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How to Optimize Your Text Messages

by Charles Parsons | October 29, 2018
How to Optimize Your Text Messages

This week Signal Vine is releasing two new fairly small product enhancements. One related to removing character limits and another to easing quick message requirements. We’re making these changes to adjust to the changing texting environment. It has also reminded us that there are a few best practices that are worth sharing to show you how to optimize your text messages.

What's changing

First, we wanted to provide a brief description of the changes we’re making.

Change A

We’re increasing the character limit for text messages sent from Signal Vine. Your messages will no longer be capped at 160 characters and can now send as many of 1600 characters.  You may want to be careful, however, as longer messages are not supported equally across the major U.S. carriers. Sprint will split your message into 160 character segments, and exceedingly long messages may be delivered out of order.  

Likewise, longer messages suffer from reduced read rates and increased opt-outs.  So, while Signal Vine no longer has a 160 character cap, you may not want to use all of the newly-available characters. Try to mimic how you text your friends and family.

Change B

Users are no longer required to use personalization when using Quick Message. Previously, the platform required at least a one profile field to be included in a quick message, but we realize this is a pretty heavy-handed approach to personalization. There are much more powerful personalization opportunities (outlined below) than simply adding a field to a message - and there are plenty of instances when a message may be relevant without needing to be personalized. While we’re relaxing this requirement, it’s still key to remember that you’ll get better engagement if messages are relevant and personal.

With this new found freedom, we feel obligated to provide some guidance to ensure your text message efforts will be effective and that you’ll protect the highest performing communication channel available to you.

How you can optimize your text messages

Before you start your next message we’d like to offer a quick three-point plan to guide you.

Structure

It’s important to remember you are not re-creating an email message via text. The text channel is one that work best when you are brief with a single call to action so you get the desired outcome. If you’re providing an update or writing lots of background, that’s probably better handled by sending a link or infographic. A general rule of thumb is to not extend the length of your messages beyond 3 texts or 480 characters but we highly recommend one message.

Another quick note- we’ve seen customers struggle to reach students or prospects by assuming language preferences. If you can include an option for language in your initial outreach, you’re increasing your odds for success exponentially.

Finally, and perhaps the most important tip for structuring your messages is to anticipate student responses. Set expectations with students for response time and guidance. That also means sending at a time when you are able to reply in a timely manner. Response times matter to students, from our experience, 60% of the students that will reply to you will do so in 4 minutes.

Tone

Many of our customers have many advisors or counselors working with the same students and in the Signal Vine platform at the same time. One of the principal benefits of the platform is a seamless handoff by creating a set of established phone numbers for your department. From the students’ perspective, they’re speaking with an advisor they know from a phone number. If you are rotating staff, it’s important to have a common tone and voice so the student experience is consistent.

One effective idea is to structure automated messages for common responses so the platform will work for you. We know managing a large team is hard enough. We’ve seen successful customers keep a shared cheat sheet of FAQs from students.

One other note, in tone, this isn’t all serious stuff. Students like to have fun and you should too with your texting efforts. Think about using MMS in your messages. We’ve seen well placed .GIF help change the advisor/advisee relationship for the better. Don’t go overboard!

Personalization

Perhaps the most important lever you can pull to ensure students respond or take action on the messages you are sending is by personalizing your communication. We’re talking beyond using a first name in your messages. Think about about using location, majors, GPA, or other data you integrate from your CRM or SIS. But personalization goes beyond the text in the message. Use that same information you have for your population, to target specific groups and send out relevant messages that are directly applicable to where they are in the process.

This is a generation of students who are digitally fluent, interact with bots often, and will look for opportunities to expose bots when they are interacting with them. We’re firm believers in automation and in the future of AI but we believe personalization and specifically people will be the key to making AI successful. It’s only as good as the people behind it.

So as the Spider Man movie has reminded us “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Or was that Voltaire? Use this new power for long messages that don’t require personalization responsibly.

Interested in learning more about how to optimize your messages or to better understand what types of messages to send? Stay tuned for our “Nudging Students Across The Academic Lifecycle” ebook coming soon.

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