Need a texting plan to engage your current students? We've got you covered.
Your success depends on your ability to communicate with students, and a good strategy creates the best results. This guide will help you identify attainable goals for your department and then show you how to implement a plan to reach them, including important best practices to avoid pitfalls and increase your reach.
First, we'll cover the basics:
Then we'll dive into a step-by-step strategy, proven to work at over 725 colleges and universities. Here are some quick links to jump ahead if you've already gotten started:
- Set Goals & Determine Success Metrics
- Identify Touchpoints for Each Objective
- Build Texting Into Your Broader Communications Strategy
- Choose a Texting Platform
- Learn Best Practices for Texting Current Students
- Create Ready-to-Use Templates
- Determine Who Should Be Texting Students
- Collect Mobile Phone Numbers & Get Opt-Ins
- Implement and Manage Your Texting Communications Plan
- Share your Experience
Before we get into the plan, let’s talk about the main reason you need to be texting students: because it's the most effective channel for communicating with them.
On average, less than 20% of students will ever open your email — and far fewer will actually read it. With an average response rate of 40% (60-70% if done well), texting's engagement level surpasses every other marketing and communication channel you have.
Texting works... like really well.
Texting is so much more personal — and so much more powerful — than email and other mediums. As hundreds of schools have already discovered, it’s worth the time to do it right.
Texting is proven to increase enrollment1 and encourage retention.2 As Jeff McNamera, Director of Student Success at Carroll University puts it, “having their phone vibrate when you send them something is pretty invaluable.”
Students (and parents and alumni for that matter) have come to expect texting updates from their schools. Direct, frequent communication achieves exceptional results for everyone, including fewer missed deadlines, higher attendance at events, even reducing hunger and mental health issues on campus.
With great power comes great responsibility. That's why a channel as personal and effective as texting needs to be approached strategically.
More personal, and powerful than email.
Ever notice the more email you send, the more your recipients tune you out?
Email is one of the most utilized channels colleges and universities use to communicate with current students and their families. The problem is, your can't rely on it entirely.
That's where texting comes in. The best texts are conversational, relevant, and helpful. If your text doesn't check all these boxes, DON'T hit send.
If you send too many irrelevant or unhelpful texts, they're going to opt-out of communications or worse, flag you as spam. The last thing you want to do is burn your most effective channel.
Building a texting communication plan (complete with ready-to-go templates, some of which we'll cover in Step 6), reduces risk and ensures the highest return on the channel, engaging and supporting your students as effectively as possible.
How to Create and Implement a Strong Texting Communications Plan
Whether you’re already using texting across campus or exploring the channel for the first time, this step-by-step guide outlines proven best practices designed by higher ed student engagement experts.
Here's the process that's driven better student outcomes for hundreds of colleges and universities:
Step 1 - Set Goals & Determine Success Metrics
Start with these key questions:
- What are we hoping to achieve with texting?
- What are our departmental goals?
- How do those line up with our institutional goals?
- What metrics are we tracking to measure success?
These answers will drive the core of your texting strategy and make sure that each text you send gets you closer to your goals. By defining key metrics beforehand, you can easily track your success and see the impact texting has had on campus.
Typically, schools want to improve in the following areas:
When you’re writing your goals for a student communications plan, be specific, and choose your words carefully to get everyone on the same page. For example, instead of just saying you want to improve student success, consider a more concrete goal such as increasing retention by 10%.
Don't stop there - keep coming back to your retention metrics - how have they improved since you started texting? If they aren't improving, what changes do we need to make to our strategy?
Step 2 - Identify Touchpoints for Each Objective
For each of the objectives you identified in Step 1, identify 3 – 5 touchpoints.
A touchpoint is simply an opportunity to communicate with a student in a way that supports your ultimate goal. Think about friction points - points in their educational journey that may be difficult or confusing - and how you can help them overcome the hurdle.
Nudge an at-risk student about an upcoming deadline, remind students to check-in with their advisors, or share academic support resources when finals are coming up.
If you're focusing on retention metrics for example, send registration reminders for the upcoming semester. Check in over the summer to reduce melt. The possibilities are endless.
By identifying these touchpoints, you can start to determine when and how you can use texting to achieve your objectives. Here are some examples of touchpoints used by other institutions:
The sooner you start engaging, the better
Try to collect student (and parent) contact information as early as possible, obtaining consent to text while you're at it.
Ask for their mobile phone number via form or webchat early in the college search process. Include language for opting into text messaging, with a checkbox to opt-in when submitting forms. We'll dive deeper into the best ways to gain text opt-ins in Step 8.
Once you have contact information and consent, start engaging your students as soon as makes sense. Look at the journey for incoming freshmen at your institution - what deadlines do they have? Upcoming events? Keep them informed and on-track leading up (and through) orientation.
Let's look to what's worked for Carroll University: Their student success team assigns all full-time undergraduate incoming freshmen to a staff member. That staff member checks in and sends text reminders throughout the summer, helping them feel more comfortable through the transition.
looking across the student lifecycle
Freshman year is just the beginning. Take an in-depth look across the student lifecycle and what the educational journey looks like at your institution. Consistent, helpful communication is essential to improving student outcomes all the way to graduation and beyond.
Many schools look to improve academic success and retention from freshman to junior year, with career services and graduation prep a focus for seniors.
Coordinate across teams & departments
Some schools have one texting platform campus-wide, others are broken up across departments. The important thing to remember is that your department isn't the only one texting.
And without a campus-wide texting policy, you risk over texting - a big no-no if you want to retain your audience. It's essential to have all departments coordinated on the same calendar, in the same platform, following the same guidelines and best practices.
Here's a Text Messaging Policy Template to get you started.
If you're working in multiple platforms or a CRM, scheduling WILL become a nightmare. It's a best practice to get everyone on campus in one platform to make sure you're not over texting your audience.
While some schools manage with separate calendars, manually tracking how and when each department is sending texts, emails, and other communications, it's hardly a good use of time.
Aurora University3 had issues with over texting and student opt-outs before making the switch to a single engagement platform. Not only did they retain more of their audience, they saw better student outcomes and hours to weeks of staff time saved each month in schedule management and reporting.
Nudge Students in the Right Direction
Timely text nudges are proven to improve student outcomes, sparking action at critical points in the educational journey. Remember - 97% of people read every text they receive, with 90% of them read in three minutes. If you need a student to do something, texting is your best bet.
Nudges are “a huge part of student success,” notes Kathy Woughter, Vice President for Student Affairs at Alfred University. A nudge can be a gentle reminder about an upcoming deadline, a text about counseling services for students who are stressed out during finals week, or information about a career opportunity.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when you’re thinking about touchpoints. For example, Alfred University wanted to help address student hunger. Now, when there’s leftover food at the end of a catered event, the campus dining staff sends a text to students who have signed up at the campus food bank. Hungry students come and get the free food, and campus dining has less waste to deal with — all thanks to one text.
Text forms and links to online resources
Every text you send should have a call to action. If a student needs to submit a form by a certain deadline, text them the link to make it as easy as possible for them to complete the task. Sharing mental heath resources? Send the link to your online resource hub where they can book a counseling appointment.
Muskingum University4 often texts links to guide students. "I love the fact that we can send a quick text to students with a direct link to verification forms on our website,” shares Carissa Taylor, Administrative Assistant for Student Financial Services. They've seen an improvement in form completion rates since adding links to their texting campaigns.
THe “Did you see my email?” Text
A text is your unread email's best friend. If you're sending an email with essential information, or one that is asking the recipient to take action, follow up with a text.
As our friend Jeff (Director of Student Success at Carroll University) would say, "it's a tap on the shoulder, and it works."
Always tie touchpoints back to your objectives
We can't stress this enough - link every communication back to your objectives. Sending a text or an email — or even having a face-to-face meeting — isn’t your ultimate goal.
Your real objective is to achieve a higher graduation rate, retention rate, or some other measure of student success. Touchpoints are simply the way to get there.
“Our freshman retention rate went up over five percentage points,” said Amy Gray from Aurora University.6 “Certainly there are other initiatives that we used during the past year that contributed to that as well, but [texting] was certainly part of that... [and] for this year’s class, we have more financial aid files complete, we have fewer freshmen with unpaid balances, and we had greater participation in our first-year advising workshops.”
Now that you have a better sense of how and when you can use texting, take a step back and consider how it fits into your overall communications strategy.
keep doing what works
If emails, campus flyers, and other mediums are working for you, plan to keep using them. Yes, texting is more effective than other mediums — but it's an essential part of a wider, multi-channel communication strategy.
Texting works best when used alongside email, social media, and an effective website complete with smart search and web chat functionality.
💡Use your other channels to elevate your texting strategy.💡 Campus flyers and emails are a great way to gain texting consent. Advertise your texting number across campus and prompt students to opt-into updates. Example: Text "Go Cats" to xxx-xxx-xxxx for University updates. Initiate an email blast and ask students to opt-in. Send an email out to students and parents with a link to opt-into updates.
kick off your texting strategy with some quick wins
Texting software can make an immediate and measurable positive impact on your school, students and faculty alike. Here's the catch - you need to show results to the decision makers on campus. Otherwise you risk losing some of the best tools in your arsenal.
We recommend kicking off your texting strategy with some quick, immediate wins. This will help get buy-in across campus, showing your colleagues and leadership the impact you're making with texting.
For a fast return on your investment (and numbers to prove it works), start with the following campaigns:
- Registration reminders
- Advising check-ins
- Schedule appointments (you'll be amazed how quickly students will schedule appointments via texts vs. email or a phone call)
These are easy campaigns to show ROI. X number of registration forms submitted from a single text, x number of advising check-ins scheduled compared to this time last year, etc.
Not only does this help make sure your texting strategy is working, it makes sure that you can keep texting effectively with the tools you need to support your students.
Consider your campus culture
Are there any reasons why your students wouldn’t be receptive to texting? How will your campus leadership feel about using texts to improve retention, graduation rates, and other key metrics? What proof will they need to see that texting works — and when will they want to see it?
You can’t anticipate everyone’s reaction, but thinking ahead will help you identify any likely challenges, so you can plan now on how you’ll address them.
A texting platform typically lets staff members use a computer, tablet, or smartphone to send text messages to a student’s mobile phone.
To the student, the message appears as a normal text. For the staff member, the texting platform lets them track conversations, integrate with their student information system, send messages to groups of students simultaneously, track results, and provide access to colleagues and department heads who may also need to view conversations or communicate with students.
There's a big difference between texting students and reaching them. If your school is looking to improve student outcomes and make efficient use of faculty time, you'll need to invest in a student engagement platform.
Some institutions choose to text students from personal staff phones. It’s a cheap, easy, and — unfortunately — risky solution. “I gave out my cell phone number in a few instances with students,” noted Jeff McNamara from Carroll University. Then he started to get texts from random students, asking if school was canceled because of bad weather. “You start getting the 4 a.m. texts, ‘Do we have classes today?’ and you have no idea who it’s from.”
A texting platform removes this risk by providing staff with an institutional phone number, typically one that looks just like a regular phone number from your area code. Students still feel as if they’re texting directly with staff, but your staff doesn’t have to give out their personal phone numbers.
If other departments will be using the texting platform, invite representatives from those units to be involved in the selection process early on.
Their input and feedback can help ensure that whatever platform you choose will be a good fit for everyone, thereby maximizing the institutional investment, and making sure that everyone’s using the same tools (and sharing their results).
Texting Through your CRM
When schools look at texting, many are comparing student engagement platforms and CRM texting features. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
CRMs are an affordable option for schools sending infrequent, limited one-way announcements from one department. Texting platforms allow for two-way conversations, cross-departmental texting and schedule management, automated reporting and analytics, and much more if you're implementing a texting strategy.
Making decisions on a budget is very real, but so are outcomes.
When used beyond their limited scope, CRM texting features eat hours to weeks of time in manual reporting alone, not to mention manual cross-campus scheduling coordination, permissions issues, and labor-intensive training.
If a tool is too hard to use, is it actually benefitting your staff? If your staff doesn’t have time engage in real conversations with your students, how are they being better supported?
Questions to ask
One of the most important things to consider is the lift it will take to use a given texting solution. Some platforms are easier than others, designed for and by the higher ed community to save staff time and better meet institutional goals.
Questions to ask when considering a texting platform:
- Will this be easy enough for our staff to use?
- How will the platform fit into our existing systems?
- How difficult and time-consuming is the implementation process?
- What do onboarding and training look like?
- Will we be able to easily track our success?
Having a general idea of how texting fits in your plan will help you determine what type of texting platform you need.
- Will you be texting students mostly one-on-one, in small groups, or will you be texting all students at once?
- How often will you be texting?
- Who will be texting?
- Which departments?
- How many people?
Features to Look For
When considering features, really look for platforms that will automate tedious, manual tasks. The last thing you want to do is invest in a texting platform that adds to your team's already overflowing workload.
Ultimately, you have to look at what functionality and support is important to you and your staff. Here are a few key areas to consider:
- INTEGRATION How does the platform integrate with your student information system (SIS)/student success system?
- APPEARANCE How will messages you send appear to students?
- CAMPAIGNS Ask about the ability to send campaigns to groups of students, track mass messages as campaigns, and review reporting related to each campaign.
- TEMPLATES Can staff members quickly choose a prewritten template for common messages and responses?
- SUPERVISORY ROLES Can supervisors oversee staff texting accounts and monitor them for appropriate use?
- ENTERPRISE FUNCTIONALITY How do you ensure a consistent experience and department-level flexibility? For example, ask if each department can see the information about each student that matters to them.
- SECURITY How safe is student data?
- COMPLIANCE Ask if opt-outs are recorded in the platform and in your CRM/SIS.
- DATA VALIDATION Does the platform have a way to validate that each phone number you collect is a valid, mobile phone number?
- TRAINING AND SUPPORT Who will help you set it up and ensure you’re getting the best results?
- MEASUREMENT AND TRACKING Can you measure engagement and outcomes, and does your texting platform provider offer historical guidelines for what to expect based on your type of school, student mix, and other factors?
- USER EXPERIENCE People have high expectations. If the user experience isn’t exceptional, your colleagues will either struggle to use the platform, or simply stop using it altogether.
Some platforms have a smartphone app that gives you access to all of a student’s data as you’re texting with them, which can help your staff when they’re not at their desks. “If I’m standing in my kitchen and it’s a Saturday and I receive a text and I’ve been working with a student, I have all that [information] at my fingertips and it’s a lot quicker and easier than logging in and grabbing information remotely,” noted Jeff McNamara from Carroll University.8
Step 5 - Learn Best Practices for Texting Current Students
Just because you can text someone doesn’t mean that you should. In this section, we’ll cover some proven best practices for texting students. Your texting platform provider should also be able to provide you with additional best practices.
Think about the purpose of the text
Texting works because it gets students’ attention. But if you’re going to interrupt a student with a text, you need to make sure it’s worth their time. Here are the three questions you should ask when you’re deciding whether or not to text a student:
- Is this valuable for the students?
- Is this relevant?
- Am I being personal?
If you can’t answer yes to all three questions, you probably shouldn’t use texting for this communication. As Michael Stoner, president of mStoner higher ed marketing agency, wrote “Let’s be clear: just because the average teen texts dozens of times a day doesn’t mean they want to get texts from you — or the college or university you work for.”9
“I learned through trial and error that...when you’re starting a text conversation, in that initial text, you need to identify who you are, or you will get a lot of replies from people saying, ‘Who is this?’” noted Amy Gray from Aurora University.
Yes, identifying yourself takes up valuable space in your text. But otherwise, you’ll just end up going back and forth with students, explaining who you are and why you’re texting them.
It's also important that your contacts are opted into your communication. Phone carriers ask that schools gain contact consent and maintain their communication preferences in order to text through third-party platforms. By confirming consent in your initial text, you ensure you have an engaged audience moving forward. We'll dig more into opt-ins and consent best practices in Step 8.
Consider Asking for a Response
Sometimes, you need information from students (e.g., you need to know if they’re returning next semester). Other times, you just want to make an announcement (e.g., schedule change for an event). You’ll want to write your text differently depending on your goal.
- IF YOU WANT A RESPONSE: End your text with a relevant question, so it’s clear that you want students to reply.
- IF YOU DON’T WANT A RESPONSE: Make sure the text contains all the information that students need.
If you ask a student for a response — and don’t get one — that tells you something. Students almost always get their texts, so if they’re not responding, it’s “pretty intentional,” noted Jeff McNamara from Carroll University.11
Give students an action step
Don’t force students to guess what you want them to do next. Provide a clear call to action, whether that’s directing them to your website or responding back to the text.
Hi <FIRST NAME>, this is your MU advisor, Jody. Here is the info about our study abroad program you were looking for. You can sign up by Friday here: <Link>
Keep it positive
Because texting is a more casual, everyday medium, many schools prefer to keep texting associated with positive (or at least neutral) messages. If you need to communicate bad news, consider sending a letter or other more formal correspondence.
Keep a Casual Tone
Don't be a robot. Use natural, conversational language when you’re talking with students. Rule of thumb: read your message out loud. If it sounds strange to say, it’ll be strange to read on the other end.
Mongoose University: You have applied but we have not received ur transcript. Rply STOP2 end. Std msg rates apply.
Text as Yourself (WITH A CALL-TO-ACTION)
Hi Chris – it’s Steph from Mongoose University. Looking at your file, I see you applied, but we have not received your transcript. Are you still interested? Let me know! Thanks.
Keep it professional
Even when you’re texting, you’re still representing your institution. Students expect slang and abbreviations (and 2 a.m. texts) from their best friends — not from their university.
Using emojis shows students that you’re approachable and fun. Just don’t go overboard. Stick to the emojis that have a clear meaning. This emoji looks like a crying face, but the “tear” is actually supposed to be a bead of sweat, showing that you’re feeling relieved.
Whatever you do, don’t skip this section. Seriously. Templates are the foundation for most of the text messages you’ll send, making them one of the most important steps in your process.
What are templates?
Texting templates are ready-to-use text messages that you write ahead of time with specific audiences and opportunities in mind. You can use your templates as a starting point when you need to send a text, simply adjusting as needed.
Think of your template as a tried-and-true recipe. Sure, you might take out the onions or add a bit more salt to your recipe — just like you might change a few words in your template depending on your audience. But in general, your template is your best formula for what works.
For example, here’s a template for students who are not registered yet.
Hello <FIRST NAME>, this is <STAFF FIRST NAME> <STAFF LAST NAME> with the Advising Center. I noticed you have not registered yet. Are you planning on returning to MU for the Spring 2017 semester?
Depending on your texting platform, templates should automatically pull in the student’s first name and the staff member’s first and last name (please note the formatting may be different depending on your texting platform).
Save time, reduce risk, and get better results
Yes, it takes some work to write your templates. But any effort you put in now will pay off tenfold down the road. Here’s why you should take the time to build your templates:
- MORE EFFICIENT: Instead of reinventing the wheel each time you have to send a text message, you can simply refer to your templates.
- LESS RISK: Like any medium, text messaging can be misused. Writing templates ahead of time (and having them approved by leadership) helps reduce the potential for confusing language and other missteps.
- IMPROVED RESULTS: Your template should have the most effective, up-to-date language; you can (and should) keep testing different approaches, but your template gives you the strongest starting point.
Depending on who you partner with for your texting needs, your software vendor may already have a database of ready-to-use templates for you to pull from.
Start with your touchpoints from Step 2
In Step 2, you identified the opportunities to reach students throughout the student lifecycle. With these touchpoints in mind, you can write a content template for each touchpoint (or more than one template per touchpoint, depending on the opportunity, audience, and other factors).
Ideally, you should have enough content templates to cover approximately 80% of your touchpoints. This lets you be efficient, while still allowing for the 20% of texts that may need a more customized or personal approach.
Write templates that sound human
Texts may be sent to an individual student or a group of students. When the message is personal in nature, the student should always feel you are texting them directly.
ENGAGEMENT: Event registration, promotion, and schedule updates
Hey <FIRST NAME>, MLK Day of Service registration starts today. Click here to register for your preferred event. We can’t wait to see you on January 18th!
Melissa McAllister will be hosting “Coffee and Career Conversations” with senior business majors on April 28th at 4:00 p.m. Learn about helpful interview tips and job openings!
JOB PLACEMENT: Career center invitation and announcement
Hi <FIRST NAME>! This is your Career Counselor Amanda at Mongoose University. “Big Four” accounting firms are visiting campus April 28th. We have time slots open 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. Are you interested in signing up?
Hi <FIRST NAME>! Mongoose “Get Hired” Career Fair is March 14th. Connect with over 100 employers. Dress to impress! Do you have any questions? Register at http://goog.gl/pg475.
Hello <FIRST NAME>, last year, you filled out a FAFSA and this year you did not. If you would like to receive financial aid, please visit: www.fafsa.gov. For questions, please text us or visit our office.
STUDENT SUCCESS: Advisor check-in
Hi James! Dr. Janicki here. We need to take a look at your prerequisites and course load in general. Can you come in this week?
Hi <FIRST NAME>! This is <STAFF FIRST NAME>. Some of your midterm grades are looking a little low, and I want to make sure you’ve got what you need to be successful. Have you looked into visiting the tutoring center?
RETENTION: At-risk student outreach
Hi Patrick: Based on your first-year assessment, we are recommending additional academic engagement. Our Student Success Center is set up to help you. Would you like me to help set up an appointment? - Charlie Adams
STUDENT EXPERIENCE: Graduation assessment
Hi Amy, congrats on graduation. Please pick up your cap and gown in Founder’s Hall, April 28th, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Please complete a brief survey and you will be entered to win an Apple iPad! http://goog.gl.Hgdfk
Step 7 - Determine Who Should Be Texting Students
Start small. Think about who needs to text students — not just who wants to text students. You can always add more staff once you’re up and running if they’re needed to help you achieve your goals.
Consider who’s responsible for your objectives
Everything should tie back to your objectives. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your retention rate, then the people responsible for that specific goal should be able to text students (or at least have significant input in terms of when and how to text students).
Make sure everyone is aligned with your goals, regardless of what individual motivation they may have. For example, student engagement staff are typically focused on driving students to events. But before they start texting students, they should understand all of your objectives — including how attendance at events fits into the bigger picture.
Establish guidelines and standards
“It’s really important to coordinate across campus,” noted Amy Gray from Aurora University.12 “Make sure you’re getting all those folks around the table, and talking about how — and in what circumstances — you will be using [texting].” Many campuses create a text messaging policy that outlines exactly how texting should — and shouldn’t — be used.13
Don’t forget to train everyone in best practices, which we covered in Step 5.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Which departments are allowed to text students?
- How often is each department allowed to text?
- Will everyone in each department be able to text students or just specific people?
- Will each student be assigned to a staff member in the texting platform?
- What access and responsibilities will administrators have?
In some text platforms, you can choose to either assign students to a specific staff member, or allow any staff member to text with any student. Assigning students can be helpful when you’re doing advising or other tasks that involve one-on-one outreach — but it can also hinder the ability of colleagues to help with shared workloads. Think carefully before you decide how to set up your platform.
To text with a student, you need their mobile phone number and should obtain consent, meaning they've requested text communications from you. In this section, we’ll discuss how to get phone numbers, obtain opt-ins (when needed), and let students manage which texts they want to receive.
Phone carriers (i.e. the companies that all texting solutions run through) ask users to gain consent and maintain contact preferences in order to text them.
#1. Obtain Consent
First thing's first... What is an opt-in?
Text opt-in consent is written permission from your contact to send them SMS messages. This should happen before your first texting campaign. Consent to text should be established before sending any messages to a contact. To obtain proper consent, your collection method should include:
- What types of messages the recipient can expect to receive
- An indication of the frequency of messages
- A place to provide a valid phone number
#2. Establish a Collection Process
When deciding how you're going to obtain consent, ensure your method is documented and provable in case your text strategy leads to large spikes in opt-out rates or spam complaints. A record of the opt-in is highly recommended to protect your school.
Some of the most effective (and popular) places to ask for consent include:
- Application or document submissions
- Forms that ask for contact information
- Websites or student portals
- Event registrations
- Appointment scheduling
Or better yet, have them text you.
One of the easiest, and most effective ways to get contacts to opt into text messaging is to advertise your texting number in high foot-traffic areas. Outside of dining hall, at the library, at high school visits, etc.
Here are some easy ways to gain consent from your students:
- Initiate an e-mail blast to notify contacts of the ability to opt-in for text updates. Don't forget to get parent contact information as well!
- Keep inquiry forms simple, fun, and to the point with a check box where they can easily opt-in.
- Update your social media pages with your texting number. (Example: Text "Go Cats" to xxx-xxx-xxxx for University updates).
- Add the same messaging to your email signatures.
- Update your online application to include language for opting into text messaging.
Example 1: Single Opt-In
A single opt-in is a one-step action and only requires a person to text a keyword. No confirmation is required, and they instantly become a subscriber.
Example 2: Double Opt-In
A double opt-in involves a two-step action where a person texts a keyword and then is required to confirm their subscription. The main benefits of utilizing a double opt-in are that you will have more engaged/responsive contacts and a decreased likelihood of being flagged as spam.
What about FERPA and texting? Whatever you do for student emails and phone calls, apply the same logic and policy to texting. It’s really that simple, because texting is just another medium for communicating with students.
#3. Store Texting Preferences
Contacts should opt into texting on a per-team basis. Each contact should have a separate preference per department you're texting from. When collecting information on their texting preferences, store:
- Contact name and mobile number
- Opt-in status
- Date/time that the status was last updated
#4. Re-Establish Consent
Obtaining consent to text an individual does not mean that consent is provided indefinitely. Your institution’s texting policy should take into account when consent to text was last established.
Storing a date/time stamp along with a contact’s opt-in status is the best way to track this information. Consent and opt-in should be re-established if a reasonable time (10-12 months) has passed without any messages being sent to the contact.
#5. Manage Opt-Outs
There are a few possible ways that a contact may opt-out of receiving text messages which can include: texting a keyword such as “STOP”, texting a statement such as “stop texting me” or indicating a desire to opt-out or remain opted out via a form, document, email, etc.
#6. Follow Best Practices
Every message you send should clearly identify you (your institution’s name and department) as the sender, except in follow-up messages of an ongoing conversation. The initial message that you send to an individual needs to include instructions for opting out at the end of the message such as “Reply STOP to unsubscribe”.
Validating mobile numbers Collecting and Updating Student Phone Numbers
If you don’t already have student numbers from admissions or other sources — or if you want to make sure they are current — ask students to provide or verify their mobile number during key touchpoints. “We decided to have students go in during registration and update their emergency contact information, validate that their current address and phone number are correct, and provide a mobile number,” noted Brian Jackson, application support specialist at McLennan Community College.14
Validating mobile numbers
While students may provide your school with a number they claim is their mobile number, sometimes they enter a landline number or a number that’s invalid altogether. Sending text messages to landline phone numbers or invalid phone numbers will increase your undelivered rate, which can eventually lead to carrier violations, much like spam filters for email. Your texting platform should have a validation process that tells you whether or not each number is a true, valid mobile number (some texting platforms automatically check for validation each time you add, import, or edit data).
Regardless of how you decide to obtain opt-in, check with your legal team to ensure that your method is in compliance with any institutional policies.
Step 9 - Implement and Manage your Texting Communications Plan
The big day is here, you’ve finished crafting your communications plan, and now you’re ready to start texting students. Here’s how to make sure everything goes smoothly for your staff, your leadership, and your students.
Communicate with your staff and other key stakeholders
Everyone who’s going to be involved with texting students directly — or impacted by the texting (including your senior leadership) — should know what to expect. This includes:
- When you’re going to start texting students
- Which departments (or staff members) will be texting students
- The official text messaging policy (see Step 6)
- Contact information for texting platform administrators
Make sure students know how to text you
If you want students to proactively text you (and not just respond to texts that you send), make sure they know-how. Your texting number(s) should be on your website, your business cards, flyers, and other student-facing communications.
Have an ongoing stewardship plan
At Aurora University, a biweekly text-messaging-users-group meeting gives staff a chance to review how texting is working, share best practices, and plan for future communications.
Be prepared to expand your user base
We’ve seen it time and time again — as other people on campus see how successful texting is, they want it for their own department. When others start asking you for access to the texting platform — and they will — be ready with a ballpark timeline and plan for rolling it out to others. (And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for leading the way.)
Get ready for students to text you with other questions
Students see texting as just another way to get in touch with you. At one university, for example, students were having a problem finding a meeting room — so they texted a staff member to find out where they were supposed to be. It’s not how the staff intended texting to be used — but you can’t always control how your audience will use it. Ultimately, texting is the best resource to discover the needs and concerns of your students and keep them happy.
Step 10 - Measure!
With texting, it’s easy to see the results, often in just a few minutes or hours. But it’s important to look at the right data — and know how to use it.
Look beyond response rates
Everyone wants to know what a good response rate is when texting. But response rate is only one metric. Ultimately, student behavior is the most important metric, which can be answered by asking an even simpler question: are they doing what you want them to do? Go back to the objectives you established in Step 1, and see how your results measure up.
What’s a good response rate? It’s normally between 50 – 75 percent, assuming you have clean data and a solid content strategy. That said, some messages are more informational, and are not designed to elicit a response. For those messages, consider using the auto- reply feature (available in some texting platforms) for students who reply to the text looking for more information.
Test, test, test
With most texting platforms, it’s very easy to run A/B tests to determine what types of texts work best. Some of the things you can test include:
- TIMING: When in the student lifecycle is it best to text students for each of your objectives?
- LANGUAGE: Are there certain words or phrases that get students’ attention?
- FREQUENCY: How often should you send texts?
Use data to Prove ROI
“We had some departments that weren’t really on board with the texting,” said Brian Jackson from McLennan Community College.16 They understood that students are always on their phones — they just weren’t convinced that it would work for their campus. But once they saw the data from their campus colleagues, and looked at the positive student feedback, “they are texting more than the ones who were on board from the start.”
Remember the power of anecdotes
You’ll have plenty of hard data to show your colleagues why texting works. But sometimes a story is even more impactful.
“This freshman, an aspiring nurse, had a fall in her dorm room the night before the last day of classes,” said Jeff McNamara from Carroll University. “At the hospital, they noticed a mass in her brain — it turned out she had a brain tumor and needed to have surgery. But she still had to take her final exams, because she was applying to a competitive science program and they needed her grades. So, she was texting with me to coordinate with professors to take proctored exams once she recovered. It all worked out — she did great on her exams, and was admitted to the program — and I was able to help her stay calm and alleviate some of her anxiety because we were texting. With texts, we could communicate quickly and easily, and I knew she was getting my messages.”
It’s good to have goals. But remember that not everything is measurable. As Andy Storms from Ozark Christian College said, “It’s hard to quantify a relationship.”
Once you start getting results from texting students on campus, you can use what you’ve learned to help others on campus, discover additional opportunities to work toward your institutional goals, and even find ways to advance your own career.
Spread the news across campus
Texting works. It works with prospective students, current students, alumni, and even parents — but your colleagues may need to see it for themselves in order to believe it. By showing others on campus exactly how texting helps you reach your objectives, you can help them understand how it could work for them.
Here are some of the ways that universities are using texting:
- ADMISSIONS: Identifying the most interested prospective students, communicating with parents, deadline reminders
- ATHLETICS: Recruiting high school students, scheduling for student athletes
- ENGAGEMENT: Event announcements
- RETENTION/STUDENT SUCCESS: Outreach to at-risk students, scheduling advising appointments
- ADVANCEMENT: Keeping in touch with young alums, sharing information about upcoming events
Consider industry-wide opportunities to promote your institution
As more schools consider and implement texting platforms, there are more and more opportunities to share your expertise — and your results — with others outside of your institution.
Whether you want to speak at a conference, participate in a webinar or panel discussion, or be interviewed by industry publications, you’ll have numerous opportunities to talk about how well texting works at your school.
Strengthen your leadership position
Let’s be honest — everyone likes to be recognized for great work. One way to stand out — on campus and throughout the industry — is to be an advocate for texting students. Why? Because it shows that you’re using innovative solutions to address specific challenges, improve student outcomes, and get better results.
At Mongoose, we’re a great source to help you get the word out and promote yourself and your institution. If you’d like to be a part of our latest virtual events, podcasts, and case studies, contact us here.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Creating, implementing, and managing a texting communications plan for current students takes planning, collaboration, and ongoing work. But the results are truly transformative. Texting can help you achieve your objectives in student success, engagement, retention — and far beyond.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of what’s needed to develop your plan, here’s what we recommend you do next:
- Determine if texting is right for your institution (hint: it probably is).
- Set a goal deadline for having a texting platform in place; depending on your schedule, the software evaluation process, and budget cycles, this process typically takes 6 – 18 months.
- Identify which team members and others across campus (e.g., information technology) will be involved with each of the steps outlined in this plan, and share this document with them.
- Stay up-to-date on texting by following industry leaders on social media, attending texting workshops and presentations at conferences, and reading relevant blog posts and articles.
1 White, S. The Cost Effectiveness of Texting to Nudge Students Towards College Matriculation. Chicago Policy Review.
2 Boath E, Jinks A, Thomas N, Thompson R, Evans J, O’Connell P, Taylor L. Don’t go with the ‘FLO’ - a student mobile texting service to enhance nursing student retention. Nurse Education Today, October 2016.
3-4, 6, 10, 12, 14-15 Texting Throughout the Student Lifecycle, Mongoose webinar.
5, 7-8, 11 Text Messaging for Student Success, Higher Ed Live Special Edition.
9 Stoner, M. Texting Teens? Proceed with Caution. Higher Ed Live, December 7, 2017.