Home Features School Operations LOL! OMG! What and How You Text Students Will Impact Response Rates
LOL! OMG! What and How You Text Students Will Impact Response Rates

LOL! OMG! What and How You Text Students Will Impact Response Rates


By Jeri Prochaska, Vice President of Higher Education Relations, TextAim

On the surface, it seems so simple. A person types into his or her cellphone to send a text message, and then someone on the other end reads it and responds. More than likely, every person reading this has already sent many texts today. And most people probably consider themselves quite proficient in doing so. In fact, for personal communication, sending texts via cellphones works exceptionally well.

But when it comes to communicating with students, how you text them is every bit as important as what you text.

If your school wants to text to engage your students, you need to have a continuous method of contacting students that they can use their entire lifecycle, from inquiry to graduation. It’s important not to single out a specific department. With that in mind, there are four imperative factors to take into consideration when it comes to communicating with students via text: response rates, transparency and manager oversight, compliance and ease of use.

Response rates

Many schools have become frustrated in the last year or so since lead quantity and quality have declined and phone calls and emails aren’t as effective as they were in the past. This makes it even more important to get the best response rates possible out of limited resources. Why is it that some schools receive only a 2 percent or 3 percent response rate to their group texts, while others consistently see 5 percent to 12 percent or more? The lead source and the message itself are factors, but the real secret is in the phone numbers. That is, what number appears with the text message you’re sending? Below are the types of numbers available, how effective they are and what they are typically used for:

  • 56137 (Short code) – These numbers are always computer generated, and are used for marketing blasts, emergency responses, boarding passes, contests and coupons, etc. These numbers have the lowest response rates with very high opt-out rates.
  • 444-688-8888 (Random numbers) – These numbers are also computer generated, and are commonly used by collection agencies, surveyors, telemarketers and international call centers. These have very low response rates and the highest opt-out rates.
  • 212-675-9879 (Real, local phone numbers) – The area code is recognized as local, and people assume there is some sort of relationship, whether it is friend, family or business associate. You can call and/or text, and the number can be saved in contacts for ongoing conversations. These phone numbers have the highest response rates and the lowest opt-out rates.

As consumers, we all get texts that we answer and ones that we ignore.

When texting students, however, it’s important not only to give them information, but also to allow them to respond and have an actual conversation.

Have you ever attempted to respond to a text and received a warning stating you may be charged if you continue? Smartphones are often programmed for this when using random numbers and short codes. Students are savvy shoppers; they don’t want to text computers. They want to have conversations with people.

When considering a text method, I highly recommend that you send yourself a text and respond to it. Does it look like marketing or an actual conversation? What happens when you call the number you receive the text from? Is there a notification or can it be answered?

Transparency and manager oversight

We all want to trust our employees; we really do. But the fact is we can’t risk it. Employees are human and they can make mistakes. Have you ever had an employee leave the company, and in cleaning up loose ends, you log in to his or her email and are shocked at what you read? When considering a text system, it is crucial managers have easy access into the employees’ conversations and that your employees understand the transparency. No communication transmittal is ever truly deleted, but many can be hidden. Everyone would agree it would be far better to find an offensive comment and deal with it appropriately, rather than being surprised with a student accusation and the text conversation that has been saved in his or her phone as evidence.

Transparency also increases productivity. For example, if it is the instructors’ responsibility to daily follow up with absent students, there really is no way to verify if the instructors actually talked to the students. But in admissions and career services, the advantage is to have real-time insight on activity and the actual conversations. It could be extremely valuable in the future to have documentation of every contact and every job link, as well as how the student responded to those efforts.


For most of us, we’ve read, reread, listened, presented on and sought clarification from professionals on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) rules that took effect on Oct. 16, 2013. Schools should have the appropriate opt-in language on their website and procedures in place to notate records accordingly.

Ideally, your system should have features built in to keep you safe. Starting with the wording on the initial outbound text, make sure it’s populated with the name of the person receiving the text, the name of the person texting, the school name and reply STOP to STOP. The system should automatically block opt outs and not allow employee override without tech support. Another feature that will keep you in check is assuring that duplicates cannot be created in the system.

Ease of use

Many times technology savvy people are the ones who decide on new software for the school. But it is important to keep in mind when choosing new technology that it must be useable by the majority. When something becomes complicated, users will find another way to accomplish tasks, not complete tasks at all or become frustrated. This is why admission departments often have a texting capability in place, but reps continue to use personal cellphones to reach out.

The goal of any communication tool is to make it easy and familiar so that it’s used often and appropriately.

Be sure the system is more effective than a cellphone by having the ability to send thousands of messages at a time with back-and-forth private conversations. It is also helpful to include everyday users in the buying process and product demonstrations. This will help with easy adoption of the product chosen, and ultimately will mean less resistance and more excitement around implementing and using the new software.

When choosing software, you also need to keep in mind technical support and training. Even the simplest of technology still needs to be trained and supported. When companies do not offer training or charge extra for it, the end result is typically an underutilized product. Choosing a vendor that understands the sector, is willing to onboard and train at the beginning and throughout the life span of the product, as well as offer technical support, is crucial to the success and continued ease of use of the product.

Texting continues to evolve

Compared to other communication methods, texting is relatively new and still evolving, and there is much more to it than meets the eye. For example, purchasing company cellphones and distributing them would seem to be a good idea. Many schools have been doing this for decades. But given today’s climate and all the possible consequences, this is a very bad idea. Why? There are many reasons.

Let’s start with the fact that there is no transparency or manager oversight. That means employees can delete something from view, but not from the receiver’s text, which can be used against you down the road. There are also considerations when it comes to responding during off hours and creating, for some employees, possible over time. The last thing your school needs is to be blindsided with a lawsuit over harassment, discrimination or something else because one of your employees sent an inappropriate text to a student. Let’s be honest, no matter the business, if you give cellphones to 50 employees, you can be fairly certain that someone is going to text something that they shouldn’t have, and you’ll be the last to know about it.

However, there is no doubt text messaging is an effective form of communication that can improve all aspects of the student lifecycle.

We are among a generation of students who prefer text communication and by meeting them where they are at you will certainly lower the barriers and engage your students more effectively.

Just like any other form of communication, texting has variables that can make it more or less effective and it is important to take those variables into consideration. Make sure your team knows the rules both socially and legally, use common sense and be sure someone is monitoring the conversations. Do your research, find a partner you can trust and happy texting!

Jeri Prochaska

Jeri Prochaska, Vice President of Higher Education Relations at TextAim, is responsible for leading business development initiatives and the successful management of education clients. Jeri has a passion for the education industry, and specializes with increasing enrollments and retention through innovative communication. She brings an extensive knowledge of admissions, accreditation and compliance accumulated over more than two decades of working within and for career colleges. Starting in 1991, she led admissions teams for CEC, Remington College, Anthem, Aveda and others. Jeri is also the founder and Co-Executive Director of the Central States Private Education Network (CSPEN), which represents schools in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

Contact Information: Jeri Prochaska // Vice President of Higher Education Relations // TextAim // 952-461-5374 (Office) or 952-277-9966 (Cell) // Jeri@textaim.com // www.textaim.com



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