How to Successfully Use Cell Phone Text Messaging to Reach College Students and Grads

Posted January 28, 2011 by

cell-phone.jpgNever in the history of advertising has there been a tool where virtually 100 percent of the people who receive the ad actually read the ad. Until now. Cell phone text messaging, also known as SMS for short message service, “may be the closest thing in the information-overloaded digital marketing world to a guaranteed read,” according to the New York Times.
Cell phone text messaging has grown from nothing to 3.5 billion messages per day in a decade. More texts are sent and received every day, according to CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, the number of cellphone calls or emails. And interestingly, the demographic with the biggest increased usage are people who are over the age of thirty.

Why is SMS so popular? Unlike email, people receive very few unwanted text messages. Many and probably most of the hundreds of thousands of college students and recent graduates who use each month do receive text which are advertisements but virtually all of those are permission-based, meaning that the person receiving the messages has explicitly requested them. Also unlike email or any other electronic device, it is the only device used by people practically 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People use and care about their cell phones much more than any other device, so if your message is delivered to a student’s cell phone, your message will be seen and cared about far more than it would be if it were delivered to them in any other way. In fact, the latest research by the cell phone carriers indicate that 97 percent of all SMS marketing messages are opened and an incredible 83 percent are opened within one hour.
Jeff Lee, president of Distributive Networks, told the New York Times that he likes “to think of it as the certified mail of digital communications. When you want to be sure people see something, send it by text.” Jeff knows a thing or two about cell phone text messaging. It was his company that partnered with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in August 2008 to announce by SMS that Obama had selected Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. An estimated 2.9 million people registered to receive the text. According to the Times, the “promotion generated millions of new mobile phone numbers, which the campaign then used to send out more texts drumming up donations and volunteers.”
So now that you’re ready to use perhaps the most innovative, productive tool to reach today’s college students and recent graduates, what should you watch our for?
First, be sure to use a carrier approved aggregator like If you don’t and end up with a spammer that blasts out texts without permission then you may end up being on the receiving end not of great results but instead a great, big fine and permanent blockage from the carriers from sending out future messages through their valued networks.
Second, use a legitimate option, the best choice of which will be determined by your goals and budget. The simplest and cheapest approach is to send text coupons or other messages to people who are physically in the vicinity of your businesses. But this won’t allow you to capture the cell phone numbers of those who you are targeting. Another option is to spend tens of thousands of dollars registering for your own “short code,” which is the five- or six-digit phone number that dialers use to access a text marketing campaign. Think of it like an email address for your mobile marketing campaign. Obama’s short code of 62262 was used in almost all of his marketing campaigns including print, web, and at rallies. Anyone who texted a message to 62262 was added to his marketing list. The third option, and the one favored by our clients, is to share our short code and have us deliver your messages on your behalf to the students, recent graduates, and alumni who have provided us with permission to send to them employment and other marketing messages by our clients.
Third, remember that when you’re marketing your employment or other opportunity by text message that you can and should support that campaign with traditional marketing techniques. Include your short code in your brochures, on your business cards, in your job posting ads, etc. Anywhere you’d put your web page address, put your short code.
Fourth, remember to provide your target audience with a real, tangible benefit for opting in to receive your messages. It isn’t enough to ask people to come to text you. They need to be convinced that it is a good idea for them. So provide them with an incentive of some type that goes beyond what they would receive if they just visited your web site. Free stuff always helps, as does exclusive or first access to content or opportunities.
Fifth, understand that just like any other marketing campaign, an advertisement sent to the cell phones of your target audience is not going to be effective if you do it only once. It needs to be integrated with your other efforts and be part of an ongoing effort. The most successful marketing campaigns are those which build relationships. Rather than going for the rare home run, go for lots of singles.
Finally, don’t overwhelm your audience with more than a few cell phone text messages a month or messages which aren’t written in your real voice. If you’re 40 years old, don’t try to sound like you’re 20 years old. It won’t come across as authentic and a lack of authenticity is a sure recipe for disaster with Gen Y consumers.

Originally posted by Steven Rothberg

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