Learn why text messaging has become a powerful direct communications channel for education organizations like UofL College of Business—helping drive admissions, retention, and donations.

The way prospects, students, and alumni engage with universities is rapidly changing. Traditional methods of communication are no longer as effective as they once were. In-person interactions—like college fairs and on-campus tours—are currently on hold. Email inboxes are full of messages from brands and other organizations, which can drown out relevant information. So, how do universities directly communicate with their core audiences to drive engagement? Increasingly, they’re turning to personalized text messaging to engage their mobile audiences—and drive immediate action. 

Attentive’s Co-Founder & CEO Brian Long sat down virtually with University of Louisville College of Business‘s Director of College Communications, PR, and Marketing, Sharon Handy, for AMA‘s virtual conference: The Brave New World for Higher Ed Marketers. They discussed why universities are finding incredible value in SMS to directly engage their mobile-first audiences with two-way conversations. 

1. Capturing engaged mobile audiences

Over the past four years, mobile traffic to university websites has increased 16%. Most likely, your students and prospects are learning about you on their mobile devices. And now, prospective students are eager to communicate 1:1 with you on their mobile devices, too—67% of high school juniors want to receive information about academic programs and majors via text message. What’s more, the same study found that for high school seniors, text messages from admissions counselors are more influential than traditional resources like brochures and rankings lists. 

To lay the groundwork for driving valuable, engaging conversations, first ensure your website is optimized for mobile-first audiences. For example, last year, University of Louisville (UofL) College of Business launched a new, mobile-first website with the goal of increasing user engagement. The college was looking for a natural way to continue the conversation with mobile visitors after they left the website. 

Sharon Handy, Director of College Communications, PR, & Marketing at the UofL College of Business said that personalized text messaging was the perfect channel to establish a connection with mobile audiences—and that people immediately embraced the channel. “People are signing up like crazy—staff, students across campus, alumni, and donors all want to stay informed via text messaging,” said Handy. “The channel is very conversational, which helps us build strong relationships with our audience.”

2. Communicating 1:1 with multiple audiences

Personalized text messaging helps colleges and universities build and maintain relationships with prospects, students, alumni, and donors. Using segmentation, schools can send highly relevant content to subscribers based on real-time behaviors—like submitting Request for Information (RFI) forms—or their relationship to your organization. By tailoring your messaging to specific audiences, you can increase engagement and drive immediate action. 

I wouldn’t send the same text message to my friend and my daughter. The same logic applies to our text messaging subscribers. We speak directly to each segment, rather than sending out a blanket message. This approach has led to powerful results.”

– Sharon Handy, Director of College Communications, PR, & Marketing, University of Louisville College of Business

UofL College of Business segments its subscriber list into five key groups: prospects, students, alumni, members of the broader university community, and staff. It sends tailored messages to each of these groups—like invitations to virtual informational sessions to prospects, and calls for donations to alumni—to ensure that each group is receiving communications they are invested in. 

Many universities are leveraging segmentation to spur specific actions, according to Brian Long, Co-Founder and CEO of Attentive. “A lot of universities are using text messaging to ensure that accepted students turn into enrolled students. They’re reaching out to accepted students to answer questions, offer support, and really build and maintain excitement.”

3. Driving immediate action

Text messaging is an inherently personal channel—you’re communicating directly with subscribers where they’re also communicating with their friends and family. When a user subscribes to your text messaging program, they’re investing trust in you and are interested in hearing from you. This means text messaging subscribers are some of an organization’s most valuable individuals—a mix of high-intent prospective students and families, active students, and dedicated alumni and donors.  

The instantaneous nature of text messaging also means that your audience is hearing—and engaging with— your messages immediately. “We sent a text message to our subscribers inviting them to our virtual graduation event,” said Handy. “We had over 1,000 people tune in—it was a fantastic turnout.” By sending these invitations directly to the device where subscribers are paying attention to, the college has significantly increased attendance

UofL College of Business also engages its broader community via text messaging. At the onset of the COVID-19, it launched a care fund to help students who were struggling financially during the pandemic. Recognizing that text messaging was a fantastic channel to directly reach alumni and donors, the college sent a text message asking its community to consider donating to the fund and saw an immediate response. 

Handy said that Attentive’s white-glove management has been vital to the success of UofL College of Business’s text messaging program. “The difference we’ve found with Attentive is the power of their platform and the power of their wonderful team. This was our first experience with text messaging, so the Attentive team’s white glove approach has been invaluable as we grow our channel. It’s not a plug-and-play platform—I’ve got a team at Attentive that helps me every step of the way.”

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