With COVID-19 changing the way we think of residence life, more and more schools are looking for diverse ways to build community, communicate important information, and engage residents. At Roompact, we’ve noticed a shift in our schools software usage to include more communications via text message. Text messaging can be an excellent tool to help with your work in residence life, but there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind to ensure you get the most out of them. The following are 6 tips that can help.
Transparent and Reliable Phone Number Collection
Before embarking down the path of texting residents, you need to collect mobile phone numbers from your students. Most departments use their housing application for this purpose. This is often the first point of contact with an incoming student and a regular annual way of making sure your numbers are up-to-date.
When collecting this information, make sure you are transparent about how it will be used. Residents should know that this number may be used for texting. This can also help with ensuring that students understand why they should include THEIR phone numbers. It’s not uncommon for some parents to fill out a housing application and include their number instead of their student’s.
Communicate Student Unsubscribe Rights
During phone number collection, you should also outline a student’s right to unsubscribe from text messaging. Although most modern mobile phone plans include unlimited text messaging, there may be cost implications for a student. If students do not want to receive text messages, you should explain how they can opt out. For Roompact’s software (and many other common texting applications) replying STOP to a message at any time will unsubscribe the recipient.
Use Text Messaging Selectively
Less is more. Text messaging residents isn’t more effective just because the message is short and the delivery is immediate. Text messing is more effective the less frequently you use it. If you use text messaging selectively, fewer students will unsubscribe to your messages.
You might be familiar with the concept of survey fatigue, where sending out too many surveys can reduce your response rates. The same principle applies to texting residents. Try to reserve texting for your most important information. Think about whether you want student staff members to be able to text residents or if you want to reserve that for professional staff or departmental messages only. Consider creating a “calendar” so you can plan your text messaging engagement and ensure you don’t over-message.
How do you know how many text messages is too many text messages? This can vary by campus and student cultures. Make sure you introduce students to the idea that you may text them occasionally and be conservative with your experimentation.
When sending an initial text message, students may not know who the message is from. Make sure you introduce yourself as a part of your message. You may need to do this multiple times (at the beginning of the year) to get students familiar with your texts. This may become less important if your messages are always coming from the same phone number and students have the opportunity to save it in their contacts or recognize it.
Stay Under the Character Limit
Text messages are limited to 160 characters. If you go over that limit, a text message will likely still send but may result in it being sent as two (or more messages). This can result in more messages than you intend and may result in some weird or unfortunate truncation of your message. (See the example below.) Keep your messages brief and direct recipients to where they can find more information if they need it.
Avoid Links and Rich Text Images
Sending text messages with links in them can be a bit dicey. Many mobile phone providers use spam filters to keep users from receiving unwanted messages. One of the indicators that makes a text message more likely to be flagged for spam is the inclusion of a link. This is doubly true if you use a link shortener such as bit.ly or tinyurl. Native (long) links are less likely to be flagged, but take up more of your precious space in a text message.
Check with your text messaging service provider before including links in your messages. There are ways that it can be set up to ensure that your messages are less likely to be caught by spam filters even if they include links. Some services also provide automatic link shorteners that are not flagged by spam filters.
When it comes to sending images, this requires your service provider support a slightly different flavor of SMS text message known as the MMS (or multimedia) text message. In most cases, your service, including Roompact, likely only offers standard SMS texting.
Two-Way Text Messaging. Unlike many of the mass texting services available, Roompact text messages work both ways. A department can text a resident and the resident can respond. Best of all, responses are recorded within Roompact’s software and you can respond without needing to give out a personal phone number.
Microsurveys allow for quick one-question surveys to be sent to residents. Answers are provided in real time and can be downloaded in aggregate.
Tracking Down To A Student Level. Any time you interact with a resident via text, messages and replies are recorded on the student’s profile timeline. This allows you to see threaded conversations and other interactions with a student at-a-glance.