Text Messaging: The Newest Recruitment Innovation: Admissions Departments Deploy Text Messaging to Engage and Inform Prospective Students

By Fratt, Lisa | University Business, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Text Messaging: The Newest Recruitment Innovation: Admissions Departments Deploy Text Messaging to Engage and Inform Prospective Students


Fratt, Lisa, University Business


THIS FALL, BALDWIN-WALlace College (Ohio) became a high-tech pioneer when it added text messaging to its recruitment communications arsenal. "B-W welcomes Juniors to campus! Let us help you to get started on your college search with our 'More-than-a-tour Tour.' If you would like to attend reply Y," said the initial message sent to select prospects.

"It's become increasingly more difficult to reach applicants via e-mail," explains Susan Dileno, B-W'S vice president for Enrollment Management. Colleges and universities have to always be looking for that new way to get through to a prospect with a message that says, "We remember you and we hope you won't forget us." Text messaging provides a direct line to the prospect, something that e-mail can't always be relied upon to do, she adds.

It's common for prospects to provide multiple e-mail addresses, and then there is a high bounce-back rate. The Admissions department has seen its e-mail response rate plummet to 10 to 30 percent. Direct mail can be problematic as well, plus its cost is fairly high.

At the same time, the cell phone and text messaging dominate the teenage communications landscape. The average 16- to 24-year-old carries a cell phone 24/7. "Email is a way to communicate with old people. Why not deliver messages in ways that students are accustomed to and prefer?" asks Dileno.

Indeed, a 2006 Noel-Levitz report titled "Navigating Toward E-Recruitment" identifies text messaging as an untapped recruitment communications option.

Enter TranSend ED, a company based in Sarasota, Fla. After the vendor approached Baldwin-Wallace officials, the college signed on as a beta site for its permission-based text messaging platform. The new software allows colleges to send personalized communication via text messages to groups that have selected what information they want to receive.

THE NUANCES OF TEXT MESSAGING

Although text messaging and e-mail are similar, Baldwin-Wallace differentiates text messages from e-mails. The Admissions department does not broadcast generic messages to the entire prospect pool. Instead, the college relies on the technology to customize and individualize communications to strengthen the connection with applicants. For example, it may select a subgroup of students who have not attended an open house and send them a reminder with upcoming dates. The platform can facilitate business transactions, too. Applicants interested in football might receive a code for tickets to an upcoming game.

The technology is really a means to achieve and accelerate traditional admissions operations, says Jeannine Prussack, director of Product Development for TranSend ED.

After a prospect responds to a message, an admissions counselor or coach can begin a one-on-one text messaging dialogue--which the Admissions office can monitor. With enthusiasm for the technology high at a few schools, TranSend Ed aims to quantify results by completing a study of response rates and times.

Despite the excitement, Baldwin-Wallace is taking a gradual, respectful approach. For the average teen, text messaging remains a highly personal mode of communication reserved for close friends and family. "We can't inundate students or it becomes obnoxious. We have to make the message meaningful," Dileno continues.

Hartwick College (N.Y.) is test-driving the software this spring with its pool of accepted students, who get weekly messages emphasizing the fun side of college life. Hartwick places a strong emphasis on personal communications, and the Admissions office has had great success communicating with applicants via instant messaging. Both instant messaging and text messaging are cost-effective and reach millennial students in their comfort zone, says Jacqueline Gregory, director of Admissions.

Comfort zone or not, some colleges and their teen prospects regard the cell phone as personal space. …

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