How to use text messages to increase voter engagement

Published on October 18, 2018

In a mobile-first age when television ads are skipped and email inboxes are overflowing, political campaigns and advocacy groups must reevaluate how they connect with voters.

Since most people rely exclusively on mobile technology to communicate with one another, text messaging acts as a powerful tool to keep voters engaged.

Text messaging lets you connect with voters, nurture personal relationships, and boost voter turnout. And the best part is – it’s simple, effective, and cost-efficient.

In this article, I will take you through a few ways in which you can use text messages to increase voter engagement.

Why use text messages?

Besides having an open rate of 99%, text messages let you connect on a personal level with your audience. They make way for open channels of communication between campaign volunteers and constituents. Other advantages of text are:

  • Text messaging is personal and everywhere – 91% of people keep their mobile phones within arm’s reach and you can reach anyone at any time, wherever they are.
  • It is immediate as it takes only 90 seconds on an average for a person to respond to you.
  • Young voters account for half of the American population and smartphones are an integral part of their day to day lives. 88% of young adults are inclined towards text messages, email, instant messages, and social networks.
  • We don’t hear this often but a lot of adults text too!

This also comes with real world examples from political parties that have used text messages to engage, mobilize and register voters for elections. For example, Dianne Watts’s campaign used text messages to identify voters and boost registration. They set up Collective Texting campaigns to reach out to voters to understand their level of support for Diane Watts, for opposition candidates, and identify ballot preferences of voters. Volunteers guided people through the registration process and got them out to vote all using text message conversations.

Now that we’ve established why text messages are so influential, let’s look at ways in which you can use text messages to build voter engagement:

Increasing awareness about issues

While running for office, it is important to raise awareness and connect with voters on issues that matter most to them. So, ask your constituents what they think about your stance by getting your volunteers to send them personal texts. This helps you build relationships and understand what matters most to them. For instance, peer to peer texting software lets you send thousands of personal text messages like:

Hi Alice, I’m Jesse a volunteer with Naomi Clark for City Council. It’s really important for Naomi that citizens have access to affordable housing. What are your thoughts on the current housing crisis?

Once they reply, you can ask them further questions or their thoughts, opinions, or queries, if any. All responses are captured on survey forms that sync with your voter database. This way, you can engage people in back-and-forth conversations while collecting valuable data on voter preferences.

Now that you know what your constituents care about, it’s time to rally them to support your campaign. For this, send out automated reminders a week before or on election day. SMS broadcast works best for last-minute updates:

Tick Tock… It’s election day! Polls are open till 7 pm. So head to 1225 Fallon Street, Room G-1, Oakland & get voting! You’ll be in and out in 2 ticks! ✅

But your campaign cannot just rely on raising awareness among known supporters. You need to build your voter list and capture new numbers. This is where SMS opt-in comes in.

Opt-in texts are a cost-effective way of advertising your campaign on social channels, television, radio, newspapers, and billboards. Use them to convey your candidate’s stance on issues, alert voters about media appearances, and general campaign progress.

For example, you can display an ad saying:
Text “CAMPAIGN” to 56009 to find out more about our candidate, their stance, and for live campaign updates.

Once, a voter texts the keyword you can send an automated reply to collect details like name, email, address. Example:

Thanks for showing interest in our campaign. Please text your first name, last name, zip code, and email id for relevant campaign updates and voting information.

Guiding people through an engagement funnel

Getting people out to vote takes more than sending out mass texts, it requires them to connect with your campaign and what your candidate stands for on a personal level. But maintaining thousands of individual conversations is an arduous task and organizers rarely have the time to do so.

Tools like peer-to-peer texting let you have personalized conversations at scale. Your volunteers can manage thousands of individual conversations over texts, get people interested, and give them necessary campaign information. Your supporters will have a direct channel of communication with your volunteers, who can be reached anytime to assist them with anything from polling locations to guiding them through the voter registration process

A guided conversation looks like this:

Volunteer: Hey Alice! It’s Jesse from the Orange guy campaign. Thank you for registering to vote. 🙌 Monday is election day so look for the Orange signs and vote before 7 pm. Can we count on you for your vote?

Voter: You can bet on it!

Volunteer: That’s great news! 😁 Do you need help in locating your polling station and getting there? If you do, call us 413-7964.

Voter: No thanks! I have a ride.

Volunteer: Great, see you there👍

Following up on commitments

Once a voter commits to attend a rally or vote for your candidate, you need to follow-up with them to ensure they do so. But how will you keep a track of who has agreed to or denied your requests? Creating polls and surveys are a good way to record voter responses and make follow-ups based on them.

Surveys are a fine way to initiate a two-way conversation, understand voter psyche, identify supporter levels, and record voter responses. Send out text messages to voters with your polls. Your initial message can say:

Volunteer: Hey Alice! It’s Jesse from the Orange Guy campaign. As you know election day is around the corner and your friends have pledged to vote. Can we count on you to do the same?

Voter: Yes you can 👍

Once the voter responds your volunteers can make a note in their survey forms. This will help them follow-up with committed voters and send reminders. For example, a day before elections volunteers can say:

Hey Alice! Tomorrow is Election Day. Do you know where your polling station is?

In this way, survey forms make it easier for you to make notes and follow-up on commitments. The information collected through surveys can be used throughout your campaign to reach out to voters and to keep them engaged.

Scheduling reminders for deadlines

When running a GOTV campaign or rallying for support, you need to send frequent reminders to your voters and supporters.
For example:

A week before elections:
The Election is 1 week away! 🇺🇸 Don’t forget to hit the polls and vote before 7 pm.

4 days before the campaign:
4 days to go! ⏳ If you don’t vote, your friends will find out!

On election day:
Election Day is here! Don’t let your friends down. GO VOTE!

But you may not have the time to create a text message campaign on that particular day. With the scheduling feature, you can schedule text messages to be sent at a later date and set up recurring campaigns if needed.

Creating personal connections

The real foundation of any relationship is trust. And as a candidate, it’s crucial to build trust with voters and strengthen your relationships within the community. A simple way to do this is to have real one-on-one conversations with constituents.

So, use the voter’s first name and tailor it to appeal to their unique needs. A personal text grabs you voter’s attention, makes them feel important, and provides them with relevant information.

Merge tags will allow you to personalize a text and send out thousands of texts within a few seconds. For example, {first_name}, which will fill up the voter’s first name in the message when sent.

Other than the common tags found, you can use a custom field to add additional information about your contacts or voters that you want in Callhub. For example, you can have a custom field for polling location and text people reminding them to vote at their polling place with that tag.

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Integrations with NGP VAN, NationBuilder, Civicrm, etc. allows you to easily push lists from the CRM to your CallHub account and then sync back information to the CRM in real-time. This way you’ll have information on the voter before contacting them and you can nurture personal relationships.

Getting people to show up at the polling station is an arduous task, but using a text messaging service can help you overcome the hurdle of increasing voter turnout by keeping your voters engaged.

For further information on how to get started with text messaging reach out to us at [email protected]