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How East Tennessee State University Uses Data to Text Students

5 min read

Personalizing your communications helps increase student engagement. The more you know about your audience, the more you can personalize messages. The admissions department at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) has had success reaching prospective students by using data when texting them.

A new communications strategy at ETSU

Eastern Tennessee State University is a public research University in Johnson City, Tennessee. The school prides itself on being a major university with a small college feel. 

"We call ETSU home." - Kristin Wright, ETSU Associate Director of Admissions

Looking to improve enrollment, the staff at ETSU made changes to their admissions strategy over the past couple of years. They put an emphasis on hosting more events and personalizing communications. Texting with Cadence is a big part of their outreach.

The Admissions staff at ETSU uses Cadence to text prospective students, gauging interest in the school, reminding students of deadlines, and answering important questions to help students through the funnel. In this article, you'll find some helpful examples of how the school has found success with texting.

“There’s been a lot of change at ETSU in the past three years. Texting became a huge piece of that. We did not have a great tool for that, so it was very time-consuming. The data we saw showed that texting needed to be a big part of what we do.” - Caleb Bennet, ETSU Associate Director of Admissions

“Less than 30% of our students were answering our phone calls. Then we compared how many students were responding to our text messages, it was almost 60%. It shows students are engaging with us through text.” - Caleb Bennet

Let students know who you are

Think about your own phone and how you respond to texts. If you’re not sure who is sending a message, you might not trust the source. When you can draw on your data, you can greet students by name and more easily build a relationship.  

"Going back to personalization, we pull in what we know about them from our CRM and that integration. We know who they are and where they’re at. It’s been huge to have that connection built and to be able to build out some segments to communicate with students.” - Caleb Bennet, ETSU Associate Director of Admissions

Using data to save time

There is only so much time in a day, so shortening the list of people you need to communicate with can help improve efficiencies. ETSU tracks prospective student data to concentrate on people who are more interested in possibly attending their school, making them the priority.  

“We use Cadence to prioritize our yield communication. Where are we going to put out energy?  We use triggers that come from Banner. If a student does a set of actions, such as making a housing deposit, they become the priority versus the student who has taken no action. We will take the notification from that data point and put our focus toward that student.” - Kristin Wright

Using calls and emails in conjunction with texting

While texting students is incredibly effective, you cannot rely on one medium alone. ETSU uses texting to set up or follow up with phone calls. Quick, timely communication serves students the information they need, while phone calls give your outreach a personal touch. 

“Calling time is our most time-consuming activity for yield, but gives us that personal touch. With the data we receive, we can see which students are in the mid-range and know we need to do more with them.” - Kristin Wright

ETSU Faculty and student using computerBecause texting is very personal and direct, you have to be careful when you use it for intent to enroll. The perception of a text can be the demand for an immediate answer, so if you text too early in the lifecycle, it can scare a prospective student away. Use emails as an early gauge of intent to enroll, followed by a quick “yes, no, or maybe” text down the line. ETSU makes their first intent to enroll email a friendly “Hello!”

“We’re asking them, ‘Do you think you want to be a Buck this fall?’ We start with an email and a funny video, because we want to lighten the ask.” - Kristin Wright

It’s also important to be strategic and balance your message. You don’t want to over-text prospective students and burn the medium.

Creating segment fields with Cadence to reach a specific audience

A text is only effective when it reaches the right audience. Segmenting your audience is crucial to ensuring students feel supported by the texts they receive, and not spammed. ETSU uses Cadence to easily build segments and personalize their outreach to the people who want specific information about things like financial aid, housing, and programs.

“We take information from other departments like Housing and Financial Aid, then I upload tags in our CRM. Then we use those tags to create segments in Cadence and do target texting based on those segments. Manually building a segment for texts used to be a time-consuming process, so having a texting platform like Cadence that can do it for you improves efficiency.” - Kristin Wright

Intent to enroll

Texting is a big part of helping the staff at ETSU gauge a prospective student’s intent to enroll. The Admissions team uses texts in conjunction with email and calls to reach out to students at different points in the funnel to see how interested they are in enrolling. Texting has been the most effective channel.

“The most direct measurement we can look at from 2020 would be the differences in intent to enroll responses. We ran a communications campaign, where we’re kind of checking in with our applicants to tell us yes, no, or maybe. A huge portion of our responses came through text because they can just do it. With email, it’s just a lot of steps. With texts, we set up auto-response and smart messages so that there is a response for each text immediately.” - Kristin Wright

No one wants to hear a no, but those responses help staff members shift their priorities to students who need help.

“I think we got 300 cancellations from that first text. That was great. As much as I want to keep everybody in my funnel, if you’re not coming here, I want you to get out of my funnel. That texting response changed that whole campaign.”  - Kristin Wright

The best times to text

Every institution is different when it comes to the correct day and time of day to send texts. While there is no exact science, there are best practices. Avoid Fridays because your staff won’t be there to respond to students over the weekend. Never send texts too early or late in the day. 

“Specifically, transcript-orientated texts go in the afternoon during school hours (1 pm) when counselors are back from lunch. That gives students time to talk to guidance counselors.” - Kristin Wright

The team at East Tennessee State University continues to work hard, sifting through important data to ensure they're always meeting the needs of their students.