group of college students with their cellphones

SMS Marketing for Universities: Your Key to Reaching a New Generation

It’s no secret that millennials are pretty fond of their smartphones. One need only to have a look around at young people walking down the street or sitting at a restaurant to notice that phones play a prominent role in their daily lives. SMS marketing for universities provides an ideal opportunity to reach students (and alumni) where they are.

Phones these days have apps that help users take care of everything from payments, to getting a ride, to arranging deliveries, to stalking friends’ (and strangers’) social lives, and more. Oh, and somewhere in there is the communication aspect. 

Phones aren’t just for calls anymore – in fact, the millennial generation reports sending “a lot” of texts each and every day. Coupled with their aversion to phone calls, you’d better write to them if you want to get your point across.

If you’re in higher education, you likely have a lot you’d like to say to prospective and enrolled students. If you want to truly make a connection, you have to keep up with the times. SMS marketing for universities is the most effective way to ensure you get through to them.

What is SMS Marketing for Universities?

Before we begin to dive into SMS marketing for universities, let’s get clear about what the world of SMS marketing entails. In an era where 84% of people say they couldn’t go a day without their phones, the power of connecting with customers is at your fingertips.

SMS marketing is a direct line of communication between customers – whether established or prospective – and your brand. Often sent out en masse, these text messages are a means of sending offers, updates, and reminders to a set of contacts.

You send text messages via a text messaging platform, allowing you to distribute messages to subscribers. The important aspect is the subscription. Legally, you cannot send marketing messages until your audience “opts-in.” Add a call to action (CTA) to your email marketing campaigns, share social media posts with a link to enroll, and find other creative and easy ways to entice subscribers.

Once your audience subscribes, you can send promotions to encourage engagement, purchases, or enrollment in activities with your school. Below we’ll look at some specific ways that SMS marketing for universities can benefit institutions and students alike.

Related: How Colleges Use Texting to Increase Student Enrollment and Improve Retention

Higher Education Approaches to SMS Marketing

Incorporating text communications into your marketing strategy is crucial, but where do you begin? SMS marketing not only supports your marketing approaches but supplements your efforts for recruitment by communicating in a direct way. 

In addition to promotions and enrollments, you can use text messages to remind prospective students of recruitment appointments and special events. There are a number of other ways you can engage your prospective and current students through SMS marketing for universities:

Send Event Invites

Whether you’re sharing upcoming events with current students on campus or have open events you’d like to invite a broader audience to, SMS is your ticket to… well, their ticket. Easily send messages to your subscribers to invite them to your campus or online events, encouraging easy participation.

Share Your Content

In order to bring a well-rounded content marketing strategy, make sure you include SMS outreach. You can use text-based content marketing to cultivate future students by sending out text messages with information and free offers. If you have eBooks or videos you’d like to share, send them with an enticing caption.

Up Your Conversion Rate

Once prospective students sign up to receive messages, you can send them polite nudges for appointments. Send out friendly texts encouraging them to set up appointments with recruitment officers. This will help you stay front-of-mind with students who are considering calling your campus home and will give them an easy avenue for booking their appointments.

Provide Useful Reminders

Once you’ve booked appointments, text messages are a great way to send reminders to ensure they show up. You can send texts to prospective students about their appointment times, where to go, and anything they need to bring. You can also use text with your currently enrolled students about important engagements. Consider how much easier it would be to queue up texts with payment deadlines, homework due dates, and more.

Encourage Contest Participation

Contests are a great excuse for communication. Of course, you should make sure they’re valuable and relevant to your audience and your school. Try leveraging contests to encourage survey participation. This is a great way to gather more information from students about their experience, and the potential for a reward for completed surveys will go a lot further than posting on notice boards around campus.

Send Timely Emergency Alerts

Whether they’re in the same town or across the country, a majority of your students are likely living far from home. It may even be their first time in a chapter of life outside of the “nest.” Campus emergency alerts are not only great for updating students about important information, but you could use this SMS approach to share with their families as well. Weather events, natural disasters, security issues, pandemics (let’s hope these will be a thing of the past soon!), and other urgent messages are best sent via text.

Related: Alert Notification Best Practices

How to Get Started with SMS Marketing

Now that you see the variety of approaches you can take to text messages, how do you get started? We’ll cover some of the more practical bits to ensure you can execute your creative and thoughtful marketing strategy to its fullest potential.

Understand Short Codes

SMS marketing for universities all originates from your own unique number, similar in the way your personal text messages work. What’s different, however, is the length of the number you’re sending from.

This entire article could cover off the ins and outs of SMS short codes, but let’s keep it brief. Short codes are five- or six-digit “phone numbers” that appear as the sender of the text messages you distribute. You can choose a random, dedicated code or a vanity code – a unique one you create based on your school, often spelling a word on the keypad for easy recollection.

Once upon a time, brands would share a short code to distribute costs. Shared short codes created a lot of confusion as it was difficult for recipients to opt out of the single service they weren’t interested in hearing from, without potentially opting out of the ones they wanted. Carriers finally got rid of them because they were too “spammy” and uncontrollable.

Dedicated short code programs offer a platform to distribute mass messages from your dedicated short code. You can use short codes for opt-ins and sign-ups (“Text VISIT to 123456 to schedule your campus tour”). They’re also a great originator for the above marketing approaches we covered, allowing you to send bulk messages to your subscribers.

Gather Consent

It may be tempting to go through your contact lists and begin sending messages to all of the phone numbers you have on file. We have one important thing to say: that’s not how you do it.

You want to start off on the right foot by ensuring your recipients are open to getting messages from you. But that’s not all. There’s someone else who also wants this – the government. That’s why they’ve made it compulsory for your contacts to opt-in for your service.

You can add this to your marketing strategy, and get the word out about the benefits of your SMS service via email, social posts, and on-campus activities. If you have print materials you distribute, add a noticeable section with your short code and an indication of why someone would like to sign up to hear from you via text.

Decide on Your Message Strategy

It likely goes without saying that sending messages from your university isn’t like sending them to your friends. You want to be short, to the point, and initiate some sort of action, be it signing up, showing up, or following up.

Send practical messages, but don’t bombard your subscribers. Relevant messages help you stay front-of-mind without being a nuisance. 

With CRM integration, you can create automated messages. For example, you may wish to send a confirmation text when someone completes an inquiry form or an online scheduling request. If you’re organized with segmenting your audience in your CRM, you can personalize your communications based on these segments. For example, you may have a specific message you’d like to send to prospective students who live out of state.

A cohesive strategy is effectCoordinating your text and email strategies help you get your message out. If you’re promoting events in emails, send shorter, less-frequent texts to reinforce this messaging. Remember, an effective approach to SMS marketing for universities shouldn’t be as frequent as email campaigns. 

SMS Marketing Can Build Your Relationships

Organizations and customers alike see the value in receiving SMS messages for information sharing. With poignant, relevant messages, you’ll reach your customers directly with a more personal touch. Supplementing your existing marketing strategy with SMS helps ensure your message reaches your audience swiftly and builds value.

Platforms such as TrueDialog will help you effortlessly create effective messages and deliver them to your audience. 


Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team