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Expert Q&A: Using Text Messaging for Student Services (Curtis Marsh, KU Info)

Curtis Marsh, Program Director, KU Info

* Tell us about yourself and what you do at the University of Kansas.

I work at the University of Kansas for a program called KU Info.  It’s a collaboration between KU Student Services and the KU Libraries.  The program provides the extended KU community a place to go for their questions about KU life and beyond.

* How do you see text messaging helping students on campus?

With some highly visible violence on campuses the last few years, KU joined the growing number of schools that have an emergency communication systems using  text messaging.  Our Libraries offer an ask-a-librarian service with email, instant messaging and text messaging. KU Info uses a text message system through Mosio.  These are all positive uses of texting services for students, but I feel KU and other universities need to put more focus on such services to increase awareness and usage.  The emergency systems are perfect uses for texting students as long as they have strict parameters for what messages are sent. You want the user to be highly alert when a text comes from the emergency system, so resist the temptation to use it for any other purpose.

* When did you start personally sending and receiving text messages?

I started texting to communicate quickly with my student employees (Why r u late 4 ur shift?!).  Now I reach out via text to friends, family, neighbors, etc.  Like email, it is a good way to send your message when its most convenient for you, and give your recipient time to respond when its most convenient for them.

* How have mobile phones changed your industry?

The biggest change mobile phones have created in my industry is the expectation for instant information.  Before mobile phones (and the internet), KU Info would frequently ask for the user’s contact info so they could get back with them once the answer was obtained.  We rarely do that anymore because of the expectation that the information is immediately available. Thankfully, with well-maintained online resources, that information is indeed immediately available.

* What tips would you give to anyone considering implementing text messaging or mobile technologies for student services?

We almost never push messages to our users.  We would much rather them pull messages from us.  It is tough to give away that much control, but it is a much better way to strengthen the relationship.  I feel that every time our user perceives a message from us as unsolicited, we lose a small piece of their trust. We ask their permission to send messages, then ask them what kind they wish to receive. Again, not easy to offer truly customized messaging, but even an attempt in that direction increases the user’s perception of a one-on-one relationship.

* Any other thoughts about mobile technologies?

It seems right to communicate with our students the way they communicate with each other.  But it is so important to keep from intruding.  We don’t want users to feel the way they did the first time their parents looked at their Facebook page. We want them to view it as a convenience that they can communicate with us via text, not a nuisance that we are trying to use their social medium to do business with them.  A few well-placed messages will keep the user interested without the risk of them ignoring you or worse, blocking your number!

* What kind of mobile phone do you have and any thoughts about apps?

Just got an LG smart phone with Android. Still learning about all the cool apps, but certainly enjoying the voice recognition ones that allow me to speak everything from text messages to full dictation.  Advanced Task Killer is one I think will help me a lot with the to-do list.

* More about Curtis:

Curtis Marsh is on his 16th year at the University of Kansas, having spent five years in technology transfer, six years as Associate Director of Marketing for Continuing Education, and now Program Director of KU Info.  In the late 90’s, he left KU for a few years to work for the Kauffman Foundation and get an MBA from University of Missouri, Kansas City. The common thread between all these positions has been marketing and outreach for the university. In 2010, he added the function of Program Director for the Learning Studio.  The ultimate partnership between libraries and student services, the Learning Studio combines a major campus library with several primary student services offices to create an interactive study environment in the center of campus.