I read every single text message I get—and I bet you do, too.
I can’t say the same about every email or letter that arrives in my mailbox, but texts are hard to ignore. And thanks to their attention-grabbing nature, texts have become a crucial means of communication for colleges looking to get through to students.
In my role as a college enrollment consultant, I talk to enrollment leaders across the country about their communications strategies. Most enrollment managers know that texting can be a powerful way to reach students, but many of them aren’t sure exactly how they should go about it.
With the summer melt season coming up—when students who have accepted offers from schools fail to show up—ensure that you’re getting the most out of your pre-enrollment texting strategy by avoiding these five common pitfalls.
1. Texting students too infrequently (or too frequently)
Many enrollment leaders are justifiably hesitant about over-texting students. They know texts have extremely high open rates (up to 98% according to one study), but they worry about abusing this powerful tool and irritating students. However, enrollment leaders sometimes underestimate the frequency of contact that students find acceptable and end up failing to use text outreach to its full potential.
While there’s no consensus about the exact number of texts that students are open to receiving, out-of-industry research and feedback from SMS pioneers in recruitment marketing suggest one mass text per week as a good maximum, provided that the messages are truly helpful and relevant. Which brings me to my next common mistake.
2. Irritating students with non-essential messages
Since texting is a fairly intrusive communication channel, messages must be kept short and transactional. For example, during the summer melt season, consider sending text reminders about orientation registration deadlines. We know from our Student Communication Preferences survey that students are generally open to receiving texts during the admissions process for messages that are transactional in nature, with 79% saying they’re open to receiving SMS reminders about an event or an application deadline.
As a rule of thumb before scheduling a text, ask yourself if the message is something students will be grateful to you for sending. To put it another way, is the content high-priority, useful, and timely? If not, you’ll probably want to reconsider your choice of channel.
3. Limiting potential audience size
To ensure that text communications have the maximum impact on your summer melt-prevention efforts, you’ll need to ensure your messages are reaching their widest possible audience. To make that happen, be sure to actively capture students’ mobile contact info during the application phase or earlier.
Some schools have also chosen to go with an opt-out, rather an opt-in, approach to texting. With the opt-out route, texts are automatically sent unless students ask to stop receiving them. In an opt-in approach, students aren’t contacted unless they’ve expressly agreed to receive texts.
The opt-out approach typically results in larger audiences. However, be sure to check with your school’s legal counsel before choosing this approach. While some schools have successfully implemented an opt-out approach, others have chosen to go with opt-ins due to concerns raised by their legal teams.
4. Not embracing texting as a two-way channel
EAB research has shown that students are generally open to engaging in two-way conversations with colleges via text, with 76.1% of teens saying that they would like to be able to text colleges with questions. Despite students’ willingness to engage with colleges via this channel, some enrollment teams shy away from a two-way texting strategy due to uncertainty about the logistics of responding.
Ending texts with a question can be a great way to drive student engagement and quickly get feedback from students. But if you do so for large sends, be sure to have counselors block off an hour or two on their calendars immediately after the send in order to handle any incoming questions.
If students ask complicated questions that require a phone conversation, respond via text to set up a time for a call. Even a quick heads-up that you’ll be calling at a certain time can improve the chances that students will pick up the phone rather than screening your call.
5. Failing to share best practices across the team
As counselors or financial aid staff are texting students, they’re likely to each use slightly different approaches and adapt their own practices based on individual trial-and-error. But are they sharing those takeaways with the team?
At one small private college in the Midwest, a counselor piloted a new approach in which she sent a series of two text reminders just prior to her high school visits. After implementing this practice, she saw a 50% reduction in no-shows. She then formalized the practice into a training for the entire team, ensuring that the lessons she learned were shared and amplified to their full potential. While this example applies to earlier in the admissions cycle, the lesson is just as applicable throughout the later stages of the enrollment process, as well.
Texting is just one way to engage with admitted students. We recently profiled ten approaches for improved yield-stage communications, including live-cast sessions, double-duty Facebook groups, and an AI-based chatbot in our latest white paper.