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SMS for higher ed

If your school wants to stay on top of marketing trends, it’s important to pay attention to the digital tools that prospects love most and ensure they are part of your strategy. Considering the massive growth of SMS and instant messaging amongst young audiences, it’s no question that these channels can have a sizeable impact on student recruitment.

For students, direct messaging boasts the benefits of being quick and convenient – perfect for prospects on the go – while still retaining a personal touch. For schools, these tools provide a highly effective mode of communication through both manual and automated messaging.

A win-win for schools and prospects, the potential of SMS and instant messaging for student recruitment is as powerful as it is popular. Whether you’re looking to build a strategy from scratch, or get some new ideas, this blog will show you how to maximize the potential of these messaging tools.

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Why Use SMS and Instant Messaging for Student Recruitment?

Although SMS and instant messaging (IM) haven’t reached the widespread circulation of email marketing and cold calling, their engagement levels have these tactics beat.

Take open rates, for example. While the average email open rate is 20%, SMS supersedes that metric at 98%. For WhatsApp, that number is 99%. Additionally, only 20% of people answer unexpected calls – but text messages are read in an average of five seconds.

You may be wondering why engagement is so astronomically high on these channels. The answer lies largely in the convenience factor – especially amongst younger generations. Millennials are all about multitasking, and the easier it is to go from chatting with a friend to talking with an admissions advisor, the better.

Mobile-friendliness is also key for these audiences. Since SMS is made for cellular devices and instant messaging programs are created with mobile in mind, these platforms are easily accessible to prospective students.

The below chart from chatbot building company Landbot shows the growth of social communication apps over the past three years:

instant messaging for student recruitment


Regardless of where your prospects are located, chances are they are spending more and more time using messaging apps. Because of their engagement levels, SMS and instant messaging platforms are becoming more and more important channels of communication between customers and companies.

In fact, 70% of consumers who use messaging apps wish to use them to contact companies, and nearly 66% of people in the US and UK have reached out to businesses on these apps. A recent study also indicates that SMS is the preferred channels for brand updates for 48% of consumers. If your school hasn’t jumped on the direct messaging bandwagon, there are no shortage of statistics to show why you should.

What Messaging Channels are Best for Your School?

There are countless instant messaging apps out there, but your school doesn’t need to adopt all of these different platforms in order to effectively use SMS and instant messaging for student recruitment. As with any digital marketing tactic, the only tools you need to adopt are those that your prospects are using.

Example: Certain regions favour different instant messaging apps. It’s important to choose your IM platforms wisely and strategically.

instant messaging for schools

Source: Rocketbots

The key for finding out which platforms you should use is look at your target personas. Consider the regions they come from and choose your instant messaging apps accordingly.

Here are some of the top messaging apps and the regions they correspond to:

  • SMS: Naturally, 65% of the world’s population send and receive SMS messages on their phones, which covers a lot of markets. However, international SMS campaigns can be expensive, so unless you have a CRM that helps cover the cost, you’re best using this tactic for local prospects.
  • WhatsApp: As the world’s most popular instant messaging app, WhatsApp is particularly prominent across countries in Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
  • Facebook Messenger: Messenger is right behind WhatsApp in terms of global usage, and is especially popular in the United States, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
  • WeChat: China doesn’t allow most IM platforms, apart from regional giant WeChat. As a result, it’s the dominant channel for those in China, and is heavily used by Chinese expatriates as well.
  • Telegram: In Iran and Uzbekistan, where instant messaging is also highly regulated, Telegram is most prominent.
  • Line: Those in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia favour the Japan-based app, Line.
  • Viber: Viber is popular in Eastern Europe, and is the top app in Belarus, Moldovia, and Ukraine.

When considering which platforms to include in your school’s strategy, keep in mind that English is not the dominant language on all of these apps, so make sure you have staff members that can follow up with prospects in the appropriate languages.

Strategizing SMS Campaigns for Student Recruitment

The key to successful digital marketing is making sure your tactics are practical and actionable. There’s no point in implementing something if you don’t have the resources to properly carry it out, so assess your school’s capabilities before you begin crafting your SMS strategy.

Yes, there are opportunities to automate SMS messages, but you may also want to have staff manually message prospects as well. If this is the case, a CRM can help you keep track of text messages and log conversation details.

Example: In Mautic CRM, HEM’s customized CRM and marketing automation system for schools, you can easily send individual texts and record key info.

instant messaging for higher ed

Using a CRM, your school can also automate SMS campaigns in the same way you would with email. You could create autoresponders that prospects receive via text after they complete an inquiry form, for instance, or build more comprehensive SMS workflows to help advance prospects through the enrollment journey.

For workflows, make sure to only include the most valuable and relevant information. Since SMS campaigns have such high engagement rates, you don’t need to bombard prospects with multiple messages to get your point across.

Example: This sample SMS for admissions campaign includes a wide variety of information, from event invites to deadline reminders to surveys.

SMS for admissions

Whether through workflows or autoresponders, a CRM can help you personalize these tactics through segmentation. Perhaps you want to create an SMS drip campaign for those interested in a certain program or invite prospects to contact a certain admissions advisor based on their native language. A CRM can help you do both these things – and so much more.

Example: Using HEM’s Mautic CRM, schools can create lists based on different parameters and send customized messages to these segments.

SMS messaging for higher education

In addition to recruitment campaigns, your school can also use SMS to communicate with future students.

Example: A workflow of this sort will help provide students with helpful information and resources before they begin their studies.

SMS for student recruitment

You could also use SMS to alert students to important and time-sensitive events.  Many universities, in particular, have adopted this initiative because it’s a highly effective way of getting the word out to a large number of people.

Example: The University of Maryland utilizes an SMS alert system that notifies students, faculty, and staff in case of emergency.

higher ed SMS

There are endless ways your school can utilize SMS, but no matter the campaign, make sure you meet GDPR regulations.

Just as individuals can unsubscribe from email communications at any time, it’s important to give prospects the option of opting out of your text messages. Your school could add a shortened link to the end of its texts which allows prospects to update their subscription preferences. You could also automatically unsubscribe prospects when they use a trigger keyword (like “STOP”).

Example: Opting out via keywords is perhaps the most simple and effective method for prospects and students, but it requires your school to connect your SMS campaigns to a CRM.

SMS higher education

Instant Messaging for Student Recruitment Strategies

As with SMS, it’s important to assess your school’s resources before committing to too many instant messaging platforms or creating a strategy that’s too aggressive. Start by learning how to make the most out of the platforms your prospects love best and go from there.

Since the majority of instant messaging users frequent WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, these platforms provide a great starting point if you’re looking to learn the ropes of IM for student recruitment:

instant messaging higher ed

Source: Statista

Once you’re well versed in these key platforms, you may want to explore the niche IM apps that your prospects frequent.

A Higher Ed Guide to Facebook Messenger

When prospects visit your school’s Facebook page, they can instantly get in touch with you via Messenger, making it a helpful tool for those researching higher ed options on social media.

Since your Facebook page indicates how quickly you respond to messages, it’s important to have a comprehensive Facebook Messenger strategy that allows you to properly handle the requests you receive. If your school responds to 90% of its messages within 15 minutes, you will earn a “very responsive” badge that is displayed on your account page.

But if you can’t keep your Facebook Messenger inbox staffed 24/7, fear not. You can set a schedule in accordance to your school’s business hours and create an automated response that is sent to prospects when no staff members are online:

instant messaging higher education

Schools can also optimize their Messenger presence by setting up a ‘greeting’ that prospects see in the chat box when they click the Send Message button on your Facebook Page. The difference between a greeting and an automated response is that the latter is only sent to prospects when they message your school and your staff is offline.

To optimize both these messages, make sure to use a personalization token:

schools instant messaging

If you want to encourage prospects to contact your school on Messenger, you can create a customer chat plugin on Facebook and integrate it to your school’s website. You can also manage inquiries you receive from Instagram Direct on your school’s Facebook page, allowing you to monitor both inboxes on one platform.

WhatsApp for Schools

Although Facebook owns WhatsApp, it differs greatly from Messenger in terms of how schools can use it. In fact, WhatsApp’s capabilities more closely resemble SMS, as you don’t have a separate WhatsApp ‘page’ but rather communicate with prospects as you would through text.

While prospects can contact your school at any time on your Facebook Page, WhatsApp requires users to have your school saved as a contact in order to reach out. But you can initiate communication with those that have given your school their phone numbers. As a result, WhatsApp can be an excellent channel for nurturing leads or contacting future students, while Messenger is a great way to engage with those researching schools.

However, like Messenger, there are some ways your school can promote its WhatsApp account to get prospects to reach out to you. You could include a WhatsApp plugin on your website, broadcast your number on social media, or even add a QR code to posters to boost engagement on the platform.

Example: The University of Hohenheim invites prospective students to get in touch with an admissions counsellor via WhatsApp on its website.

Whatsapp for student recruitment

Evidently, if a prospect reaches out to you, your staff will engage in real-time communication with them. But if you want to send messages to a group of people, you can easily do so through WhatsApp’s ‘Broadcast’ feature.

Broadcasting is essentially WhatsApp’s version of a BCC: You can send mass messages to up to 250 contacts (who have saved your number in their address book) without sharing recipient details. WhatsApp also offers a web-based program that allows you to broadcast messages on your desktop computer, making it significantly easier to include links and files in your message.

If you want to create WhatsApp workflows in addition to these mass messages, you cannot do so on the app – you’ll need a CRM that offers WhatsApp integration.

Tracking Progress in Your School’s CRM

By now, there’s probably little doubt in your mind over the effectiveness of SMS messaging for higher education. But with different platforms, workflows, and strategies available, you may be wondering how you’re going to coordinate all these moving pieces.

A CRM is the solution you’re looking for. With a CRM, you can not only create segments, automate workflows, and record communications – you can also monitor the success of these endeavors by centralizing your instant messaging activities on one platform.

Example: If you have SMS or WhatsApp workflows in place, your CRM may be able to show you how many messages went out in a given time period, as displayed in this Mautic report.

instant messaging student recruitment

Your CRM can also show you the role that SMS and instant messaging play in your overall recruitment strategy. By comparing the enrollment outcomes of these platforms in contrast to other digital marketing channels, you can accurately assess the ROI of these strategies:

SMS schools

As for platforms like Facebook Messenger, which offer their own analytics, you’ll be able to find useful data in the Insights tab of your school’s Facebook Page settings:

schools SMS

If you’re looking to supercharge your school’s recruitment strategy, SMS and instant messaging are more than attractive additions – when done well, they can play a major role in your school’s digital marketing efforts.

What’s more, since SMS and instant messaging haven’t yet been popularized for brand communication to the extent of email, there’s a window of opportunity that schools should take advantage of. If you want to stay ahead of the game when it comes to digital marketing, it’s important to make the most out of up-and-coming tactics while they’re still hot.

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