts: Many universities and colleges are now adding text messages into their recruitment strategy, some with truly impressive results. Remember, federal communications laws prohibit sending text messages to people who are not subscribed, so consider adding text opt-in options for pre-college students on pamphlets, the website and other marketing materials.
- Security purposes: Universities and colleges house an enormous amount of personal, valuable data about their students, staff and more. Two-factor authentication codes sent via text can protect that sensitive information. Consider adding this kind of authentication with lost passwords or login information for classwork, financial aid, and more.
- Emergency alerts: While many universities have adopted text message strategies in times of emergency, looking ahead to the new year is a good opportunity to check in on those strategies to make sure they will be as effective as possible. Consider sending alerts not just for security issues, but also for inclement weather.
- Promoting merchandise: College bookstores can target students who have shopped with them before via text with information on ordering books, back-in-stock alerts, or sales. For example, they could start a “deal of the week” message promoting spirit wear a few days before every home football game.
Make sure to be cognizant of how many text messages are being sent daily and weekly. While university students historically appreciate and respond positively to receiving texts from universities, avoid information overload, and the potential opt-out that may come with it. Send only texts that are relevant to the student, during waking hours in their particular time zone and with a very intentional purpose. Analyze texting results to see what delivers desired results. If you notice several opt-outs after a particular type of message, send those less frequently or tweak the list so only the most pertinent people are receiving the message.
Text messages offer universities an immediate opportunity for communications success. After all, Gartner research indicates SMS can tout an astonishing 98 percent open rate compared to around 20 percent for email. Keep in mind, texting doesn’t have to be just one-way communication either. While emails achieve a 6 percent average response rate, text message response rates are around 45 percent.
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