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February 15

Text Message Marketing for Higher Ed: Getting Closer to Your Audience with SMS


One of the biggest opportunities for higher education marketers today is text marketing. Here’s a text marketing starter guide to get you going.

If there were one thing I wish more private colleges and universities were doing, it’s text message marketing.

You’ve probably seen this marketing tactic used in other sectors, but there are good reasons you should think seriously about launching a text marketing strategy for your higher education institution.

The first reason? So few schools are doing it.

And if they are, many are not doing it well (more to say on how to do it well below). That leaves this under-used tactic as a potential advantage for your education brand.

Another reason to get into text message marketing is that you can’t get much closer to your audience than through text. Take a look at these stats from my friends at Leadsquared.com:

  • The average American checks their phone 46 times a day.
  • The average Millennial sends and receives an average of 67 text messages per day.
  • 77% of students want relevant information from colleges via text.
  • 56% of students say a college can text them first.
  • 91% of people who use text say they prefer it over voicemail.
  • 91% of teens with cell phones actively text.

Just look at that statistic in the middle.

77% of students want relevant information from colleges via text.

That’s a large amount of your target audience that is open to receiving immediate communications from you!

Do you really need any more of a reason than that?

I have one more reason before we dive into how to make this work for your private college, school, or university:

Text message marketing supports your other marketing and recruitment efforts in a direct way. You can use text messages to remind students of upcoming recruitment appointments or special events, which enhances your event or meeting’s results simply by getting them there.

How can you use text message marketing?

You’re only limited by your imagination! And your marketing strategy.

Content Marketing. You can use text message marketing to cultivate prospective students through content marketing by sending out a text blast offering them a free ebook, video, devotional, or other type of content.

Conversion. You can also convert prospective students to enrolled students by sending texts that ask them to set up appointments with enrollment officers.

Event marketing. Get people on your list to sign up or register for your next campus or online event.

Reminders. You can send a text reminding prospective students of an upcoming enrollment meeting or even current students of important appointments they have with your school. Imagine how it would help remind students of payment deadlines, homework deadlines, etc.

Emergency alerts. This an important  safety feature for current students and their families. In the case of a natural disaster, storm, or security crisis on your campus, you can quickly notify people.

Contests. You could hold a contest and give prizes to random people who respond to your message or complete a student satisfaction survey or other desired behavior.

There are many more ways to use text messages in your marketing strategy.

But for me, the above reasons are why I wish more schools were taking advantage of this amazing tool!

So how do you get started in text message marketing?

Choose a text message marketing service provider.

Like email service providers, text message marketing service providers not only give you the ability to send out massive text blasts, they also give you a good number of metric and reporting tools as well to know how your campaign is doing.

There are many text message marketing service providers out there, so make sure that you look through them to find the right one for you.

Keep in mind that you want a service that’s easy to use, offers good customer service, and sends out SMS texts.

SMS texts will reach audience members who do not receive email-based texts. This is the technology that text messages used before Internet-based texts came along with apps like the Apple Message app.

Decide on your shortcodes.

Some of your text message campaigns will need a shortcode. These are the shortcodes that students will text to the number that you provide when they respond to your message.

These shortcodes should have a clear connection to whatever it is you’re offering or sharing with your audience.

For example, if you send a text asking them to download your latest white paper on budgeting for college, choose keywords like ”budget” or “financialaid.” The student will then text this word to whatever number your text message marketing service provider provides them (something easy like 9999).

And keep it short. No one likes to text long words.

Plan when you’ll text your audience.

Not every text blast needs a response. Some texts can simply be reminders for appointments or special events.

The best time to send a text message marketing message is within a couple hours of when you want your audience to take action.

Text messages have a very short shelf life, and so you don’t want to send them out much earlier than that.

Keep in mind that there are legal considerations with text message marketing that limit when you can send messages to your audience. You can only send text messages between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (local time of the recipient).

Grow your list.

Because text messaging is similar to telemarketing, there are many more restrictions on it that don’t apply to other marketing activities like email.

But again, this is a good thing because it reinforces good marketing practices.

In this case, you’re required to get the written consent of the people you’re sending text messages to. You can do this in both print and digital format.

Which means you can embed consent forms on your website, landing pages, online enrollment forms, or in emails.

You can also include opt-in language in your admissions packages so that when students give you their cell phone number, they can check a box to give you permission to send them texts.

As with all opt-in forms, make sure you use a clear message that tells them exactly what you’ll be sending them and why they’d be happy to receive text messages from you. Something like…

“Opt-in to our text message list and receive exclusive offers, special event info, and important alerts via text or SMS!”

Keep it natural.

Text messaging is a personal, immediate way to communicate. Don’t use academic or formal language.

Keep it casual and natural.

Measure your results.

Create reports on each text campaign you send and measure the results.

Find out what your students really want to hear from you and when. The only way to do this is by tracking your metrics as you try new things.

Get closer to your audience.

Prospective students are making one of the toughest and most costly decisions of their lives. Getting more personal in your tone or medium is one way you can show them that you’re here to help.

Text message marketing is one way you can not only drive results in your education marketing, but you can also make a difference for the prospective student who needs a useful, timely guide in this important decision.

If you need help with your message marketing – or any other aspect of your enrollment marketing – feel free to reach out.  We offer solutions with proven results.

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Featured image by Andrey Popov via Adobe Stock

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