By Haley Trost, Signal Vine
Sifting through the replies and forwards and requests begging for attention in my inbox is practically a full-time job these days. To keep up with my actual full-time job, I don’t always give due diligence to the emails steadily piling up—and I’m not the only one suffering from email fatigue. It turns out that a mere 3% of students use email daily. So my question is: Why do we continue blasting emails to students when we know that they, like many of us, aren’t really engaged? Yes, email is easy. Email is fast. But so is text messaging! And compared to that measly 3% of daily emailers, a whopping 90%+ of students are texting every single day. Because students actually read and respond to texts, texting is an incredibly powerful and flexible tool for influencing student behaviors. We need to start meeting students where they’re at—on their phones.
At Signal Vine, we work with a variety of education organizations to implement texting programs using our online platform. We’ve helped college access organizations, universities, K–12 schools, and mentoring programs and have seen some pretty incredible improvements in student outcomes. My favorite results are from a program serving low-income and first-generation college students—of the students that were texted, 86% were prompted to complete a task they hadn’t yet done and 85% were informed about something they hadn’t realized they needed to do. In addition, 72% of the students reached out to an advisor for follow-up help, and 70% were less overwhelmed by the tasks necessary for enrollment—all because of a few simple text message “nudges.”
To unleash the full power of texting, here are some things to keep in mind:
Credibility is key. When it comes to establishing your credibility with students, texting starts with a big advantage: unlike email addresses, phone numbers are generally shared only with friends, family, and other trusted individuals. Texting students from a 10-digit phone number and personalizing messages with both of your names shows recipients that you are, in fact, a real human being they probably know. The first text you send is the perfect time to let students know who you are and why you’re texting them.
Ask questions. We see the highest student response rates for texts that ask probing questions. Students often feel more comfortable dealing with tough conversations via text than in-person, so text responses are extra powerful: they reveal misunderstandings, highlight areas in need of a little extra work, and dictate what messages a student will receive in the future. For example, if you ask a student whether or not they’ve registered for the SAT, a “No” response could lead to additional texts with registration reminders and links to SAT resources.
Less is more. With only 160 characters available in a text message, it can be tricky to convey everything you want students to know. Try this: instead of thinking of 160 characters as limiting, think of it as an opportunity to clarify and hone your message. What are the most important points? What’s the most valuable resource you can share? Texting forces you to condense your message into its most concise and thoughtful form, paving the way for deeper student understanding.
Don’t leave them hanging. Texting is super-fast. When education organizations text students, 25% of student responses come within 60 seconds, 50% come within 4 minutes, and 99% come within 24 hours! Students expect an immediate response from you, so if you’re not prepared for the onslaught of texts, it can damage the budding relationship you’re building with students. The best way to deal with the speed of texting is to schedule text messages to automatically send to students at a time that works with your staffing capacity. If that’s not possible, you can always set up an automatic away message so that students know you have received their message but won’t be responding right away.
Add it to your calendar. Once you’re seeing results and responses, you want to start texting your students all the time! Slow down—it’s exciting to see how engaged students are with texts, but texting them too often can cause them to tune out or opt out. At the beginning of your text relationship, let students know how often you’ll be texting them and stick to what you’ve said. Three to five scheduled messages per month is the sweet spot. Of course, it’s completely OK to text a student more frequently if he or she asks a lot of questions or seeks advice; the purpose of texting is to gain and maintain momentum with your students.
To learn even more tips and tricks for communicating with students via text message, subscribe to Signal Vine's TextMeBack blog for weekly updates.
Haley Trost is a member of the Business Development team at Signal Vine, a data-driven and personalized text messaging platform that allows advisors, counselors, and mentors to effectively engage with their students to improve outcomes in education. Before Signal Vine, she attended Vanderbilt University and worked as a math and reading tutor for grades 3-5.
You can learn more about research on texting with students and Signal Vine’s work in a recent article from The Hechinger Report, “can you fix education w/txts?”
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