8-Point Checklist for Effective SMS Strategies in Higher Ed Enrollment Campaigns

Nina Lifshey Mar 24, 2023 Nina Lifshey Slate Communications Strategist Persona The Compassionate and Brilliant Theorist

In college admissions, it has become a challenge to connect with prospective students via email. So how can a higher education institution find a way to connect with prospective students in this overly communicated world? The answer is text messages.

Remember the excitement of hearing “you’ve got mail” blaring from your computer speakers? Back then, email was a new and exciting way to communicate with friends, family, colleagues, and businesses from around the world. Today, email has become an overwhelming communication tool that’s home to all sorts of advertisements from companies, schools, and more. Most high school students I know and speak to say they don’t read every email they receive—some even set up filters to delete them before they check their inboxes.

On the contrary, texting is direct, personal, and rarely gets lost in the mix of other messages. Many schools are already integrating texting into their communication strategies. Leveraging text messaging as a way to communicate with students is nothing new, but developing an effective strategy is essential to ensuring your messages are getting across to your prospective students and/or parents. Here is an 8-point checklists you can use to optimize or kick-off your texting strategy. 

1. Are you okay with us texting you?

The worst thing a college can do is text students without asking permission first. Failing to do so can annoy students, potentially damage your school’s name, and may even cause you to receive some hefty fines. To begin, you’ll need to allow for students to opt in to receive text messages or at least share that by providing a mobile number the student gives permission to receive text messages from. If you use Slate as your CRM, it’s super easy to create a custom text opt-in field that does just this. Be sure to add this field to all your inquiry forms, applications, campus tour registration, or any other form where you may be collecting a mobile phone number.

2. What type of student should receive texts?

Many schools purchase student information and communicate to prospects regularly to generate interest. Even though mobile numbers are sometimes provided to colleges on these lists, we do not recommend sending a text message to this specific population. These students may not know of your institution and would be considered “cold leads.” If a student fills out a form, registers for an event, completes an application, or even has submitted an enrollment deposit, these are the populations you truly want to target. You’ll see more engagement from a student when they know who you are and have expressed interest in your institution already. 

3. Are you a bot?

You need to make sure to personalize your text messages. Whether it’s to one person or a massive group, you should include who you are, what institution you’re texting from, and what you’re asking the student to do. The more you personalize your content, the more the student will engage with you and not think a text is coming from a system, a bot, or an unknown stranger they don’t know.

4. How much is too much?

When texting prospective students, you want to keep your text messages short and sweet. If you have to, you can always text a link to a video (or if you’re a Slate user, utilize Slate Video) to share information. Texting a book of information to a student may cause them to ignore your message completely. High school students are busy and are often juggling multiple responsibilities, so they’re likely to appreciate receiving texts that are brief, to the point, and easy to understand. You also want to make sure the information you share over text is very general, not too personal, and doesn’t contain sensitive information. You can always text the student to read an email that has important and personal information if you’re worried they won’t see it in their inboxes.

5. What do you mean by that?

If your college or university uses a lot of jargon or acronyms, you may want to consider not including them in texts. These may confuse the student if they’re not familiar with them. You should also avoid using slang or all caps, as these can be distracting or misinterpreted. Even though texting in capital letters could show you’re excited to share something with them, they may feel you are yelling at them instead. Emojis are fine to use in your text messages to convey tone—just be sure to use them sparingly. 

6. When to send and when to respond?

I don’t think I have ever met a person who enjoys waking up to the ding of an incoming text message in the middle of the night. You’ll want to make sure to send your texts during the daytime and account for time zones! Texts during the weekend should be limited to reminders about a weekend event. When you send your text message, you should also make sure you’re available thereafter for any responses that come through. It’s important to respond in a timely manner—this shows that you’re available and engaged, and it helps build trust.

7. When is enough, enough?

Even though you may have the urge to text students with updates or exciting information, do not overdo it. No one wants to receive multiple messages per day or week; you’ll risk having students opt out or ignore your messages. It also makes sense to keep this type of communication to a specific call to action (CTA) like a last-chance reminder for an event registration or an application/deposit deadline.

8. Is it worth it?

We know texting can cost a lot of money (or in Slate, credits) and the costs can add up. So you need to ensure you’re being strategic about how you’re spending your money or credits. 

Texting doesn’t allow you to track message opens or clicks in Slate, but you can create reports that show conversions for students who were sent text messages. Additionally, if you use Inbox and your rules are configured for Staff Assignments in Slate, students can reply directly to their admissions counselor. This creates a more personalized and positive experience. Plus, you’re able to query or create a report on Inbox activity to assess the effectiveness of your text efforts even further.

Contact Carnegie to set up a text message strategy for your institution!

Whether you’re new to text communications or have been communicating to students this way for a while, these questions and recommendations can help you further engage with your prospective students. I encourage you to try a text campaign or review your current one. And if you need help with any of this, start a conversation today to partner with us!

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