Seven smart text messaging strategies for schools

Posted by Brian Ruhlmann on July 12, 2016
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Over the past few years, more and more schools are transitioning to include texting as one of their primary communication channels to reach and engage prospective and current students. It’s easy to see why 75 percent of millennials prefer texting over talking. If your school executes calling campaigns, you have no doubt realized that students prefer to respond on their own schedule, rarely answer phone calls from numbers not saved in their contact list, and may not even have a voice mailbox set up!

Millennials prefer texting over any other channel because it is less invasive, more personal, and makes them feel valued, according to a study conducted by OpenMarket. However, this post isn’t meant to convince schools to start texting their students. Instead, I want to dig in deeper to share some tips on the best ways to text students to optimize engagement. Here are seven do’s and don’ts for schools:

Do use personalization tokens and respect your students’ wishes.

It may be more convenient for your staff to send blanket mass text messages, but including personalization tokens -- like their first name, hometown, grade, etc. -- will create trust. At the same time, it’s important to understand that some students may not want to text with their school, and that’s OK. Be sure to include a clear, easy way for students to opt out of messages.

Don’t spam students with information that might not be relevant to them.

Know your audience and only send messages that are relevant to particular students or subsets of students. You can properly segment your audience by making sure your messaging platform is integrated with your CRM and/or keeping your CSV files up to date. When your information systems are up to date and synced with your outreach strategy, you can engage the pertinent group of students -- e.g., students who are missing important information, or should be notified of an event specific to a major, or would benefit by finding out about a scholarship opportunity for which they’re qualified. The danger inherent in spamming students with irrelevant messages is that you can quickly and irreversibly change their opinion that texting is a natural way to help them stay on track throughout their college experience.

Do be proactive and helpful.

In the process of applying, gaining admission, and enrolling in school, students face a long list of tasks that need to be completed. Students and parents alike hate having to scramble to handle forgotten or overlooked steps at the last minute, and schools certainly wish everyone could complete these tasks well before the deadline. Most of these action items -- e.g., completing the FAFSA, accepting an offer of admission, submitting a tuition deposit, registering for classes -- happen with each incoming class. It’s important for schools to be proactive in reaching out early in the process so that students know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done -- and to give them the support and enough time to do it. If you are finding that with two way messaging you are being more reactive than proactive check out how you can stay on top of communications by seeing a demo.

Chatbot text message conversation with student asking about tuition

Chatbot technology delivers two-way conversations and 24/7 on-demand assistance.

Don’t take a long time to reply to messages.

When a student responds to a text, they expect to get a response right back. This can be easy to do when it’s only a few students you are texting, but it becomes a lot harder when you are texting hundreds or thousands of students. Another factor that doesn’t make it any easier is that millennials tend to be most active with text messaging outside of business hours. In a research study conducted by the University of Nebraska on giving students 24/7 academic support, they found that 88.8 percent of messages from students came between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. If you can’t reply instantly, you should give students a general idea of how long they should expect to wait. Alternatively, you can use chatbot technology so that students can get instant replies and have 24/7 access to helpful resources. I’ll circle back to discuss chatbots more in depth again later ...

Do make your messages straight to the point and action-oriented.

A big part of the appeal of texting is that messages are generally straight to the point and less formal than letters or emails. Because people aren’t expecting a long-winded treatise via text, it is important to distill your text into a short, clear communique and make the message action-oriented. If you want to gather information from a student, be sure to end the text in a question mark to elicit a response.

Don’t rely on your brain to text students.

A lot of schools want to be texting every student they have. In order to do so effectively, it is imperative to set up an organized system to make sure that you welcome and introduce yourself to each student. And it’s equally important, if not more important, to have a repeatable process to quickly reply to each student message. While that might mean having a number of staff on hand at all hours to respond to students’ texts, there’s a much more efficient solution.

Do use a chatbot to text with your students.

Chatbots are revolutionizing the way schools are communicating with students. Chatbots conduct personalized, two-way conversations instantly, leverage artificial intelligence to continuously learn how to better communicate with students, and encourage students to have deeper conversations with relevant staff members who won’t be consumed by having to text back the same or similar answers over and over again. Georgia State University is taking advantage of AdmitHub’s technology through their custom chatbot “Pounce,” who engages thousands of students in SMS conversations simultaneously. Pounce isn’t designed to replace GSU staff, but rather to free them up to make real personal connections with students. Less than 1 percent of messages require the attention of GSU staff, and these conversations are the ones that require a human touch and help build meaningful relationships with students.

If you are looking to begin texting with your students, or want to learn how to scale your current texting capabilities and free up your staff’s valuable time, sign up for a demonstration below.

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Topics: chatbot, colleges, chatbots, messaging, texting