To paraphrase a common idiom, “It’s not what you text, it’s how you say it.” In our experience, the way a text is crafted can make or break a campaign, and determine whether the student takes action or immediately goes back to looking at Snapchat.
So how do you write a great text message? Like all forms of communication, texting has social norms and unwritten rules. And it’s the responsibility of higher ed staff to play by these rules. In other words, when in Rome...
To put this in context, think about how you, as a higher ed professional, handle an email with obvious spammy red flags. You can’t hit “Delete” fast enough. Well, that’s the same mindset for text-savvy students.
So crafting an effective message comes down to structure, tone, and – this is key – respect.
The motive behind the message.
When grading a text, we first consider its purpose. If the goal is to distribute relevant information (such as the Registrar reminding about an upcoming add/drop deadline), we’re going to evaluate it differently than a text that’s intended to create engagement (admissions reaching out to gauge the interest of an applicant).
Remember, we don’t just want the student to read the text – we want the message to inspire the student to do something.
The criteria of a great text.
▢ Identify yourself
Don’t assume students will recognize an institution number or will add staff to their contacts. Instead, introduce yourself using your name and position so they understand who you are and know they’re talking with a real person.
▢ Be casual but professional
You don’t want to come off robotic or overly institutional, but you also don’t want to force text-speak (though an appropriate emoji now is perfectly fine). Rule of thumb: read your message out loud. If it sounds strange to say, it will be strange to read on the other end.
▢ End with a question when a response is desired
If your goal is to engage a student, ending the message with a period is like a giant stop sign. Asking a relevant question keeps the conversation going.
▢ Be as concise as possible
Students have enough books to read – they’re not interested in verbose text messages. There’s no hard character count, but be as concise as possible while still being clear with your message and maintaining a conversational tone.
▢ Address the student directly
If a message reads like a mass text, it’s probably going to be ignored. Be personal so the student knows this is relevant, urgent information.
▢ Clearly articulate the call to action
Don’t force students to guess what you want to do next. Provide an unmistakable call-to-action, whether that’s clicking on a link or responding back to the text.
Follow the simple guidelines and you’ll be writing honor-roll-worthy texts in no time. Download our Text Writing Cheat Sheet for a checklist of the criteria and more examples of superb messages.