A long, long time ago (okay, like 6 years ago) it was only possible to text students using your personal mobile phone. Higher ed learned pretty quickly that giving out your mobile phone number to someone you don’t personally know is like handing a toddler a cup of juice without a lid; there’s going to be a big mess.
The good news is that today, there are texting platforms that eliminate the need for staff to dole out their personal mobile numbers.
What is an opt-in?
An “opt-in” occurs when an organization receives permission from someone to text them. As a nonprofit institution, the generally-accepted rule is that as long as a student provides their mobile phone number, (assuming you are a non-profit) you’re not legally required to get explicit consent in order to text them. But there are times when you’ll want to get consent.
Collecting and updating student phone numbers
Take advantage of any chance you have to collect or verify a student’s mobile number during key touchpoints.
“We decided to have students go in during registration to update their emergency contact information, validate their current address and phone number, and provide a mobile number,” noted Brian Jackson, application support specialist at McLennan Community College.
Wrong numbers will slow you down
Whether or not they mean to do so, sometimes a student will submit a wrong number. It could be a landline number that’s invalid, a mistake, or a conscious choice to deceive so as not to be bothered.
Sending text messages to landline phone numbers or invalid numbers will increase your undelivered rate, which can eventually lead to carrier violations and the potential to be blocked by carriers for a long period of time. Make sure your texting platform has a validation process that tells you whether each number is a true, valid mobile number (some texting platforms automatically check for validation each time you add, import, or edit data).
How to get the green light to text
Once you have a student’s correct phone number, you may still want to get their opt-in.
This is typically accomplished in three ways:
- Automatic opt-in – Many institutions choose to automatically opt students in to receive text messages, mainly from business departments such as financial aid and the registrar’s office.
- Assume opt-in from admissions – If your admissions team is already texting with students (who have presumably opted in), you may be able to assume these opt-ins once students are enrolled.
- Ask students to opt in – Explain the benefits of text communications to students (through email or other communications) and prompt them to opt in. Many of your students have already received texts during the admissions process, but it’s important to be clear that you’re asking students to opt in to receive text messages as a current student; otherwise, students may think it’s not necessary to opt in again.
Many institutions takes their own approach to opt-ins. And that is totally okay because the goal is to find what works for you. The biggest principles to remember are:
- ONLY send messages that are relevant and valuable to the student.
- Regardless of whether the student specifically opted in or not, perception is all that really matters; if it feels like spam to the student - it is spam.