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  • Success Story
  • NY HESC

The Power of Personalization Through Targeted Text Messaging

Overview

With over 25 grant, scholarship, and loan forgiveness programs administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), students in the state of New York have a variety of options to connect them with financial aid. But HESC staff wanted to increase engagement by targeting specific audience segments, something their current system wouldn’t allow. Using Granicus’ govDelivery communications platform, they were able to create specific messaging through multiple communications channels that sparked results.

“Using this tool, we really saw a lot of success…. It's been a seamless platform for us to use, a seamless experience.”
Angela Liotta, Communications Director and Public Information Officer, New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC)

Metrics

  • 2.3 million bulletins sent
  • 644,000 recipients in 30 separate subscription topics
  • 160,000 text messages sent (2023)
  • 70% combined engagement rate (text/email)
Must have Granicus Solutions
Situation

Vital messages delayed by restrictive tools

The cost of a college education continues to have both economic and political implications around the country, as the importance to prepare young people for their future faces the impact of accruing large amounts of personal debt. The risk of financial pressures can drive some students away from pursuing the degrees that can make a significant impact in their economic futures.

That’s why state organizations such as New York State’s Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) play an important role in connecting students with the financial aid that can support their educational futures while minimizing accrued debt. With over 25 grant, scholarship, and loan forgiveness programs administered by HESC, students in the state of New York have a variety of options to connect them with financial aid.

Connecting with a tech savvy audience who may not be aware of HESC’s efforts, however, presents an ongoing challenge both for HESC and state financial aid agencies around the country.

In 2022, HESC sought ways to expand its reach to more New York State students and their families to educate and inform them about the programs HESC administers and events HESC sponsors for students to obtain financial aid and complete their financial aid applications.

“We’re communicating with the one of the most tech savvy audiences: Kids,” said Angela Liotta, HESC Communications Director and Public Information Officer. “They’re going to school, they’re busy, they also may have shorter attention spans. So, we must grab them right away and use platforms that can help do that.”

While HESC relied on their website and email messaging for a portion of their digital outreach, Liotta said that the text messaging capabilities at the team’s disposal was lacking.

“We were able to send some text messages out through our contact center, but it was very clunky,” she said. “It was a manual time-consuming process. And with email, students don’t usually open emails. Their parents may, but we needed to communicate with students on a platform they are most familiar with.”

Armed with data from Pew Research that showed that in 2021 nearly 100% of Americans in 18-49 age group owned a cell phone, and that reliance on those cellphones for online access was especially high among young adults and lower-income Americans, Liotta said that it was vital for HESC to put an emphasis on text messaging. That meant finding a platform that was both flexible and responsive to their needs.

“We have a lot of resources for students, so we need to lead them there,” she said. “We need to get them to sign up to these events, we need to lead them to the resources that we have available to support them on their higher educational journey.”
Solution

The power of audience segmentation

With a focus on increasing connection with first-generation students and those from disadvantaged or low-income households, HESC devised a program that would utilize direct text messaging to provide students and their parents with vital information about financial aid opportunities, important deadlines, and other critical information they need to know to support them on their path to higher education.

Working with Granicus’ govDelivery communications platform, Liotta’s team created a text message and bulletin distribution campaign targeted to both students and their parents. An initial pilot program in the spring of 2022 saw HESC partner with 13 New York high schools from throughout the state, comprising of approximately 10,000 students. Combined with other in-school and online collateral and messaging, the goal of the pilot sought to gather feedback regarding the optimal number of messages, what types or messages were most relevant and useful, and identify how effective text messaging was for the targeted audiences.

Being able to identify and segment their audiences for specific messaging was something that Liotta said was a great help in the govDelivery tools.

“We would love to expand our demographic to start reaching into the lower middle schools, the seventh and eighth graders,” she said. “But right now, we think that we hit the right cadence. We’ve hit the right demo. We try to make it simple.”

“We can target students by grade level and tailor messages for that population,” she said. “For example, a message to a sophomore student or their parent will be different to the message that a senior and their parents receive. We can also target school counselors to help ensure they are prepared to support students with their college goals. Since parents and counselors use their email more, we’ve been able to utilize govDelivery’s email platform as well, which has been really shown to be productive for us.”

Based on data received in govDelivery’s dashboards, Liotta said that the team could better understand and adjust their approaches when broadening the awareness campaign to a statewide audience.

HESC leverages text messaging to engage with students in a personal and meaningful manner on a platform they use most often, while at the same time providing easy and efficient access to further information either in emails or on the website. The immediacy of the text messaging, Liotta said, allows for relevant information to go directly to the students and families that need it the most.

“We’re using it to notify students about events,” she said. “We’re letting them know an application is opening or a closing deadline is coming up or remind them about upcoming SAT tests. Text messaging allows us to get those messages quickly and easily into their hands. And we’ve seen that they’re receiving that information because our conversion rates for people attending events, for people visiting a particular section of our website has also increased in relationship.”

Results

Increased engagement, broadened opportunities

The impact of broadening their digital messaging strategies to include text messaging created positive results for HESC. To date, HESC has successfully deliver over 2.3 million bulletins to over 644,000 recipients in 30 separate subscription topics through govDelivery. In 2023, over 160,000 text messages were sent, resulting in a nearly 70% combined engagement rate.

Through this initiative, Liotta said, HESC has been more successful in their goal of connecting with more students and parents in real-time and providing them with critical information that helps them navigate the financial aid process. By leveraging the power of Granicus’s platform, HESC’s targeted messaging ensures that the information they receive is relevant, timely, and, perhaps most importantly, valuable.

“One of the impacts of the pandemic was that people are now looking for more remote digital interactions,” she said. “With this new approach, we’ve expanded our reach significantly because people don’t have to leave their homes. When it comes to lower-income families, or those who are working multiple jobs, they don’t have to worry about childcare. They don’t have to worry about transportation. Having that available to them makes it easier to attend events. And coupled with getting the word out through text messages, we’ve really seen a big increase in people who are attending our events.”

This targeted digital approach to messaging has also created opportunities to cross promote awareness with other state agencies that impact family wellness and welfare. Liotta said visitors to other state agencies who use Granicus’ services have the option to opt in to receive email messages from HESC. By converting messages from HESC’s text/SMS campaigns, the team creates short emails that are then able to reach this population.

“We’ve seen some value in using partner agencies to help get the word out and then encouraging those audiences to sign up on our website to continue receiving messages,” she said.

The strategic flexibility that govDelivery offers HESC not only allows the agency to effectively reach a broader audience, Liotta said, but also create positive results.

“It's really been a big win for us to have a platform that we can use to communicate with students the way that we need to communicate,” she said, “and know that they’re receiving that communication in a way that they’ll interact with it.”

New York State Higher Education Services Corporation’s HESC Communication Team is a recipient of the 2023 Granicus Digital Government Community Engagement Award.