The way that people communicate has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. A large portion of today’s audience demands texting as a form of communication. GateWay Community College in Phoenix, AZ has increased their reach through texting, both for the prospective student and current student.
Today’s younger generation is not annoyed by text marketing. They expect it. They welcome it almost. It’s not considered an intrusion like other media, such as commercials. They pay attention to texts, and they respond quickly.
In this podcast, we discuss texting for recruitment and retention with Christine Lambrakis, GateWay’s Director of Marketing, Public Relations, and Sales.
Texting for Recruitment:
- Enrollment Periods: Most of their messaging is related to Fall, Spring or Summer enrollment. They do have enrollment periods for their Clock Hour Programs, which are continuous throughout the year.
- Financial Aid/Scholarships: They also send texts regarding financial aid, FAFSA, and scholarship opportunities that might exist.
- Event Invitations: They use texting for inviting prospective students to events.
- Response Rates: The response rate is usually between 10%-20% for prospective students. This usually includes people who are interested, active leads, as well as those who have asked not to receive text messages anymore or to be removed from their lists.
Texting for Retention:
- Pilot Program: Experimented with a pilot program to nurture 300 current students for retention purposes. These were students who they call their “low touch.”
- Response Rate: 67%-70% response rate from “low touch” group.
- Retention Rate: The retention from Fall to Spring was between 80%-90%. They believe that texting contributed to this.
- Retention Team: They have a whole team that focuses on retention. There are other communications that they do on campus using flat screen televisions. They have a monthly communication that they send to students.
This academic year, they are going to be pooling 1,000 students that they want to focus with texting to help with the retention effort.
Texting Best Practices:
- Do Not Abbreviate or Use Acronyms: Individuals who they are working with need to see them as a higher ed institution, and they want them to act like a higher ed institution. Do not shorten, “You’re Welcome” to “YW” or use LOL or OMG.
- Data to Collect: Some things are optional and some things aren’t. They ask for an email address, phone number, first and last name. They never ask for their birthdate, social security number, or student ID numbers on their forms.
- Keep an Editorial Calendar: They plan their text messages in advance with an editorial calendar.
- Have a Lead Capture System/CRM: Anybody who is interested in doing this will need some sort of lead capture system.
- Understand the Legal Requirements: One thing that’s really important is for people to understand their legal requirements in their state, as well as the federal requirements, in terms of when you’re re-marketing or marketing to individuals that you’re capturing the information from.
- Have Staff on Hand to Manage Texts: Being able to have staff on hand to be able to handle the inquiries or the responses from these text messages is supercritical. If you don’t have people who can respond, or people aren’t staffed to respond, it’s not going to work well.
- Limit Communications: They try to limit the text campaigns to no more than two a week.
- Timing is Important: They try to target them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They wouldn’t recommend sending them on Fridays because of the weekend. Sometimes you get stragglers who might not respond immediately to the text, but they might respond the following day. Time of day is also important when you send texts. They try to text high school students right around the time that they get out of school. For older students, they might do sometime around lunch/midday, possibly in the mid-morning, where some people might be taking a break or needing a distraction from work.
- TextAim: They are currently using TextAim. The benefit with TextAim is that you get true, two-way communication where you’re not limited on the number of back and forth messages.
- You can see how well your campaign is doing in your dashboard.
- You can even see the discussion that your agents or operators are having with the individuals who are requesting information.
- They purchase 10,000 texts a month, and that includes the ones going out as well as the ones coming in. Usually you don’t want to send any more than 2,500 texts/day, and this company actually doesn’t allow you to send any more than 2,500 texts/day, just because their systems can’t handle it. It’s actually a good thing, because then it makes you target your messages even more.
- You cannot set up automated drip campaigns
- CampusCast: They were using CampusCast before TextAim, but it only allowed you to send one text message and then the individual was only able to respond once, so you had to find a way to get them off that system very quickly and funnel them into another means of communication.
First of all, I was curious about your career journey and what led you to becoming the director of marketing, PR, and sales at GateWay Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.
Well, I’ve had a varied background, you can say. I started actually in the corporate communications environment at Kraft Foods and worked there for about 11 years, and then moved out to Arizona, sunny Arizona, from Chicago, and was interested in getting into higher ed and trying something different. I had been, as I said, in a corporate environment for 11 years. A position opened up at ASU, and I had started there really doing general and graduate catalogs and policies and procedures, so more technical writing for them, and then moved into more of the PIO type of positions and marketing positions within ASU after about a year of being there. That’s primarily what I was doing at Kraft too, was more of the internal communications than external communications or PIO type of activities. Then got more into marketing at ASU, and then moved to GateWay Community College where I’m currently at and have been here for about five years as the director of marketing, PR, and sales.
You know, one unique thing about your title that kind of sticks out to me, what do you think that is?
The sales part maybe?
Yeah, the sales part. I don’t know. You just don’t see that a lot at a community college, I don’t think, but I like the concept though.
Well, right now, marketing … Actually, excuse me, recruitment reports and also our contacts and our call center reports to this function. It was the only, I guess, title that they had in their system that fit.
Well, I think it makes sense. I like thinking of recruitment as sales. That’s what it is, but that’s interesting.
Tell us a little bit about the footprint of GateWay Community College and how many students you guys serve.
Annually, we serve anywhere between 10,000 and 12,000 students. That’s full-time, part-time. We have continuing education programs and also a high school on campus. We have just recently fully integrated our Clock Hour Programs, which are more hands-on, vocational training programs. We call it our trade and technical training programs in addition to our occupational and professional programs, and university transfer offerings.
Now today we’re going to talk to you about texting for recruitment and retention. When did you first become interested in implementing texting as part of your communication strategy there?
It was actually about 2012. We had a vendor who contacted us. He had been doing the texting service with car dealerships, believe it or not, and it was so successful. He had a relationship with someone on staff here. Actually at the time, it was the dean of enrollment management, and this vendor started a conversation about using texting to not only retain students but then also possibly recruit students.
We developed this plan in, I think it was, the spring of 2012 where we actually implemented the use of texting for recruitment and retention purposes. Now, on the retention side, we’ve had a lot of personnel changes in our enrollment management area, and so there hasn’t been any real consistency there. I wanted to point that out. But on the recruitment side, we have used it consistently since the spring of 2012.
How did you guys really get started with it? Where did you begin?
Well, first off, I think anybody who is interested in doing this will need some sort of lead capture system. What I mean by that is a system where you’re able to capture leads from your recruitment efforts or from your advertising efforts. We have forms online, and then we also use what are called contact cards when our recruiters go out to the high schools and other schools and other agencies to recruit. Those are all added into a database, and right now we are using an Access database, but we are moving to a district-wide CRM.
Let me just explain that. GateWay is part of Maricopa Community College system, and we’re one of 10 sister colleges essentially. We’re just implementing a CRM tool this fall for all 10 colleges. But currently we are continuing to use our Access database, and so we capture those leads through that database. One thing that’s really important is people need to understand their legal requirements in their state, as well as the federal requirements, in terms of when you’re re-marketing or marketing to individuals that you’re capturing the information from. For example, our lead capture on our website has a disclaimer, and so does our contact cards.
The other thing that’s really important is being able to have staff on hand to be able to handle the inquiries or the responses from these text messages. That is super critical, because if you don’t have people who can respond or people aren’t staffed to respond, it’s not going to work well.
Going back to the CRM system, what system are you guys going to be rolling out? Do you know yet?
Yes. It’s going to be a Microsoft product. It’s Microsoft Dynamics.
The legalities of texting, like what you were saying, is that something that there are federal laws out there that are controlling that? Or does it vary state by state, as far as you know?
It can vary state by state. There are federal laws, but then there are also some states have more stringent laws. Some just follow the federal. Our state, Arizona, doesn’t have anything additional. I think California might have something additional. I know you’re able to email and/or text someone once without getting in trouble essentially, but we try to protect ourselves, both on the current student side and our prospective student side, by including that disclaimer and making sure that they acknowledge that they’ve read that disclaimer on all of our pieces. Yeah.
Explain to us a little bit more in detail. How are you guys using texting for recruiting? Because I always thought of this as more of a retention tool, so I’m really curious to learn how you guys are doing that.
We can talk about it on both sides, but for recruitment, so we were capturing our leads. We’re taking those leads, and we have them tailored so when a student requests information or submits a contact card, a prospective student, I should say, submits a contact card or requests information, we ask what their interest is. They’ll indicate automotive or radiography or one of those programs that we’re offering. We take those, and if they’re undecided, we also put them in a pool as well because we target market them as well with different kinds of messages. But most of our messaging is related to fall enrollment or spring enrollment or summer enrollment. We do have enrollment periods for our Clock Hour Programs that are continuous throughout the year, so we’re doing different campaigns for them.
We have multiple campaigns going for different audiences based on their interest area, but then we also do general ones for enrollment purposes and financial aid or FAFSA, scholarship opportunities that might exist. The messages vary, but it’s one thing that we have created are a bunch of different messages based on the time of year. We also will have additional messages that we’ll throw in there depending on need. We’ve also used it for inviting prospective students to events. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else off the top of my head, but those are probably the primary areas that we’ve used the texting for recruitment. We try not to use it too much to the same group. We’re very targeted in who we’re using the texting to.
We also have used it on the retention side. We did a pilot with about 300 students last year, I believe, or maybe it was two years ago. Time escapes me sometimes, but we did a program with about 300 students, a pilot, current students. Those students, we saw a retention … That was more for nurturing our current students than for retention purposes. Again, we tried to reach out to these students who … what we call our low touch. There’s no reason that we have too much communication with them, because they are pretty much probably self-directed or they’re not in any of our boutique programs, like Hoop of Learning or a TRiO PROSPER or Upward Bound type of program.
We don’t have a lot of high touch with them, what we call high touch, so we identified students who were newer to college and fit a certain criteria, and communicated with them throughout the 2015-2016 academic year and found that from fall to spring, we had … The one, the response rate was really awesome. It was like a 67%-70% response rate from that group. The persistence from fall to spring was between 80 and 90%. I can’t say that it was only the texting, but we think that, just because there was some communication, that it probably helped. There’s a lot of things that attribute to the retention, but I think this was just an additional piece that contributed to it.
Then what we do find is just one thing relating to prospective students is the response rate is usually between 10% and 20%. That 10% and 20% response rate from prospective students is usually … includes people who are interested, they’re active leads, but then also those who have asked not to receive text messages anymore or to be removed from their lists.
How are you defining response?
You can see that automatically from that texting tool that we use. I don’t know. There’s several texting tools out there. We’ve actually used two different ones over the course of the last four or five years. The one that we’re currently using is the one I prefer to use.
You’re welcome to use names, if you’d like.
Okay. We have used CampusCast as part of a district-wide effort, and then we have used TextAim. We are currently using TextAim. The benefit with TextAim is that you get true, two-way communication where you’re not limited on the number of back and forth, though you do want to get them off that system as quickly as possible, because that costs you money essentially. But with CampusCast, you’re only able to send one, and then the individual’s only able to respond once, so you have to find a way to get them off that system very quickly.
Sometimes it doesn’t always work, where people like that text communication because it’s immediate and it’s comfortable to people. They don’t want to make a telephone call or don’t want to be sent to a link all the time, so we try to get them off of the system that we’re currently using as quickly as possible, but we also want to be able to nurture that conversation to some extent. In terms of being able to see the response rate, that’s really what we’re measuring with the TextAim tool, and it’s all in the dashboard, if you will, or the tool. You can see how well your campaign is doing.
You can even see the discussion that your agents or operators are having with the individuals who are requesting information. You can let them know, “Hey, don’t be so casual.” We just recently did a campaign, and we have some new agents or operators. They were very casual. They were abbreviating stuff, and we don’t do that, because the individuals who we’re working with see us as a higher ed institution, and they want us to act like a higher ed institution. They don’t expect us to be abbreviating. Like there was one, and I can’t remember what it was an abbreviation for, like you’re welcome maybe, YW or something, or TY for thank you. It’s like, “No, don’t do any of that. They don’t want us to be doing that.” They even have, in the past, said, “You’re a higher ed institution. I don’t expect you to be this …” Not sloppy, but casual, I guess.
Awesome, so no LOL-ing.
No LOL-ing at all or OMG-ing.
Oh, man, OMG.
Going back to the data collection, so on the actual contact form, I assume you’re asking them for their cell phone number. You’re probably asking them if you have permission to start receiving text messages from you, to opt in.
That’s correct. Yes, we ask for … Some things are optional and some things aren’t. We ask for an email address, phone number, first and last name. We never ask for their birthdate on those cards or on our forms, or any of their Social Security numbers or their student ID numbers. We don’t ask for any of that.
I know you’re doing it less for retention, so in order to keep your costs down, do you pretty much have to roll it out for retention purposes, and then kind of take that down once the new semesters and registration and enrollment has passed?
Yes. Yes. They don’t charge us based on the number of contacts, kind of like another company, Constant Contact, I think they’ll charge you based on the number of contacts you keep in their database. We don’t do … It’s not like that. We pay for so many texts per month. For example, we purchase 10,000 texts a month, and that includes the ones going out as well as the ones coming in.
Usually you don’t want to send any more than 2,500, and actually this company doesn’t allow you to send any more than 2,500 per day, just because their systems can’t handle it. It’s actually a good thing, because then it makes us target our message even more, which I think is more effective than just spamming or sending blanket ones out.
In terms of the campaigns, does the system work so that you’re able to have a set amount of texts that are pre-created, and then they’re all rolled into a campaign? Then you’re able to control like, day one, they get this text message, day ten, they get this one? Is that kind of how it works?
No. This one is not as automated as we’d like it to be. Maybe one day. We can probably set something up with the company to do that, but we aren’t as organized, I guess is the right way to say it.
We do keep a calendar, if you will, of texts that we’re sending out and when we’re sending them and who we’re sending them to, but nothing like that. We do that with email marketing though. We do that on the email marketing side with our vendor, but yeah, it’s not on the text side yet.
Obtaining the list that you’re getting, it’s mostly coming through your website, and it’s coming from your recruitment efforts. Any other ways that you’re going about that?
Well, if a student completes what used to be called a student information form, and now I think it’s the student application something, they just changed the name from SIF to [SAW 00:18:23] and I can’t remember what that acronym stands for, but that is another way we can get leads. Those leads though are generated through working with our enrollment services team and asking them, “Hey, can you pull this list for us,” because we don’t have the ability to do that. That form also includes a disclaimer on there saying, “By completing this, you’re allowing us to contact you.” They also have the option to opt out on that form.
Because there’s a lot of opting out, you’re probably not reaching everybody through texting, so I assume it is just part of the retention strategy. What other things are you guys doing in terms of retention?
We have a whole team that focuses on retention. From new student orientation, they see that as part of retention efforts, activities that are planned throughout the year, and then other communications that we do on campus using our screens, our flat screen televisions. Then we have another monthly communication that we send to students. It’s probably a host of different activities that we’re doing, and texting would just be a portion of it. This academic year, we’re going to be pulling, we haven’t gotten the list yet, but 1,000 students that we want to focus on this year in using texting to help with that retention effort.
Does this require a lot of time and effort, and how much staffing do you really have to do if you’re going to implement a really good texting campaign?
Well, as I mentioned, we have a contact center under my division. That contact center usually has probably at least four people at all times throughout the day, every day of the week, on staff. I think realistically, depending on the campaign and the response, four people is probably adequate, but there have been times where the response was so overwhelming that we actually had to respond the following day just because we couldn’t keep up with all the phone calls and the texts that were coming back in.
I guess, did your team have to rethink your strategy, maybe not send as many texts out in future campaigns?
Oh, yeah, we try to limit the text campaigns to no more than two a week. We try to target them usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I wouldn’t recommend sending them on Fridays because of the weekend. Sometimes you get stragglers that might not respond immediately to the text, and they might respond the following day, so that’s one thing. Time of day is also important when we send these texts. High school students, we’ll try to do right around the time that they get out of high school typically, and then for older students, we might do sometime at like lunchtime, sometime maybe in the mid-morning where some people might be taking a break or needing a distraction from work. We do stagger the times, but we primarily send on a Tuesday and Thursday.
Okay. I guess you’re getting some statistics out of the software that you’re using, and that’s kind of what helps you determine which days of the week are the better ones that work out.
That, and we also kind of follow some of the email best practices, some of the things that they’ve recommended through best practices on the email side as well.
Any final advice for people out there that are considering this? I know you gave some best practice examples, but if somebody’s out there and they’re scared about implementing a new service, why should they consider implementing texting as a strategy?
Because the audiences that we’re working with kind of demand texting. That’s where the best reach has been for us so far, both on prospective student and current student sides. They expect it. They welcome it almost. It’s not an intrusion where some of the other media might be seen as more of an intrusion or they just aren’t paying attention. They pay attention. They respond quickly. There’s billions of text messages going out per month, or trillions, if not trillions, you know? It just makes sense for especially the audiences.
Now, the 18 to 24, definitely text is the way to go, even 18 to maybe even a higher demographic. The older audiences still like text, but they also, I think, like to get email, so it’s another way to reach out to your potential students and current students, and it’s not something that’s seen as intrusive. They have that ability to opt out. They always have the ability to opt out, and it’ll never send them a text again, just like Constant Contact offers that service with the email marketing.
The way that people communicate over the past 30 years has changed so dramatically.
Exactly, and we need to keep up with the times and change with it too. That’s just another tool to get the message out.