Getting Started with SMS: Marketing Your Educational Program via Text Messages

Use the most popular form of communication to reach your learning community.

by Monique Bouchard, CourseStorm

Educational programs used to using paper catalogs are experiencing extra challenges this year. Concerns over changing classes, postponements, cancellations, and the loss of public reading spaces like libraries and waiting rooms have presented a new marketing challenge. How can programs get their catalogs designed, printed, shipped, and in front of the learning community in a time like this?

Now imagine sending your whole class catalog to someone for just five cents, and then knowing almost instantly if they’d looked at it. Seems almost impossible! Yet there’s a simple, accessible, and affordable way to get your community to your digital catalog — and you’ve probably already used it several times today: text messaging.

Using text messages, your program can connect to students easily right where they are. And research indicates that it’s a preferred communication method for most mobile phone owners, who typically check their mobile phones 47 times a day! If you want to motivate an audience to check out your new class catalog or register for a new class, sending a text is a great way to elicit a response. 

Why Use Text Messaging?

Text messages, also known as SMS (short message service), have been used for marketing since the 1990s. By 2007 the number of text messages had already exceeded the number of cell phone calls. With the introduction of MMS (multimedia messaging service, which adds images to messages, texting has been the most popular form of communication. It’s less time consuming and more immediate than email and less invasive than a phone call, yet many education programs still overlook its marketing potential.

The statistics are impressive: 

  • 98% of text messages are opened, compared to roughly 20% of email messages.
  • 95% of texts are read and responded to within 3 minutes of delivery.
  • 75% of customers want special offers sent via text.
  • 30% of consumers respond to SMS messages, and close to 50% of those responders will make a purchase.

An Ideal Match

Accessing information from a cell phone is, for most people, incredibly convenient. Today, 98% of adults in the US have access to a mobile device that accepts text messages. And texting reaches an audience that’s typically more motivated to action. As people grow more comfortable with taking classes online, mobile-friendly online class catalogs (like CourseStorm’s) make moving from a text to class registration seamless. 

But mostly, text messages help to create relationships with your students where they are comfortable. And those relationships improve the success of all your marketing efforts. For example, they’re an incredibly practical way to reach America’s largest generation — the 75.4 million digital natives known as Millennials and GenY, according to Pew Research. 

What Does It Cost?

Typically, an individual text costs under 5 cents per text (160 character max) when sent to a U.S. number. On average, a campaign with 5,000 people will only cost about $250. (Don’t worry – you won’t send all 5,000 yourself! SMS marketing companies are similar to email marketing companies, providing you with a way to send out many messages at once efficiently.) 

Services are either pay-as-you-go or have a monthly fee that provides a certain number of credits.

Pay-as-you-go allows you to try SMS marketing without a regular financial commitment and easily adjust your list to meet your marketing budget for a campaign. Services offering a monthly subscription may have a slightly lower cost per message. Most companies even offer a free trial of their services to test their system. You’ll have to determine which is the best option for your program.

How Do I Start?

The good news is that most SMS services are easy to use and provide support and features to help you have a successful experience.  Your budget, feature needs, and level of support desired all may play into your vendor choice.  If you haven’t used an SMS service before, you’ll want to compare a couple of services.

While there are many available, here are a few to consider:

Plan Your Campaign

Like any other marketing campaign, planning comes first. Decide what you want to accomplish (get more class registrations!) and consider the budget you have for the project.

Talk with your SMS vendor about their calling list requirements so you can provide them with proof of permission. This, too, is easier to consider from the start, rather than having to wrangle later in the process.

Get Subscribers

We suggest starting fresh since subscribers need to opt-in to your text message program before sending messages to them. (This is really important!)

Your class registration form is a perfect place to ask for mobile numbers and get written permission to connect with them via text message at the same time. You can also get subscribers to your text program by asking via email, social media, or a form on your website. Once you’ve established your subscription, you can gather subscribers in other ways as well, including your printed materials.  

Incentives — like special offers, early registration, or discounts that may be made available to text subscribers — can motivate people to opt-in.

Get Consent to Contact

You must have permission to contact your subscribers and maintain a record of it and reputable companies will want to know you’re complying with the rules. 

To get informed consent, you should:

  • Make it clear that a student has to opt-in to subscribe;
  • Let the registrant know what they’re subscribing for and what benefits it offers (for example, special promo codes, catalog releases, etc.);
  • Tell them roughly how many messages they’ll get over a time period;
  • Include a link to a document explaining
    • Your privacy policy, terms, and conditions
    • Instructions on how to opt-out from future messages
    • Any fees, including standard messaging and data rates that a subscriber may incur.

Attaining compliance from your web form may be as simple as including a checkbox with language like this:

I consent to receive recurring automated marketing by text message through an automatic telephone dialing system from [Your Program Name]. Consent is not a condition to purchase. STOP to cancel, HELP for help. Message and Data rates may apply. View Privacy Policy & ToS.

Some companies require proof that your list has opted-in, so when you’re getting started, ask the vendor about their requirements. For additional information on compliance, we recommend this compliance guide.

Upload Your List

Once you have a list of subscribers, you can export your subscriber list from your system (here’s how to do it in CourseStorm). You’ll then be able to upload your contacts into the texting system that you choose. 

Your first text should be a confirmation text and ideally include an opt-out option. You can follow that with your first promotional text — like an exclusive promo code.

Get Out the Message

Text messages are immediate and feel personal in a way that other forms of communication don’t. So before you send, make sure that you know what value your text will add to your recipient’s life. Only use it when you have a good reason — but fortunately, there are lots of good reasons! 

What to Send

Let’s assume that you’re just getting started with SMS marketing. In that case, we suggest focusing on the fundamentals, like marketing your catalog and classes with announcements and discount codes. 

Some good starter ideas include:

  • A welcome message with opt-in confirmation
  • Launch of a new class catalog
  • A special offer, like a promo code
  • An early access invitation to a popular class
  • Announcement of a new class that’s just been added

How to Write for SMS

Text messages are short. Ideally, they’re formal in tone and contain a clear call to action. A little sense of urgency — like a limited-time promo code just for your SMS audience — can boost interest and make your subscribers feel like they have the inside scoop. 

Your message should be under 160 characters. Most SMS services have tools to help you craft messages that are the right size, and many even include link shortening tools.

An Example

Here’s simple formula you can follow: greeting + program name + reason for text + link + offer.

Hi! It’s [Program Name] Our new catalog just launched! Check our latest classes at [link]. Register by 09/21/2020 and get a 10% discount with promo code [code].

What’s that look like in practice? This message includes the sender’s name, a pitch for the spring classes, a promo code, and a link to the online catalog, all in under 160 characters. 

Learn how to make REALLY TASTY CUPCAKES and more at Happy Valley Community Education this spring! Get $20 off with TASTY promo code at https://bit.ly/3igdkgG

If you want to know exactly how it will look on your students’ mobile phones, you can use an SMS calculator to preview your message

Graphics of three cell phones displaying the sample text message in the content. Made with TextMagic SMS Calculator.

When to Send

The best time to text is between 8 am and noon. Open rates drop during drive times and traditional dinner times. Be respectful of your recipients’ lives and mindful of when you send your messages; for example, don’t send a text after 9 pm. And, of course, if you’re going national, pay attention to time zones.

Texting Frequency

It’s better to start slowly and see how your audience responds. At first, no more than one or two a week. If your audience seems to appreciate them, you could increase the number of texts you’re sending. There’s no minimum, but a comfortable maximum would be 10 per month.

Analyze the Results

Like all marketing efforts, analysis is an important step. Otherwise, you won’t know if your campaigns are working or what the return is on your investment. SMS services typically offer some way to measure the effectiveness of your campaign by reporting delivery rates, click rates, and other measurable interactions. 

So, Just Shoot Me a Text!

From awareness campaigns to class registration drives, text messaging can reach your students where they are right now. 

As programs are managing changing situations, bringing people directly to your mobile-friendly online registration site is an efficient use of resources and time — for both your students and your staff. 

With high read and response rates and a relatively low cost, adding text messaging to your marketing toolkit is well worth considering. 

 


 

If you want an even deeper dive into the world of SMS marketing, the beginner’s guides by  EngageBay and A Better Lemonade Stand are excellent resources and provide real-world campaign examples. For an easy to understand guide to SMS compliance, we suggest the SMS Marketing Compliance Guide by SlickText.