Have you looked around your college or university campus recently? As you observe your institution’s students, notice how many have a cell phone in hand. How many are texting while walking (or attempting to walk)? How many are talking on or playing music from their smartphone? What would be easier to count is how many aren’t.
When it comes to student engagement, there is an effective way to get an important message in front of a lot of students, and it doesn’t involve a loudspeaker. It’s via their mobile phone. SMS messaging, or texting, reaches students anywhere they are, because you can guarantee wherever that is, their cell phone is there too.
The Data Around SMS Messaging
Recent data shows the open rate for text messages is 98%. Furthermore, 9 out of 10 texts are read within 3 minutes of being sent. What would you say to your students if you knew nearly every single one of them would read it within minutes of you hitting Send? [Tweet “Text message open rate is 98%, and 9/10 texts are read within 3 minutes of being sent.”]
Email lags significantly behind texts with an open rate of only 22%. Think about it: It’s pretty easy to hit the trash can button in an email inbox and throw away all the news and updates from a college. But ignoring that little new text message envelope in the notifications? That’s nearly impossible for your Millennial students.
SMS Messaging on Higher Ed Campuses
There are many ways to use text messaging to drive action from students. First, think of the different types of messages to be sent:
- Reminders – Help students stay ahead of important dates, like FAFSA submission date or dorm check out.
- Safety Alerts – Send mass safety alerts for weather or other issues students should be aware of.
- Important Announcements – Did a water pipe burst under the street leading into your school? Alert students to delays.
- Waiting Queues – Use a program like Qless to allow students to virtually check in to a line and then notify them when it’s almost their turn (great for financial aid or packed class counselor offices).
- Get Creative – There are many ways each department on campus could use notifications to reach students about critical, time sensitive or exciting information.
This infographic by Citrix details how to transform the challenges of a mobile campus into new opportunities for learning. 76% of college students own a smartphone, and 58% of students own three or more mobile devices. While the infographic relates to mobile learning, the concept is the same: reach your students on their mobile devices, where they are paying attention.
Effective Ways to Use SMS Messaging
New forms of communication are always incredibly effective at first. Email marketing was once the wave of the future. Now it’s just expected. If I buy a product online, I know I’m going to get signed up for that company’s mailing list and be marketed to until the end of eternity, or at least until I unsubscribe.
SMS is the new shiny way of communicating. But there are already some rules in place that will help you use it effectively and not become a burden on your students. Here are our 5 best tips for mobile communications with students.
Students must have opted in to receive text message alerts from you at some point. Pulling a list of all student account phone numbers and mass messaging them is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Our product, StudentVerification, is text message notification capable so that financial aid officers can update students about their verification process. However, only students who opt in to this form of communication will receive texts, instead of or in addition to emails. At some point, students must have agreed to – or not opted out of – text message notifications for your program to be most successful.
Keep it Short and Simple
You must keep your text message notifications to less than 160 characters. This keeps them from being broken up into multiple texts – a big no-no. In fact, 160 characters is the limit, but you should shoot for less than 100. Sound impossible?[Tweet “When I joined Twitter, I thought a 140 character message was impossible. Now it’s easy.”]
Be sure to let recipients know who the text is coming from. Don’t assume students will recognize the number. For example, Arizona State University might say, “ASU Financial Aid friendly reminder: the 2015 FAFSA deadline is June 30. Submit yours before then.”
Prepare for the Response
Our clients have reported an overwhelmingly high number of students who respond quickly to StudentVerification SMS notifications or prompts. Thus, if you send out a message asking for a response or eliciting an action, be prepared to field students’ actions. If a student’s quick response isn’t handled well the first time, they’re unlikely to pay attention to what you have to say after that.
Direct Students to Your Site
When applicable, direct students to your website with a call to action (CTA), such as “Football tailgate tickets on sale now. Buy yours at ouruniversity.com/tailgate before they’re sold out.” This is a great work around for the character limit. You can use a short, catchy CTA to get students’ attention and direct them to an informational page on your school or department site.