Texting isn’t just here to stay—it’s the favored channel of Millennials and a valuable tool for college admissions. Still, a recent Noel-Levitz study found that only 33% of schools are actively working to include texting in their outreach programs—leaving the door open for your school to develop or extend a competitive texting strategy that can reach new student populations.
Opting In: Why That’s Good News
The remarkably high view-rate for text messages means that either one-on-one text messages (from an admissions rep to a prospect) or blast text (from your institution to a student cohort) will be a high-impact channel for communication.
There is an important caveat, however. Schools are legally restricted from contacting students via text message by the FCC, unless those students have explicitly ‘opted in’ to receive text messages. Though this rule can reduce the overall number of students receiving texts, it does have benefits. First, it prevents your school from alienating prospects by contacting them in a way they might consider invasive. Second, students who deliberately opt in are consistently much more likely to advance past the inquiry stage to apply and enroll.
Across the Board, Texting is a Win
We took a look at data from three clients who are geographically unique and have relatively little overlap in their markets. Each client presented a similar pattern: students opting in to text messaging were more likely to apply and enroll, and students receiving text messages at key moments during the enrollment cycle were spurred to action more consistently than those not receiving text messages.
A private college in New England with a science and technology focus When comparing the opt-in population against the non-opt-in population, we find that 36% of students who opted in went on to apply, while 15.8% of students who did not opt in went on to apply. Client 1 used the fewest text messages of our sample group.
A private Southern, Christian college with pre-professional focus
When comparing the opt-in population against the non-opt-in population, we find that 53% of students who opted in went on to apply, while 29% of students who did not opt in went on to apply.
A public Midwestern college with a general focus When comparing the opt-in population against the non-opt-in population, we find that 75% of students who opted in went on to apply, while 20% of students who did not opt in went on to apply. Client 3 sent more personal text messages than the other institutions in our sample.
What can we learn from these numbers? Opting in is still a strong indicator of interest, even when texts aren’t frequently used (as demonstrated by Client 1). Additionally, using text messages effectively with students who’ve opted in can profoundly affect yield (as demonstrated by Client 3). And, since the majority of messages sent by Client 3 were personal texts from an admissions rep to a prospect, we can assume that their success is due, in some part at least, to the personal connection forged between the school and the prospective student. Even though the opt-in population may be a comparatively small cohort, the high occurrence of motivated students within it allows schools to nurture students more inclined to apply.
Pair Texting with Campaigns for Better Results
When texting is paired with a clear imperative, as in a Drive-to-Apply or Drive-to-Deposit campaign, schools can often see dramatic results. The assistant director of communications and marketing at another client site has this to say:
As part of our December 2014 efforts, a text message was sent to students who had inquired one day prior to the application deadline, reminding them to apply. Of the 668 students that received the text, 81 progressed to the applicant stage and beyond. While this single piece of messaging is certainly not the only factor that encouraged those students to apply, we believe texting is a critical component of our outreach. By sending a text message, we demonstrate technological relevance, while also conveying to students that we understand their method of communication.
Texting is also a solution that costs relatively little—creating a significant return on an investment of a few cents.
Texting: Some best practices
Clearly, texting is a low-cost solution to reach students, and the simple act of collecting consent provides institutions with an easy-to-target subgroup of likely applicants. If you are not utilizing texting in your marketing mix, it is time to make the leap. In anticipation, here are a few strategies we share with clients as they think about deploying their text campaigns.
Be concise and mindful of text content as there is an imposed character limit. Shorten hyperlinks through an online service like bit.ly. Remember that text messages use different language than emails. You might “click” on a link in an email, but in a text you “follow” it.
Make sure that your texts provide a call to action, every time. Even in personal texts, using a kicker line like “Let’s talk soon!” or “You might like our new blog post” allows a student to take action—and become more engaged.
If your application isn’t responsive or optimized for mobile, driving students to apply from their phone can be counterproductive. If you’re using mobile to talk about it, they should be able to use mobile to do something about it.
Call when appropriate. Students are comfortable texting, but once you’ve formed a relationship, a personal conversation can be even more powerful.
Text messaging has countless uses in integrated marketing communications, and can be very effectively applied to higher education admissions marketing. By properly leveraging this channel, you’ll have a dynamic new tool in your marketing mix.