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A guide to texting for higher ed events: 8 dos and don’ts

texting for higher ed

Ever wondered how you can use texting to drive student engagement at your next event? Read our guide to find out how you can start using texting for higher ed events…

Most of us will know that texting is a key part of any student conversion campaign, especially events. If you want to nudge a student to take action, whether that’s showing up on the day or sharing feedback afterwards, texting can be a really powerful tool.

However, it’s important to get texting right. Use it well and you have a really impactful conversion tool at your disposal. But misuse it, and you could irritate students, create a poor impression of your institution, and have students hitting unsubscribe. Ouch.

Asking the expert: Courtney Chastine

With all of that in mind, we’ve drawn on the expertise of one of our most trusted Gecko clients, Courtney Chastine, who is Director of Visitor Services at Sam Houston State University.

Courtney has leveraged texting as a strategic conversion tool for their events. Sam Houston State University text students before, during, and after events and they do it to ensure that visitors have amazing experiences at their preview days, campus tours, and Open House events, every single time. Texting removes obstacles and, ultimately, sets their guests up for success.

We’ll deep dive into Courtney’s expertise shortly. But first up, let’s answer some of those big questions about how to use texting for higher ed events…

Courtney Chastine
Gecko
I can’t say enough, if you’re not texting students you should be. As with any event, things can change, get delayed, or go wrong. Texting allows us to have really quick communication with our guests.
Gecko
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services, Sam Houston State University

Should you text students about events

Well, according to research, students want to receive texts from you!

77% of students want relevant information from colleges via text

As long as you do it in the right way, there’s a real opportunity to cut through the noise and support your events communication strategy with short, impactful messaging.

Benefits of texting students

Why should you use texting for events? Well, the key benefits are many…

  • Meet prospects where they are
  • Avoid ‘email fatigue’, where emails go unread
  • Prompt students to take a specific action, like signing up!
  • Remove blockers and potential obstacles for attendees
  • Alert students to any important changes on the day
  • Drive an increase in attendees at your events
  • Increase feedback form response rates

Ultimately, texting students is a great way to set them up for success at your events, so they don’t have to worry about all of the logistical issues like how they get there. It frees them up to relax and enjoy the day.

Risks of texting students

However, there are also risks that come with texting. How much is too much? Have students consented to texts? Is it too much of an invasion into their personal space?

First of all, make sure you give students an option to opt-in to texting communication from you. That way you’re setting expectations, you’re letting prospects know that you’ll be communicating with them via text, and there won’t be any surprises along the way.

We would also advise using texting sparingly. It’s not something you should be doing every day and it’s not something you should be doing in isolation. Texting works best when you use it hand-in-hand with other conversion strategies, such as email and call campaigns.

How to use texting for higher ed events

1) Don’t blast text everyone

One of the most important pieces of advice Courtney has when it comes to texting is to only text students that your institution already has a virtual relationship with. It’s also important to be really clear with students that you will be texting them, and why.

Courtney explains, “I’m not advocating for grabbing a list of numbers and blast texting students. We text in response to a relationship already being established with a student. If they register for our events, we’re going to text their registration confirmation, event reminders, and updates, as it relates to registration for this event. And we tell them. We say we need a text capable number and we’re going to text you updates about your event.”

2) Do tie cadence to customer needs

Figuring out the right cadence is a big challenge when you’re setting up your texting communication timeline. If you want to get this right it should always be aligned with audience needs.

Sam Houston State University makes sure that every single communication is designed with student needs at its heart. “Everything is set according to our event timeline and we work backwards from that. So if the event is on Saturday we ask ourselves: when prior to that do students need information about the event and what information do they need and when?

The two-week window before the event is when their timeline starts to pick up. “Two weeks before, we send a quick reminder. One week before, we send a reminder and any updates on anything that may have changed. At that point it’s more in-depth, where we say things like, wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a refillable water bottle. It’s the things we didn’t send them earlier because they didn’t need that information at that time.”

Courtney Chastine
Gecko
“We’re careful not to over text students because we want to respect that space. It’s useful until it’s too much, so we try and be mindful of that.”
Gecko
Courtney Chastine
Director of Visitor Services, Sam Houston State University

3) Don’t miss a chance to solve problems

What are the biggest blockers to visitors on the morning of your event? Is it finding the address of your school to put it in their sat nav? Is it a QR code they’ll use to check-in?

Putting this information in front of sign-ups on the morning of your event makes their lives easier and means that they don’t have to dig through their inbox for a booking confirmation they may have received weeks ago. This is where texting adds huge value.

Courtney explains, “When we sit down to plan an event or evaluate anything or we start with the mindset of how we mitigate any problems our guests may have. We put ourselves in their shoes. What are the things that could go wrong or frustrate them?

“If you can solve as many of those problems as possible then chances are they’re going to show up, enjoy themselves, and have a really wonderful experience on your campus.”

4) Do focus on the data

Getting students to check themselves in at events can be tricky. There’s a lot going on and it’s easy for students to run late and forget. However, if they don’t check in it skews your final numbers and means attendees may not get right the post-event communications.

Courtney resolved this issue by texting students during the event and incentivising them to turn up at the check-in desk! “We were losing people. People would show up halfway through the day and we realised we needed to capture them. They needed event information, meanwhile, we wanted to make sure they funnelled through our system. So we started texting everyone that hadn’t checked in by the time that check-in closed, with a late
check-in reminder. This changed a lot for us in a positive way.”

“We’d text them and say, ‘Hey, we’ve noticed you haven’t checked in yet, stop by our late check-in desk, and entice them with a free t-shirt. We haven’t missed people since.”

5) Don’t stop iterating your strategy

The first solution might not always be the right one! Courtney discovered that parking was a big issue for guests at her events. Students have to have their licence plate to check-in but often they were forgetting it and then having to traipse back to their car to get it.

First of all they texted students on the morning of the events to remind them to have their licence plate number to hand. However, that didn’t work and so they had to come up with another solution that would create a more streamlined process for visitors.

“Now we have a parking attendant [in the parking lot] who will catch them there and register their vehicles. It’s one small problem fixed and means I don’t have an angry parent at my check-in table, frustrated that they have to go and get their licence plate number.”

6) Do create a repeatable playbook

Let’s get a bit more granular here. What should your texts look like? Should they be short and punchy or should you try and tailor them to every single event? Well, there’s actually value in using templated texts – because when they’re generic they’re also scalable.

Courtney says, “We use a lot of universal templates so that our team isn’t having to rebuild everything from scratch every time. A lot of our registration texts would just say something along the lines of, ‘Thanks for your registration. We’re really excited for you to come and visit Sam Houston State University. Check out your details here.’ That means the text can be for pretty much anything – a preview day, a one-day event, or a campus tour.”

While they do get more specific with some of their texts, particularly in the build-up to an event, Sam Houston always likes to keep their messaging short and impactful. “If we’re sending a giant text then something has gone wrong somewhere!”

7) Don’t forget about the parents

A lot of the time when we’re discussing how to use texting for events we’re talking about how we should text students. But what about parents? For Sam Houston State, recognising that there was a need for parents to be looped into these communications was crucial.

Courtney says, “We’d get a ton of phone calls from parents saying, my child has signed up for this, I don’t have any information about it. We would have to walk them through all the communications we’d sent, but the parent has never seen any of the information.”

“We realised we needed to start directly connecting with parents, guardians, family members – the people invested in this college search process. We added a field to our event forms to capture parent data, which ask if there’s a parent/guardian who would like information and updates. It’s been a lifesaver. Parents love having that information and not being dependent on their students. They tell us all the time, they love it.”

8) Do text no shows

OK, so we’ve covered how you should text the students who sign up and attend your Open House events. But what about the people who don’t show up? Should you text them? Email them? Or focus your attention on the people that you know are interested?

Courtney says that Sam Houston State always tries to create another opportunity for prospective students to engage with the school. She explains, “If people don’t show up, we send them a message to invite them to something else. If there’s something else we can invite them to that’s similar or connected to their program of interest then we will. We won’t forever text them, but we absolutely do a follow-up for people that didn’t show up.”

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texting for higher ed

Texting for higher ed events: a recap

So there’s a lot to think about when it comes to texting students for higher ed events! However, the main takeaway is that texting for higher ed events has to be built around supporting and enabling students to have the best experience possible.

Here’s a recap of what your texting schedule for an event could look like, including what communications you should send before, during, and after.

What an event texting schedule could look like… 

Before

  • Keep texts concise – only include key information
  • Start texting students two weeks before
  • Any important updates? Include them in a text the week of the event

Example text: Hi, [name]! We’re looking forward to welcoming you to our Open House event at Gecko University next week. Check the details here:

Morning of the event

  • Text students before the start time
  • Keep messaging tightly focused on what they need to get there
  • Think about how you can remove blockers/obstacles

Example text: Don’t forget – you can park your car free of charge at the Gecko University parking lot. Pop it in your sat nav now!

During the event

  • Alert them to any important room changes/updates
  • Make sure you text students who forget to check-in
  • Use texts to get the attendee data you need

Example text: Hi [name]. Just to let you know that the Finance Talk you’re booked on for at 3pm has moved. It’s now in room 8GCK. See you there!

After

  • Keeping this text simple means you can duplicate it
  • Send a text with your feedback survey
  • Follow up with no-shows and try to engage them again

Example text: Thank you for visiting our campus today! We’d love it you would fill in our feedback survey so that we can keep getting better! [link]