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Guide to Higher Ed Texting for Prospective Students, Existing Students, and Alumni Engagement

Importance of Higher Ed Texting as an Engaging Communication Channel

You may be used to emails and student portal messaging, but did you know that text messaging can be your school’s ally when engaging higher ed audiences? It’s challenging to keep up with the snail mail, messages get lost in emails, many students aren’t regularly checking their portals, and notices get missed on campus bulletin boards, especially as classes move online or in hybrid mode. Texting current and prospective students, as well as alumni, can be an excellent and cost-effective way to keep them updated and committed to your school.

Across most demographics, people read texts. Texts are the most practical way to reach students, alumni, faculty, and relatives because the majority of us have our phones with us at all times. Here are some stats to consider:

  • In spite of the fact that most smartphone users (98%) send texts regularly, less than a quarter of businesses send them to their clients.

  • The likelihood of customers reading and responding to a text message is higher than when communicating via email.

  • An SMS message can be opened up to 98% of the time.

  • Text messages provide businesses with a faster, more efficient way to communicate with their customers.

There are several creative ways you can use texting with higher ed audiences. Below are some innovative uses to ensure you are effective in your text communications. If you are aware of a few elements and best practices, then you’ll be able to reach more people, have more engaging conversations, and see better results.

Creative Uses for Higher Ed Texting

The following are a few ways you can use text messages for students and other higher ed audiences. It is crucial to have well-defined recipients’ profiles before this step. In this way, you will ensure the messages in each use are addressed correctly.

1) Enrollment

You can significantly enhance the enrollment process by using text messaging. You can send important information, upcoming deadlines, and next steps to prospective students via text message.

You can also send text messages to prospective students about campus events. Sharing and receiving documents can be as easy as texting login credentials to online portals. With text messaging, you will be able to engage with your soon-to-be students in real-time, adding value to their experience and building your credibility in the process.

2) Reminders

Sending SMS reminders is another valuable and practical use for text messages. As an example, this helps prospective and current students stay organized and ensure they meet deadlines, such as with financial aid and class registration. Time is crucial as they submit paperwork, apply for financial aid, and complete other related processes. You can send text messages to let recipients know when important dates are approaching.

Automated SMS reminders can help ensure students don’t miss appointments with advisors, counselors, professors or any other campus-related professional. As stated in healthcare industry studies, text message reminders effectively improve show rates, “representing a promising approach to improving appointment adherence.”

Reminding your recipient a few days in advance of an appointment via text will give them the chance to cancel or reschedule, helping to keep operations humming.

Last, you can increase attendance rates by sending reminders about future events. Many people can easily overlook campus tours, key sporting events, and other important activities. For the best outcomes, keep it brief but include the critical points people need to know, such as when, where, and how to attend these events.

3) Invitations and Follow-Ups

Texting is an excellent tool for sending invitations. You can invite alumni, current or prospective students, or even participating family members to upcoming events and opportunities.

You also likely want to send participants more information after hosting an event. It’s the perfect opportunity to thank them or guide them to a next step. For instance, after a campus tour, you can send prospects a text message thanking them and providing links to documents, a web page or additional information, such as a housing application. Your efforts won’t just benefit prospective students by providing them with valuable information but also help you stay top of mind as they evaluate other institutions.

4) Alerts

Pandemic-induced changes in class schedules were frequent during the COVID shutdown. Unexpected news may also enter the picture, as will unrelated emergencies you may need to urgently distribute to a large audience in a short time.

Rapidly send SMS notifications en masse to inform faculty and students about weather-related closures, power outages, traffic events, and security concerns. You can also include a link to a web page with more detailed information.

5) Chat

Despite the fact that SMS is not like chatting with friends, this format has some similarities in the higher education context. In addition to sending outgoing messages, you may receive responses as well, creating a hyper-personalized dialog between faculty and students, prospects or alumni. You can, for instance:

  • Discuss the process of submitting an application, getting approved, or obtaining financial aid with students

  • Send out a survey to get feedback from students

  • Schedule and reschedule appointments

  • Answer questions and provide general support

Sometimes, you will want to resolve complex issues via email or a phone call rather than a lengthy and detailed SMS interaction. However, you can still use SMS texting to reliably inform your students what they may need to do on a different channel, such as their portal.

Best Practices for Higher Ed Texting

So now that you understand how many ways you can use SMS to reach out to prospective and current students and other higher ed audiences, you should think about how best to do it. Sending a text on behalf of your school is much different than casually messaging friends or family members.

You can ensure the success of your school’s communications by adopting a few simple yet crucial best practices.

Introduce Yourself

The tone you set in the first message will be the guiding principle in all your subsequent communications. In much the same way that a first impression is essential, it’s a good idea to take into account how you introduce yourself. Starting with an approachable message is a good idea. 

Your introduction should include your name and your position at the institution. Also, allow the recipient to opt out of receiving text messages by explaining why you will be sending them.

Write in a Relatable Manner

Consider sending brief check-ins as a source of support for your students as you keep your objectives in mind. For example, checking in with students is vital at specific points during the school year, like at the beginning, midway, and the end of each semester.

It is a good idea to send a message of encouragement about the upcoming semester or their exams. You can also ask a brief question to show that you are paying attention. Use this opportunity to engage and learn from students since they are more likely to provide more than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Provide Valuable Information

You don’t always have to ask a question or initiate a response throughout a text. You can share information with your audiences that they might not know about and send a clickable link to a source such as a more detailed website or official report whenever possible or necessary.

Bring the School’s Voice to Text Messages

It takes a lot more effort to find your institution’s voice when you are sending text messages. In some cases, you’ll have a team developing a communication strategy, while in others, different people and departments will take responsibility for the work, making it challenging to keep a consistent tone.

Be clear with all parties who may text current and potential students and alumni about the proper tone and voice so everyone knows what your institution stands for and how to communicate it. Be wary of a too-formal tone that can make your communications come across as cold and mechanical. Similarly, a too-casual tone can make you look unprofessional. Find a balance so that no matter the type of communication, students feel as though it’s all coming from the same place.

It is crucial to discover your voice so the messages sent from your organization will have a sense of personality. Make a choice between casual, fun, and emoji-filled communications, or stick with firm boundaries and formal language to define your tone.

Be Concise and Clear

There’s a difference between the way you write text messages and emails. You can’t expect to copy and paste the same information into an email when you are using SMS. Make sure your text message is clear, concise, and actionable. The precise length of your message depends on the message, but aim for 160 characters or less if you want to ensure your message is received in its entirety. 

If you want to save some space, use standard and straightforward abbreviations. Do not use outdated and too casual terms like “u” instead of “you.” If you use too many abbreviations, you may have a confusing message. Make them as few as possible and use them strategically.

Close with a Call to Action

Even when you are invited to send personal and engaging messages, the reality is that most messages should promote a next step. If you wish to encourage higher education audiences to do something, then be clear on your call to action. You could provide a link to a third-party resource or internal portal, instructions for an application, or even ask your student to text you back with the answer.

Use Personalization

Your recipient is much more likely to respond to a customized message than a generic one. Customizing text messages with mass distribution is made possible with SMS messaging platforms that integrate with email marketing tools and CRM systems. When feasible, address your recipient by name and be sure to write your message in a way that feels unique for them.

As part of the personalization process, segment your messages so that they are highly relevant to those audiences. If you send information specific to alumni to those who are currently interested in enrolling in a class, for example, you will lose some credibility when communicating with them. 

If a general mass text doesn’t relate to the audience, it won’t be appreciated and can actually lead to audience frustration. You might even get blocked if it is marked as spam.

Be Timely and Relevant

Integrating your CRM system with your cutting-edge SMS texting platform will enable you to send relevant messages to your audiences directly inside of your CRM so you don’t have to navigate elsewhere. 

You can make your communications valuable and supportive by segmenting your audience and sending messages to the right individuals at the right time.

Leverage Scheduling

Using a scheduling system allows you to take advantage of text messaging within your institution without burdening your staff with extra work. When sending and receiving time-sensitive messages, scheduling helps ensure that the messages reach their destination at precisely the right time. If you want to support your students, you can schedule messages with deadline reminders in the message, for example. 

Make sure you do not schedule too many messages at the same time or send too many texts in a given period of time, or else you may come across as annoying. Plan your communication strategies so you can schedule essential reminders and timely information but not overwhelm your audience.

Support SMS Texting with Automation

If you are using SMS as a method to communicate, you don’t have to handle it entirely manually. Along with scheduling, you can automatically set up predefined responses to handle inquiries and follow-ups. As part of your text messaging platform, you can receive messages and respond automatically with either an optional set of answers or an auto-reply with a pre-written comeback. 

Typically, the department that disseminates information uses automation to follow an established conversation flow without needing direct intervention from one of the staff members. This communication string allows the recipient to reach out to a specific person if they have questions that this communication string cannot answer.

Higher Ed Texting Made Easy

With the creative uses and good practices offered in this guide, SMS texting will be a great way to complement other channels, such as email, portal messages, and phone calls, in your higher education communication strategy. Your current students, prospects, and alumni will be more engaged with your institution and to their responsibilities with timely, concise, and accurate announcements.

In addition to helping you with intelligence and automation, the best technology can be a cost-effective way to communicate on a large scale and in a short time frame. Personalizing your communications will enable you to reach your audiences more directly and achieve better results.

The best way to engage and connect with your students is by adhering to their specific communication needs. In addition to allowing you to craft, schedule, and track text messages and conversations, a unified text messaging platform, such as TrueDialog, also enables different departments to coordinate and collaborate. Schools and small businesses can benefit from TrueDialog’s SMS Texting Solutions, built with enterprise-grade functionalities. Contact us today.

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.