As an admissions tool, text message marketing has a bad rap – a really bad rap. Each new recruitment season brings articles like this recent New York Times piece that dismiss text messaging as either ineffective or unwanted by prospectives. As someone who has worked directly with text message campaigns in higher ed admissions for years, I can’t help but wince when reading coverage like that. Not because the truth hurts, but rather because it’s not true at all.
Contrary to popular opinion, text messaging can be an incredibly successful admissions tool – and I have the data to prove it.
The general argument against text messaging as a recruitment tool is that students don’t want it. Whether it’s qualitative findings, like those highlighted in the above-mentioned NY Times article, or quantitative findings from surveys like Noel Levitz annual E-Expectations Survey, critics point to the fact that a vast majority of prospective students say they simply do not want colleges or universities to communicate with them via text messaging. As an industry, we’ve taken these findings and jumped to the conclusion that if it’s not a broadly applicable tool, it’s not worth implementing. But the fact is, text message marketing isn’t about the vast majority.
For the last three years, St. Mary’s (TX) has provided potential students the option to sign up for text updates when they first make contact with the institution. Throughout the recruitment process, students who opted-in get helpful and important text alerts, and, if they reply, the university writes back to them individually.
For example, in recent text campaign prospective students were invited to Sleeping Bag Weekend (a key recruiting event). Many students responded via text: ‘thank you’ or asked simple questions. One student specifically engaged in a conversation about the admissions process, transcripts, application and transportation to sleeping bag weekend. After all his questions were answered, he replied “..all of this texting helps a lot..”.
As an early adopter, St. Mary’s has been very successful, enjoying record breaking enrollment for the last three years. Texting is only one component of their multi-channel communication mix. However, a very important one. In the last year…
- 1,923 student opted in for text updates (out of 40,000 who inquired) – but 30.8 percent of those who did ended up applying, compared with 10.9 percent of all prospective students.
- 42% of the texting students paid a deposit to attend the university compared with 26% of all accepted students.
While one could look at the above numbers and scoff that a mere 5% of prospectives signed up for the service, they’d be missing the point entirely. Prospective students who opt in for texting are significantly more likely to apply and enroll, which makes SMS adoption an excellent early qualifying indicator. In addition, an argument could certainly be made that it is also the helpful, personal and easily accessible communication inherent in texting that can make a difference, at least among a portion of participants.
So it’s true text messaging as a recruitment tool isn’t for everyone. In fact, most inquiring students will not opt-in for these text alerts. But when 97% of students rely on texting as their own primary form of communication, and when participation in such campaigns provides a nearly instantaneous qualifying indicator, it just seems contemptible that our industry would write the technology off entirely, simply because it’s not a universally applicable tool.
The bottom line is that the data is in, and text messaging is a viable marketing tool worthy of a place in our recruitment toolkit.
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