On the night of August 23rd, 2008, a Saturday night, at around 3:00 am, phones across the country rang alerting people of a notification.
It was a message, from a familiar short-code that read the following:
“Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3 PM ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!”
This message was read by nearly 3 million people across America making it “one of the most important text messages” ever.
Strong engagement is the recipe for success for any political campaign and the efficacy of texting for engagement is unparalleled.
But choosing the right SMS marketing service is the first barrier you need to cross.
While “All men are created equal”, all SMS marketing tools are not. The perfect tool for you depends on a number of factors that we will be looking at in detail.
Why do you need SMS marketing for political campaigns?
As per Distributive Networks’ internal and external studies, engagement through mobile (specifically texting) during the days leading up to and on election day can increase voter turnout by at least 4%.
While the number may seem small, a mere 4% turnout can easily lead to a huge margin between the winning and the losing party on election day.
The main reason behind the efficiency of texts is that while most people screen phone calls (especially from unknown numbers), texts are still associated with people close to them thereby increasing the likelihood of texts being read.
Clearly, leveraging SMS marketing presents a huge opportunity for highly targeted outreach and effective engagement (remember the text sent during Barack Obama’s campaign).
This is why texting is a mode of communication that political campaigners at every level just can’t ignore.
What is texting usually used for in political campaigns?
SMS marketing can be used for political campaigns for a variety of reasons.
However, for each use case, there are particular features that you should be on the lookout for to ensure maximum impact and efficiency.
These activities and corresponding good-to-have add-ons are as follows:
Building your supporter database
During the initial stages of your planning, you might have procured the list of registered voters from your local election office or from data vendors like L2 or Aristotle.
While the list may have all the contact information you need for your texting campaigns, you can’t just start sending them messages without their consent.
Political campaigners have to take extra precautions to ensure SMS compliance.
To build a database of people who actually wish to receive text messages from your campaign, you need a way to collect their data and consent.
This can be achieved by leveraging an SMS Opt-in system.
Here’s an example of how Barack Obama collected the data of his supporters to receive the text updates regarding the Vice President announcement:
To give you a gist of it, Obama’s campaign managers decided on a keyword (VP) that had to be sent to a shortcode (62262 – which spells “Obama” on smartphones) to opt-in for the updates.
This keyword and shortcode were then publicized through multiple channels to encourage maximum opt-ins.
That was how they built a contact list of nearly 3 million supporters.
Features to look for
Maintaining a clean list – While a lot of people may initially subscribe to your texts, you will have to ensure that they can opt-out of the list easily.
This is crucial to maintain SMS compliance and could lead to serious legal issues if not done efficiently.
Go with a service that ensures to unsubscribe users who reply with keywords like stop, end, cancel, unsubscribe, and quit to help you maintain a clean list.
Seamless data collection – Having additional information about a supporter is always great for future nurturing.
Choose a texting service that allows you to create personalized follow-up prompts for additional data collection (like email, name, zip code, etc.)
Easy integration with CRM – After collecting data, you’ll need to make sure that it’s automatically transferred to your CRM to ensure relevant future communication.
Therefore, using an SMS marketing service that easily integrates with your CRM is also essential for your political campaigns.
Voter Identification and Research
Segmenting voters helps you target your communication better. This segmentation could be based on the level of support the voter has for your candidate (through voter id campaigns) or based on their stance on various issues you’re fighting for (by running polls for voter research)
Texting to run polls for voter research is as easy as sending an SMS broadcast and collecting responses.
Texting is used to reinforce those conversations you have with prospects and ensure a lasting impact. Here are a few ways how:
1. Follow up texts during or after a call/doorstep interaction
During or after your interactions, undecided voters can be sent informative texts with a link to the party website (listing the details of what issues the candidate stands for).
2. Text prompts to schedule a time to talk
As mentioned earlier, phone calls from unknown numbers are often screened. However, sending a text informing prospects about you and your reason to call can increase their chances of picking up next time.
It also gives you an opportunity to schedule the call as per their convenience for more effective interactions.
Features to look for
To support your voter identification and research activities, the SMS marketing service you choose must have the following features:
Texting through call center – Texting through call center is the process of sending follow up texts after a phone call, something that should be extremely easy for your volunteers.
They shouldn’t have to manually log into your SMS marketing tool to send a follow up for each person they call.
The texting tool must either be built into the call center software you use or must be easy to integrate to follow up with texts.
Multiple Templated Responses for peer to peer texting – To ensure that the impact of the interaction lasts, your volunteers must be able to send text responses quite immediately to the prospects. This would be especially beneficial for time-sensitive campaigns.
Having templated responses (different templates for different levels of supporters) can make the process faster.
Apart from that, these templated responses can also be used as guides for volunteers to have more natural conversations which are always more effective.
Recruiting and managing volunteers
Effective campaigning requires help, a lot of help. And there’s no better way to engage your strongest supporters and get more hands-on-deck for your campaign than through volunteer recruitment.
Typically, texting is used for volunteer recruitment and management to:
1. Send volunteer invites to the strongest supporters. You can set up a drip SMS campaign based on how these supporters respond to your invite, like in the example below.
2. Send reminders and inspirational messages appealing to those supporters who responded with a no or didn’t respond at all.
Sending them information on additional volunteering methods (like fundraising, door to door canvassing, etc.) is also beneficial.
Features to look for
For efficient volunteer recruitment and management, the SMS marketing service of your choice must be able to:
Drip SMS broadcast – As mentioned earlier, a drip campaign should be triggered based on the supporter’s response to your initial SMS broadcast (as given in the invite example above).
For supporters agreeing to volunteer, more details have to be communicated while for those who don’t, you have to keep them engaged and ask them to contribute in other ways.
Integration with your CRM (or volunteer management system) – This is required for you to keep track of all volunteers and the tasks they have been assigned.
The volunteer management system (or CRM) will also ensure that communications with volunteers are relevant.
Peer to peer texting – This would primarily be required for volunteer management.
Peer to peer texting will allow organizers to have personalized conversations with all volunteers and help them out if required from a single interface.
A field experiment during the 2006 election by the American Journal of Political Science found that text message reminders produced a statistically significant 3.0 percentage point increase in the likelihood of voting.
As is clear from this analysis, texting is a crucial channel of communication for GOTV campaigns. A few ways how political campaigns use texting for GOTV efforts are:
1. Sending follow up texts after calls after an interaction with a voter over the phone, volunteers can follow up with a text with further details (like polling locations, carpool options, etc.)
2. Using peer to peer texting to appeal to voters in a more conversational manner. Peer to peer texting allows your agents to easily address more specific queries voters may have through a single platform.
3. SMS broadcast to send last-minute reminders, updates, or any other information related to the polling.
Features to look for
Primarily, the three features that your SMS marketing service would need for GOTV efforts are:
Texting through call center – To send immediate follow up through texts after an interaction with the voter over a call.
These texts would include details like polling station location, carpooling options, helpline numbers, etc.
Peer to peer texting (with multiple templated responses) – Peer to peer texting for GOTV efforts is becoming more popular in recent times.
It allows volunteers to reach out to a larger audience and engage them with a two-way conversation which seems more personalized.
Since all message follow-ups would have to be customized based on the voter’s location, having multiple templates for volunteers to refer to would make the task easier for them.
Grassroots fundraising doesn’t just help you raise money for your campaign but also helps involve your supporters more closely with your efforts.
While fundraising asks are made through a variety of channels, texting is the most effective. Mobile giving increased by 205% in 2016 and has been on the rise ever since.
Primarily, political campaigns make fundraising asks using the following SMS marketing services:
1. SMS Broadcast to all the strong and even lean supporters asking them to make a small donation for their candidate. This broadcast is typically accompanied by a link that directs voters to the donation page.
2. Peer to peer texting to make the ask in a more conversational manner. Volunteers can engage with voters giving them all the information they might require while making the ask.
Features to look for
For grassroots fundraising efforts, make sure that you go for a text marketing service that can help you set up:
Peer to peer texting campaigns – Quite obviously, since peer to peer texting is an extremely effective way to make fundraising asks, a texting software that helps you easily set it up would be valuable.
SMS opt-in (for text-to-donate) – One of the most common ways of grassroots fundraising is using an SMS opt-in campaign in which supporters text you a keyword and receive a donation link in reply.
As mentioned earlier, this keyword (and the shortcode to send the keyword to) can be publicized through multiple channels to raise awareness.
While running this campaign, it is good practice that you use a memorable keyword for maximum reach and use the sender’s name in the message to build credibility.
Sending campaign updates to supporters
As mentioned earlier, texts have an open rate of 98% which makes it the most effective way to ensure important campaign updates are delivered and read.
Political campaigns generally use SMS broadcasts to send texts like election day vote count updates, running mate decisions, debate highlights, and event reminders, etc.
Peer to peer texting can also be used to send updates (like texts informing people about their polling locations) that may require a two-way communication in case of queries.
Features to look for
Message personalization – Just because you’re sending a political broadcast message doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be personalized, especially if you want people to read it.
Generic broadcast messages are ignored subconsciously. But some level of personalization (like the supporter’s first name) will ensure that the reader at least glances through it.
How to choose the best SMS marketing service for your campaign?
It’s clear that for your campaign to be a success, you will have to execute a healthy mix of all the aforementioned activities.
But for each activity to be successful, you need a comprehensive SMS marketing tool that checks all boxes of the following list of features.
SMS marketing service for political campaigns feature checklist
Other factors to consider while choosing the right SMS marketing platform
While it may seem obvious, the cost of the SMS marketing service will influence your decisions on the right platform.
Typically there are two payment models that are available for SMS marketing services:
1. Pay as you go – In this model, you don’t have to commit to a prescribed plan. You only pay for what you use.
This pricing model gives you the flexibility to use the service however and whenever you need it.
For instance, if your opt-ins increase during the general elections, you don’t have to worry about limiting the number of texts you can send.
Similarly, if opt-outs increase during the midterms, you won’t be charged anything extra.
2. Subscription – In this pricing model, you have to commit a fixed amount that is paid regularly (monthly, annually, etc.).
Typically in this model, you have a limited number of messages you can send and if you wish to send more, you will have to subscribe to a higher plan.
However, in a subscription-based model, making payments is easier and you won’t have to repeatedly pay for the service. It typically gets deducted automatically.
The pricing model you go for depends entirely on your requirements and your campaign budget.
A subscription model would be good for you if you have a fixed set of texts you’ll be sending (in that case you won’t have to worry too much about upgrading or downgrading your plan as per your needs)
For campaigns operating on a budget and with unpredictable texts to be sent, pay as you go model would be a perfect fit.
Ease of use
Is it easy for you to set up different SMS marketing campaigns on the tool?
Ideally, it should be.
Before choosing the right texting platform, you should keep an eye out for the following features of accessibility:
1. Ease of uploading and managing contact lists – You may have a huge number of contacts which would be further segmented based on different patterns (support level, demographics, location, etc.)
The right texting tool will allow you to easily upload and store the list on the dashboard for use.
It should also allow you to maintain the segmentation (or even create segments on the dashboard) for targeted communication. An easy to manage DNC list must also be available on the dashboard itself.
2. Ease of importing or exporting data – As showcased earlier, you’ll be collecting a lot of voter data through texts (SMS opt-in campaigns), classifying these voters based on that data to ensure relevant communications are passed to them, and also be using this data to personalize message templates.
The SMS marketing service of your choice must seamlessly integrate with your CRM for two-way data transfer to make this possible.
3. Ease of texting – Since the tool will be used by a number of volunteers and agents, the learning curve for it shouldn’t be too steep. The dashboard of the tool must be clean and user friendly.
Personalizing messages with tags, collecting voter data, scheduling texts, etc. are examples of a few functions that volunteers should be able to pick up easily.
4. Ease of managing volunteers – As a campaign manager, you will be dealing with a lot of volunteers.
To ensure that the campaign is a success, it is crucial for you to ensure that every volunteer is executing the assigned tasks on time.
Adding and removing volunteers, setting the time interval during which they can operate (it’s not a great practice to have volunteers sending texts at 2:00 am), the ability to add and manage different volunteering teams are a few other features that should be offered.
A lot of SMS marketing platforms may offer only some of these features (and check only a few features from the checklist above).
While it might seem harmless to go for a service like that, would you really want to compromise your campaign’s success for that?
CallHub’s SMS Marketing solution is a comprehensive tool with all the features needed for various outreach activities.
Try out the tool for free here.