In this technologically sophisticated 24-hour culture you need to get with it to get in touch. Mobile marketing is the next big thing to attract students, says Harriet Swain. Welcome to the textual revolution
Wnt stdnts 2 c u as hip? U nd 2 txt. Luke Mitchell, who runs a digital marketing consultancy specialising in students, predicts that if 2006 was about social networking, mobile marketing will be the big thing when it comes to reaching students in 2007. Now that the technology has improved, contacting students in sophisticated ways through their mobile phones is possible. But understanding texting language is only one thing to worry about.
Mitchell's advice is to keep ahead of mobile usage trends and show students that you are in touch with what is happening. This means including all the relevant buttons and widgets on your website that indicate you "get it". You need to allow students to interact with you by text messages, and make marketing materials available as mobile-friendly downloads, perhaps including video clips. "Often, you find that students don't actually want to use most of the features you offer, but their opinion of you is significantly improved simply because you have bothered," he says.
Medi Gibbs, marketing manager for the mobile advertising agency TXT4, says that although most people have a mobile phone, not as many own a computer, so enabling potential students to register by text message rather than online makes a university much more accessible. It also allows potential students to respond to advertising around the clock no matter where they are - if they see an advert in the evening, they can submit a request for information when offices are closed.
Gibbs says you must ensure that prompts for potential students to text a university feature prominently on any advertisement and that the keyword for them to text is memorable, not too long and refers to the relevant university in some way. And you should not ask people to text in too much information about themselves the first time.
Helen Keegan, managing director of the mobile marketing agency BeepMarketing, says: "With the mobile, the important thing is to keep it simple and keep it short. It's about creating mobile moments, not about mobile five minutes."
Gathering information about students and potential students is one of the key benefits of using mobile technology, so you do need to make sure you are making the best use of this opportunity.
Gibbs warns that many companies supplying the technology to manage mobile information claim to provide things that their infrastructure cannot yet support, so it is important to appoint a reputable company with experience across several sectors. You also need to check their ability to supply accurate names and addresses of respondents. Applicants are unlikely to be impressed with a university that spells their name wrong, and an inaccurate address could mean losing a prospective applicant.
Cathy Twigg, a former marketing manager at Lincoln University, which ran a TV campaign that asked students to text their request for a prospectus, says it is important to respond promptly to texts - ideally within 24 hours.
Mobile technology companies usually offer universities the chance to receive regular reports showing how many responses their marketing campaigns have received, on what day and at what time. By using a different keyword on each advertisement, it is possible to find out which kind of advertising generates the most responses. But not everyone who texts in an initial request will follow up with their details, so you won't know detailed information about every one who responds to your advertisements.
You also need to be proactive about using the data you receive. Amanda Gregory, director of Heist, the higher education marketing agency, suggests sending a text message during clearing to everyone who texted in for a prospectus, saying that you hope they received the results they needed for a place and urging them to call your university if they didn't. She says that texts can also be used to remind people about open days and deadlines.
"The number one way potential students try to get information is via prospectuses, and we see that continuing," Gregory says. "But we now need to look at a much more cohesive marketing strategy where we are using a number of different communication strands to get the message out."
Gregory advises seeking inspiration from companies outside the education sector that have strong customer relationships. "Look at all the capabilities that are out there," she says. "Talk to specialists and those working in the commercial world."
Keegan suggests devising games that potential students can play on their mobiles to help them work out which university or course would suit them.
She says she has yet to see much exciting use of mobile technology in education in spite of many students being sophisticated and brand-savvy.
You also need to be aware of the growing mobile internet - many big brands have launched Wap sites offering mobile-compatible mini websites.
Gibbs says you should not be afraid of using new media. While the technology involved in running a mobile campaign is complex, it is easy to set up and integrate with current systems. All universities need to worry about is presentation of the advertisements and responding to the requests that are texted in.
Finally, Mitchell warns that many students dislike the idea of intrusion.
"Texts are very disposable and most likely to cause irritation if delivered at the wrong time or in the wrong tone," he says. There4 dnt 4get 2 thnk b4 u txt.
Helen Keegan's blog on mobile technology, www.technokitten.com
TXT4 mobile advertising company, www.txt4.com
Higher education marketing services agency and consultancy, www.heist.co.uk
Beepmarketing Ltd mobile marketing consultancy, www.beepmarketing.com