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May 18, 2020

One of the biggest challenges the higher ed community faces is how to reach students. To address this challenge, two of Signal Vine’s partners hosted a webinar to talk about how to reach students where they want to be reached - their mobile devices.

Below, we’ve captured some of the best practices outlined by Stephanie Fiorelli from The Urban Assembly, Yassi Davoodi from uAspire, and Claire Dennison from uAspire. Read on to learn some of their best practices on how to reach students via text.

Why text your students?

Before we dive into how to text your students, let’s address the “why.” Researchers have proven that students often respond well to texts from their institutions. One researcher known for his work on the effectiveness of texting students is Dr. Ben Castleman. His research has largely focused on nudge theory. In the context of higher ed, “nudging” can mean reaching out to students and prompting them to take action. Texting is a great way to nudge students to take action, such as to file the FAFSA or pay their tuition bill. Dr. Castleman has his own remarks on why text nudges are effective:

"[Texts] remind people about important tasks they need to complete and help them follow through with the goals they’ve set for themselves."

Beyond the research that shows the effectiveness of texting, this method of outreach is great for those in higher ed and college access for three main reasons:

  • Texting is cheap
  • Texting is everywhere
  • You don’t need a powerful computer/internet connection to do it

In addition to nudging, texting can help advisors, whether in college access or admissions, form relationships with students. Advisors can use texting to support students as they navigate through various processes while also reminding them of the key deadlines and information they need to know. Forming those connections with students is crucial in supporting students and keeping them on track. We’ll show this in action through a few sample text exchanges later.

The key to scaling

The ability to scale texting efforts is critical for some organizations. (It’s certainly crucial for The Urban Assembly, where each advisor texts nearly 1,500 to 2,000 alumni!) The problem is that without the right technology, scaling texting efforts can make the texts lose their effectiveness. This is because the messages become impersonal, and students might perceive them as spam.

Personalized messages for each student you contact are important. For instance, with a texting platform like Signal Vine, you can automatically personalize your texts to be unique to each student recipient. You can include their name, program of study, GPA, and whatever other information your CRM or SIS system captures. This makes each text message you send come across as personal and unique to each student you text, regardless of how many students you actually text at a time.

The “Fab 5”

uAspire and The Urban Assembly worked together to come up with a guide on how to advise students via text. They call their best practices the “Fab 5.” These are the core parts to both organizations’ texting campaigns. Let’s dive into the “Fab 5” ways to reach students via text.

1. Know your purpose.

Know the desired end goal of your text message. Then, work backward to ensure you craft a message that will help you achieve that goal. For instance, if your goal is to motivate students to complete the FAFSA, you can text students a fun message to give them that encouragement. Here’s an example text thread from The Urban Assembly.

Here, the advisor sends out a mass text on Valentine’s Day to engage with them. This simple, fun exchange serves as a way to connect with students the advisor has never met before. Talking about the FAFSA is also a purposeful move on the advisor’s part. The advisor is attempting to motivate students to complete the FAFSA on their own in this example, not to help them complete it. It’s an important distinction, one that leans on language choice.

But what about messages in which you simply want to remind your students to take action? That’s where nudge texts come in.

The purpose of this text is to remind, or nudge, students to complete the FAFSA. Notice that there isn’t a request for a response or an offer of help in this text. It simply serves as a nudge for students to complete the FAFSA.

Then, there are those messages in which you also want to offer help.

Like the text in the grey text bubble, this text message serves to remind students to complete the FAFSA. However, it also serves to help students. It engages them and asks them to respond to the message to let the advisor know if they know which documents they’ll need to finish the FAFSA.

Once you know your purpose, you can craft your messages to align with this purpose. Doing this can help you nudge, help, and encourage your students through purposeful messages.

2. Use intentional language

Speaking of language, use it carefully. Word choice and punctuation matter. Be as real and empathetic as you can. Never be afraid to admit when you don’t have an answer for a student. Remember, careful language now will mean solid action later. It may take some time to craft messages with precise language, but it will pay off, just like it does for The Urban Assembly. Their student engagement rate is 80%!

Check out the message below for an example of a carefully crafted text.

The first text sent to students was crafted to be informal and caring. It comes across as though the advisor just happened to be thinking about the student, so he or she reached out. Also, notice that there is no period at the end of the statement, “Don’t forget to wash your hands.” Again, this was a purposeful move to make the message less formal. The smallest purposeful tweaks to messages can have the most impact on students.

3. Target your outreach.

Think about what you know about your students and use that information in your outreach. This can help you craft timely and relevant messages as well as adjust your message for your specific audience. Also, keep track of the information you learn along the way about your students. You can track this manually using a tool such as Excel or automatically with a CRM system such as Salesforce.

Check out the targeted exchange below:

Here, the advisor leverages the data she has to check in on the student. Through the text exchange, she realizes the student is attending a different institution. This information is collected and updated in the student’s profile so that future text outreach will be relevant to the student. This enables the advisor to meet the student where he or she is to develop helpful messaging.

4. Have full-circle conversations.

While you may not be able to answer every single text you receive from students immediately, it is important to respond in some way, even if it’s just to note that you received the message, as quickly as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask the student questions in return. This shows that you are willing to invest time in the student to help. Include a concrete call-to-action to instruct students on whatever next steps they need to take. When appropriate, follow up with questions, one at a time. Again, you’re showing students that you are there to help them.

Below is an example of a full-circle conversation.

You’ll notice in this thread that an empathetic conversation leads to a follow-up from the advisor. The follow-up is specific and unique to this student to bring the conversation full-circle. Further, the student will be able to see that he or she has an involved advisor, ready to offer support.

5. Build relationships.

This point deserves reiteration. It’s so important to build relationships with students both before you start texting and as you text. Through your texts, you should attempt to build credibility, trust, and rapport. You can do this by checking in on students when you don’t really need anything from them and even just by showing real human emotion. This can make a huge difference for students.

Check out this message from an advisor to her student.

There is no “ask” here. It’s simply a message to say happy birthday. This helps the advisor build rapport with the student just by showing that the student is valued beyond his or her role as a student.

Learn more you can watch the full webinar recording here. Also, be sure to check out The Urban Assembly and uAspire online. We couldn’t be more proud to partner with these groups of “textperts”!



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