There have been a number of statistics released in recent years showing the drastic decline of email usage among digital natives, aka current university students. With the popularity of texting, mobile apps and social media students want their information in bite-size pieces; little snippets they can read on the go. This means as we correspond on behalf of the institution we need to consider the amount of content included in our messages and focus on disseminating just the most essential information. Think of it as: “they probably won’t read beyond the third line, so get it out in two.”
Here’s a great quote on the decline of email communication from We Are Social comScore 2011: It’s a Social World:
Not surprisingly, the ”digital natives” are moving away from emails in favour of social networks: email usage among 15-24 year olds has dropped by 42% over the last year whereas usage of social network grew by 34% in the same time period. Social networking sites now reach 82% of the world’s internet users, i.e. 1.2 billion people around the world.
Gone are the days of 5 paragraph emails where you can provide long introductions, program overviews, hyperlinks to multiple pages of your website and prose about how great your institution is for them. Instead of sending one long correspondence every few weeks think about sharing your information with students more frequently, in shorter, bite-size pieces.
Several suggestions on how to do this:
Facebook: Create pages and groups as necessary to support the communities you want to engage. Many institutions create a new page for each incoming class. This online space is a great way for students to engage with their future classmates and then keep the discussion going after they meet face-to-face at orientation, start classes, and to plan social events. You as the administrator can post important information and encourage a discussion via the comment and like features.
The chat feature is a great tool for quick interactions with individual students. I like to call the chat feature the new version of “open door policy.” If you have the chat feature enabled and Facebook open on your browser at the office students will see you online and may drop you a quick note or question via FB chat. I have advisers who tell me that sometimes these “quick questions” can turn into a 20 minute chat session. My suggestion is to have a rough time limit (which you don’t necessarily need to tell the student about). If you have been going back and forth for more than 5-7 minutes, ask them to make an appointment to come in so you can give them further, undivided attention.
Twitter: Create those winning taglines that have a hook. The 1-2 line text can then be followed up with a hyperlink to a website URL for more information. Here are few examples:
1. “Submitted that scholarship application? The deadline is just 5 days away!” [insert hyperlink here]
2. “Register for your classes early and receive a $10 bookstore gift card.” [insert hyperlink here]
3. “Signed up for the New York City trip? Only 5 spots left!” [insert hyperlink here]
For example 1 include the link to your institution’s online scholarship application.
For example 2 include the link to the online registration website.
For example 3 include the link to the activities page where students can sign up for the trip but also see what other events are coming up.
You could then encourage students to tweet back to you when they have followed the link or completed the call to action. If you see students signed up for the NYC trip after your tweet, tweet them to thank them for signing up and tell them how excited you are they are participating.
Text Message: In the US text messaging is usually an additional cost for students so receiving promotional content that bears a cost to the receiver the is not the best way to win over your audience. The good news is that many phone operating systems are moving to free text services within their own platform. For example, RIM implemented Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and recently Apple created iMessage for iPhone OS5 users. This allows free messages to be sent to phone owners on the same platform.
This doesn’t mean you need to roll out a blanket advertising campaign and text every prospective student in your contact list, rather receiving a short personal message from you about their application process or class registration might be a great way to prompt them to ask you that looming question about scholarships that has been on their mind.
On a fun, and partially related note, here is an interesting article from the New York Times, Everyone Speaks Text Message, on how Text Messaging is actually creating language development. Another positive outcome as a result of technology advancements.