Best Practices for Texting Students
As of today, I have sent 250,621 text messages to students. Is that an exaggeration? Yes and no. I use a text messaging software that allows me to mass-text customized, personalized texts to students. While my fingers may not have typed 250,621 texts, I have learned an incredible amount since I sent my first [terrible] text two years ago. Here are my best practices I'd like to share with you.
1. Get Permission
You are making a personal connection by sending students texts on their device. Start your virtual relationship off right by sending an intro text that asks students for permission to text. Even if you have received prior permission from a checkbox or statement on an application or intake form, ask again. Not only is it considered digital etiquette, but you are reaching students in a very personal place - on a cell phone they own, in their pocket. (Obtaining permission before sending your intro text is also the law according to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act - which despite its name, applies to text messaging.)
"Hi Lou, this is Karen from Your College. May I send you texts periodically to keep you updated on campus events and important deadlines?
Students want to know who is texting and from where. Identify a single person the text comes from, rather than the entire institution or department. Students are more likely to engage with a text when they believe they are talking to a real person. I use my real name when texting students, and every now and again a student does a Google search and confirms I am who I say I am. If you are sending a series of text messages over a few months or longer, periodically remind the student who you are. Many students do not save you in their contacts; however, some may if you prompt them. Students may change phones between your messages and lose prior messages.
3. Consistent Tone
Establish your tone, and keep your tone consistent throughout your text message campaign. This is particularly important when you have more than one staff member responding to texts. Pre-write or program as many responses as you can to keep true to your tone. I get more responses when I take a conversational and friendly tone, rather than a tone that is virtually shaking a finger, or too serious to sound like it is coming from a personable human.
4. Stay Focused
Back in texting history — meaning, two years ago — texts were limited to 160 characters. Now, most carriers do not limit texts to 160 characters. However, that does not give you permission to write a lengthy, sloppy text. Focus on one clear call-to-action per text and you will yield higher results.
Lou, it's Karen from Your College. Scholarship applications are due next Monday. Have you completed yours?
5. Be Professional
Students tell me that using “u” in place of “you” just is not cool anymore. And you probably agree. With full keyboards on all phones, and many with autocomplete features, there no reason to shave letters off words. And now that texts can exceed 160 characters, there is not a need to include lots of abbreviations within a text. Use proper punctuation too.
Most of the above I learned through trial and error. I also spent time talking with students to find out what they wanted in a text. More of what I found in those conversations is in this recent paper I co-authored, Don't Txt Me L8r, Text Me Now: Exploring Community College Student Preferences for Receiving a Text Message from Their Institution.
*Special thanks to our guest author and partner from Austin Community College, Karen L. Serna, Director of the Student Money Management Office.
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