It’s been barely more than two years since peer to peer texting emerged into the political and advocacy scene. And by now we’ve seen it be actively (and effectively) put to use for voter contact, fundraising, event building, volunteer recruitment and GOTV efforts. The major use cases are from campaigns in the US, but we’re seeing steady growth in adoption across countries like Australia, Canada, France, and the UK.
Peer to peer texting (or p2p texting) allows campaign volunteers to engage in one-to-one conversations over text with thousands of contacts — mobilizing supporters for events, providing instructions on how to vote, gauging voter sentiments on issues, raising funds, encouraging people to take action etc. Peer to peer text messaging solved a problem that plagued organizations for years — having personalized conversations at scale.
While the technology itself is solid with continuous improvements made every day, we’ve identified numerous instances where campaigns go wrong with their implementation of peer to peer texting. Some of it is simply a matter of gaining experience with a new messaging model while some others are due to inherent human tendencies. We analyzed more than 1,000,000 peer to peer text messages sent through CallHub to identify these gaps and the inventive solutions that emerged to solve them. This article lists thirteen best practices that help solve for gaps in an otherwise effective peer to peer text messaging campaign.
Framing your message
Decide if you want to initiate conversation
P2P messaging is built for personalized conversations. And most people take that to mean that if contacts are not replying in large numbers, they’ve fallen short on engagement. That’s far from the truth. Take two instances of outreach for an upcoming event. The goal of the initial P2P Text campaign is to nurture the audience and to get them talking and interested in learning more about the event. So, an initial text that prompts a response makes sense here.
“Hey Jon, this is Melinda from Hope Society. We’re holding a rally next Saturday to support the Clean Energy Act ✊. There’ll be snacks and drinks 🍕. Want to come?”
This text is meant to initiate a conversation. It instills curiosity about the event prompting follow-ups about where it’s going to be held, what time it’s going to held, if there’s going to be transportation facilities and so forth.
Next comes the follow-up reminder for event attendees.
“Reminder: Clean Energy rally tomorrow at 221B Baker St, Marylebone from 3pm to 6pm. See you there!”
The text is meant to be informative, not conversational. A horde of incoming replies to this reminder is a waste of your staff time.
Although people will still reply to this text enquiring about one thing or another, the response rate will be far lower owing to its informative nature unlike the conversational nature of the previous text.
This is just one example to drive home the point that you have to reflect on your goal and then decide on making the distinction between informative and conversational text messages.
Personalize your initial text
I’m talking about initial texts of the conversational nature. If you look at my previous example, you’ll see that the text answers three questions most people ask themselves when they give a text the once over.
‘Is it meant for me?’ i.e. Are they just another name on a list, or, is this text meant specifically for them
‘Who is this?’ i.e. Do they know the person sending the text
‘So what?’ Now that they’ve read the message, what is the next course of action
The questions are answered in three simple steps — personalize, identify, and prompt.
Personalize your message for each individual contact – “Hey Jon”
Identify yourself and your organization – “this is Melinda from Hope Society”
Prompt them with a call to action or a question – “Want to come?”
And of course, a healthy dose of emojis helps ensure that the receivers treat the text like it’s from a real person and not an automated tool.
(There are instances when you’d want to strike a more authoritative tone rather than a friendly one. We recommend testing your texts to find the tone that your audience relates to.)
A/B test to find your tone
The nature of audiences vary based on the established culture of an organization and the history of its communication with respective audiences. That’s to say that a one size fits all text messaging structure will not give you the best returns. For example, VOTE.org found that a conversational text drastically reduced their response rates when trying to get people to register to vote. But on the other hand, an authoritative text that included a link to the voter registration page resulted in a 50% increase in registrations.
Switch the tone of your initial (and follow-up texts) to identify the right fit with your audience. A simple strategy is to split your contact list into smaller sample sizes are run texting campaigns at identical times, with each campaign presenting a different tone. Once you find the right fit, it’s only a matter of scaling up.
Maintain context with your replies
With peer to peer texting, campaign managers have the option to suggest replies to their text bankers. Say, a contact asks about their polling location. A text banker simply has to go into saved/suggested replies and use the saved reply in their text. While saved replies are a huge time saver that lets text bankers manage multiple conversations with ease, their use also presents a commonly seen problem — of volunteers directly using these replies without adding context to the conversation at hand.
Pre-saved replies are meant to address frequently asked questions like ‘Where’s my polling location?’ or ‘Where’s the event taking place?’. But unfortunately, FAQs don’t come as perfectly framed questions. They’re almost always part of individual conversations, each with their own quirks. So, when text bankers directly use saved templates to respond to contacts, it tends to read like an automated text, which is one major problem we’re trying to avoid in the first place. Even if the reply answers the question, the recipient is good at discerning subtle mismatches between what they said and the reply they received.
Campaign managers need to be aware of the two sides to this problem.
(a) If you overburden your text bankers, they’ll have no choice but to stick to templated replies to keep pace with the conversations.
(b) Agents don’t bother enough to modify the template replies to make sure that the reply is in context to the conversation.
Solution (a) Make sure that you assign only enough contacts to a volunteer that they can comfortably manage during a shift. We recommend assigning 1000 contacts/volunteer per hour.
Solution (b) Train your volunteers to treat saved replies as a guideline and to use their own intuition to modify the template based on the conversation.
Treat wrong numbers as opportunities
A lot of text bankers, when faced with the realization that they’ve reached a wrong number, try to wrap up the conversation with a generic opt-out message. But we’ve also seen a few others treat the wrong number as an opportunity to get closer their goal. For example, GOTV drives by a local government used peer to peer texting to reach out to people on their voter lists. And these lists weren’t 100% reliable. We saw two ways volunteers handled wrong numbers and two very different results based on how they were handled.
(a) Volunteer reaches the wrong person for a GOTV campaign. Once the person makes this evident in their reply, the agent sends out a generic opt-out text and the conversation ends there.
(b) Volunteer reaches the wrong person for a GOTV campaign. The person makes this known in their response text and the agent responds with an apology and asks them to make sure to vote anyway and tell their friends to go vote. We saw multiple cases where the person responds affirmatively, thank the volunteer for their work, and even cases where the contact says they’d reach out to friends in the target constituency to tell them to vote.
It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of these conversations in terms of data collected or other metrics. But it’s safe to say that, wrong numbers don’t have to cost you. The way you manage them can actively contribute to the success of your campaign.
Don’t overdo it
A follow-up or two is fine when reaching out to unresponsive contacts. But beyond that, remove them from the current campaign.Text messages currently get through the din of excessive emails and social media because they are personal and relevant. Send too many texts, and you risk people treating them just like any other spam email.
Follow-up with the maybe’s
We see a lot of ‘maybe’s’ showing up in survey results. The questions usually range from invitations to attend an event and asks for volunteers to fundraising requests. It goes to show that you’ll be losing out on engaging a large portion of your audience with just a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ option on your survey response.
If you aren’t making room for a ‘Maybe’ option in survey questions, start now. And make sure you filter through the people who are undecided and follow-up with them at a later date.
We’ve all been part of text conversations where the person at the other end of the line took way too long to respond. And we’re familiar with the frustration that causes. The lesson here is not to leave contacts waiting too long for your responses. This causes people to lose interest in the conversation and be less inclined to respond later on. The problem is easily solved by:
(a) Adequately training volunteers on the importance of responding quickly.
(b) Creating templates for volunteers that address the most common questions or responses. Some of them being:
Who is this?
How did you get my number?
Don’t text me.
I’d like more information.
(c) Assigning a manageable number of contacts to each volunteer.
Account for underperforming volunteers
You have to deal with the fact that not every volunteer will follow through on their commitment to support the campaign. Maybe they were busy, changed their mind, or couldn’t get off from work. The reasons don’t matter. What matters is that you ensure that every person on your contact list is actively engaged by a campaign volunteer. That means, identifying volunteers who are underperforming and re-assigning them to your active volunteers.
(You can check out how re-assigning works in Collective Texting here.)
Maximizing your returns
Clean your contact list
Contact lists almost always aren’t 100% reliable. They’ll have their fair share of non-existent numbers and landline numbers mixed in with mobile numbers. Before you start your text outreach, make sure to analyze your list and clean up any invalid numbers.
Make room for phone calls
While younger generations are more attuned to text messaging, many older supporters will be more comfortable getting on a call to learn about an event, their poll location or to clarify any queries related to the campaign. Make sure that when people call into the number they receive texts from, they can get connected to the campaign office or to a volunteer. At the same time encourage your volunteers to call contacts if the conversations start lagging or become too text heavy.
(CallHub lets you use a call transfer option to route calls to a central campaign number.)
Record your data
Engaging conversations will remain just as they are — as conversations — if you’re not actively recording the details of each conversation. Use surveys in your peer to peer texting campaigns to capture supporter data. Before you start the campaign, drive home the importance of marking survey responses to your volunteers. That’s the only way for you to learn and grow through each outreach campaign.
Mandatory training for new text bankers
While the features of a peer to peer texting tool may appear obvious to an experienced organizer, volunteers would still skip out on using important features or like we mentioned earlier, forget to mark survey responses, unless they receive specific instructions on what is to be done. Train new volunteers before you start them on a peer to peer texting campaign, instructing them on how to use the tool and handle conversations effectively.
Use these best practices as a guideline to develop your own voice and style, and you should find yourself with the best results from peer to peer texting campaigns. You may not get the results you want from the get-go, but the willingness to be patient, experiment, and constantly evaluate your outreach goes a long way to seeing the results you expect.
At CallHub, we’re constantly on the lookout for gaps in peer to peer texting and are determined to help campaigners fill those gaps. To learn more about Collective Texting, check out our detailed guides on peer to peer texting, event building, fundraising, and GOTV.
If you have insights to offer from your use of text messaging, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.