In today’s climate, it is rare to find a campus that is not using text message platforms to notify students of on-campus emergencies.
It is rarer to find campuses utilizing text messaging platforms to communicate with students about less serious matters: missing documents in financial aid, reminders about advising appointments, and notifications about events on campus.
Our campus recently subscribed to a text message platform meant specifically for these less time-sensitive purposes. We plan to send notifications to consenting students for those events listed above.
One of the first things people ask when I mention texting messaging with students is why colleges would need this type of service. Students can already contact student services by phone or email. Why add another platform that has to be monitored and maintained? The answer is simple: texting is the new phone and email.
A 2013 Pew Research poll found that 81 percent of smartphone users text on a daily basis. For those who think email is still an effective medium for making student contact, ponder this: text messages have a 98 percent open rate compared to 20 percent for email messages. Response rates (meaning the customer actually did what was requested in the original message) were similarly comparable with a 45 percent rate for text messages and only six percent for emails.
With these numbers, the real question is, why not? Why not tap into a platform that almost guarantees your students will see the message you’re trying to get across?
Hundreds of vendors are now offering an opportunity to make text message contact with customers. A majority of them seem to be focused on the healthcare industry, but even those vendors can customize systems to meet the needs of clients.
The first place to check for options is vendors you’re already working with. Does your campus have an emergency notification system that uses text message contacts? If so, that company might be able to meet the needs of non-emergency notifications as well.
One of the visions that flashes into people’s minds when you mention texting customers is the image of office staff glued to their phones texting back and forth all day. The reality is much different; the majority of these services allow staff to text from their computer desktop.
When our campus began planning for implementation of our system, I found few resources regarding text messaging with students. Some schools were using similar systems, but didn’t have formal policies for the plethora of issues that may come up.
You’re basically on your own when it comes to these policies. One of our directors even attempted to contact a FERPA specialist. The response: they don’t have specific guidelines for text messaging and recommended using guidelines for verbal telephone interactions.
Luckily, a few medical center users of these systems had policies available online we were able to adapt to suit our needs. For those having trouble finding resources, I’d be happy to share the guidelines we put together.
If you plan to implement a text system, I do recommend you become familiar with two specific laws regarding text messages. The CAN-SPAM Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act provide the legal guidelines for text message communications with customers. And before you say, “Our messages aren’t for marketing,” keep in mind that the Federal Communications Commission has a very broad definition of what constitutes marketing. You could find yourself paying some very hefty fines if you don’t get consent to send text messages before the fact.
Text message communication with students doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, as a supervisor I prefer to have an interaction with a student in writing so I can go back and see exactly what was said. It makes accountability so much easier.
Finding the right vendor is the key to a successful experience. We have had some issues with the system we chose, but our vendor has been responsive to our needs.
Finally, keep things professional. Texting allows some leeway in grammar usage, but there is a huge difference between “ur missing finaid docs” and “You are missing documents to complete your financial aid file”. Which would you want to be associated with your office?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Lougan Bishop on Working with Student Marketing Teams