By Karlijn de Wit
Today, students use instant messaging services to talk with friends and family, but they also use these platforms to contact companies and organizations. One such messaging platform that is rapidly growing is WhatsApp, a free mobile messaging app. With its one billion monthly active users worldwide, WhatsApp is a platform that we in higher education cannot neglect. I’ve used the platform at a university for about 10 months now and these are the benefits I see.
1. It’s private and personal.
WhatsApp gives users a private place to talk, which often results in more personal conversations. Students are used to talking in a more casual voice with friends and family on WhatsApp. If they reach out to your university on WhatsApp, they will also use this more personal tone. You will be able to have direct, simple conversations with students.
2. It’s faster than email.
In a WhatsApp conversation, users tend to ask one question at a time. This gives you many opportunities to ask questions and make sure students get exactly the right information. The speed and ease of response via Whatsapp allows you to provide information to students and answer student’s questions quicker than via email.”
3. You can include attachments and emotion.
It is easy to add pictures, videos and (of course) emojis to your WhatsApp messages. This can be particularly helpful for students who want to report a specific issue. They can send a screenshot of an error on your website, for example, or of a form they may be attempting to fill in. Emojis allow for more personal engagement in a conversation.
4. You don’t need to reinvent your content strategy.
You can easily add WhatsApp to your social media accounts and, because it’s a platform for asking questions, you don’t have to create new content for it. Content strategy—knowing your stakeholders, having clear goals, measuring your impact—is essential for all other social platforms. Instead, I’d suggest you see WhatsApp as a customer service channel rather than a content platform. Be present, promote your WhatsApp number on different channels and see what questions you receive.
5. It’s better, in some ways, than live chat.
Students like to communicate at the time of day that is most convenient for them and they expect to be answered right away. Live chat is one solution to meet those needs and WhatsApp offers a similar dynamic. Yet, with WhatsApp, users will accept a 10-minute silence before an answer arrives. That gives you time to either finish another conversation with a student or to find the best answer. Or, if a student sends a message in the middle of the night, you can answer that question first thing next morning.
Adding WhatsApp to your customer service portfolio is simple. It can be an effective communications tool. As higher education professionals, we should always be prepared to move to whatever app or system our users prefer in the future.
Karlijn de Wit is founder and director of NosCura in the Netherlands. She will host a breakfast roundtable session on using WhatsApp in higher education during the CASE Europe Annual Conference 2016.