Text Message Marketing for Political Campaigns

August 1, 2017 - 12 minutes read

There is one communication strategy that is increasingly becoming the norm in political campaigning:

Text Message Marketing

Whether it be at campaign rallies or fundraisers, on direct mailers, yard signs or even the campaign social media handles, the CTA to text the campaign keyword to a shortcode has turned into a familiar sight for voters. As political campaigns embrace the mobile, text message marketing has turned itself into a vital communications strategy for its wide reach, simplicity, and the scope of scalable personalized conversations.

Conventional uses of text messaging include voter reminders, campaign updates, event updates, staff communications and so on. While these use cases still remain relevant, text messaging in political campaigns now has implementations beyond conventional campaign marketing to include data collection, opinion polls, event management, and volunteer organizing.

As more campaigns embrace the use of text messages, the technology that supported this feature has also advanced to widen its scope. You can manage your text message marketing from a browser, share data instantly across multiple software applications, and measure campaign progress with analytics. We’ll look at how text messages help political campaigns and how its scope has evolved over time through six use cases.

What is text message marketing?

Text message marketing involves the use of SMS texts to communicate with your voter base and maintain communications between campaign staff/volunteers. Campaigns need an opt in procedure where voters can sign up to receive your text messages. This is usually a sign-up form on the campaign website or a keyword to be texted to a number. Once a person has opted in, the campaign has permission to reach out to them via texts.

Text message marketing use cases for political campaigns include the following:

  1. Collecting voter details
  2. Campaign updates
  3. Opinion polls
  4. Event management
  5. Volunteer organizing
  6. GOTV reminders

Collecting voter details

You must have seen the Call to Action to text a keyword to a short code or mobile number at campaign rallies and on campaign literature. Something like Text GIVE to 555555. People opt in and then receive campaign text messages through the duration of the campaign. But if you’re just asking people to opt in and leave the remaining conversation for later, you’re missing out on valuable voter information for your voter database. The normal opt in gives campaigns the supporter phone number plus the ability to keep the person in the loop about campaign activities. These numbers are then used in the future for follow up campaigns which reach out to supporters through phone banks or door knocking to expand on contact data.

Instead of putting off voter data collection for later, when there is a higher chance for attrition, text message marketing lets you gather voter data as soon as people opt in.

When subscribers opt in with a keyword, they receive a response requesting more details such as name, email, zip code or any other metrics. Through a sequence of messages, you can collect multiple data sets that can help you segment your voter lists for targeted outreach. By collecting data as soon as people opt in, you are instantly leveraging the interest shown by the voter, collecting data which people may not be willing to part with at later stages of the campaign.

While you can use text messaging to ask an unlimited number of questions, it is always better to stick to four or fewer text messages to avoid annoying your subscribers.

Campaign updates

The most prevalent use case for text message marketing in politics is to send out campaign updates to supporters, volunteers, and staff. It is used to convey the candidate’s stance on relevant issues, alert voters about media appearances, and make fundraising appeals and campaign announcements.

Unlike conventional text messaging, modern platforms allow you to send out thousands of text messages in the span of a few seconds. Each message can be personalized with tags i.e {first_name} will fill up the supporters first name in the message, and be scheduled to go out at the right time and date.

When you are sending out thousands of texts, it can be a daunting task to handle responses. Text messaging software gives you the option to personally handle responses or set up automatic responses that identifies keywords.

Opinion polls and surveys

Opinion polls offer campaigns a way to understand the voter psyche and tailor the campaign around the issues concerning voters. Once you have built a subscriber list, you can reach out to the entire list or segmented lists based on location, job title (or any other metrics you have to segment voters). Send out text messages to voter lists with your polls. You can set up automatic responses for when people reply back based on the keywords you have set up.

For example, if your candidate has a strong stance on education and you want to identify your strongest supporters, your text message campaign can have:

“Hi John, this is a poll to assess voter issues in the Bay Area. Reply YES to take part or reply NO to exit campaign.”

Subscribers responding “YES” will automatically trigger the follow-up message,

“Which issue needs to be addressed urgently in the Bay Area. A. Education B. Healthcare C. Immigration D. Environment E. Other. Reply with your choice.”

Subscribers replying with “A” are responded with,

“Thank you for your sharing opinion on the issues affecting Bay Area. Check out, http://jd.ms/edu for details on how you can support educational reform.”

Information collected through polls and surveys can be used throughout your campaign to reach out to voters with a better understanding of the issues that concern them.

Event management

You can use text message marketing to send out event updates and identify attendees. The straightforward approach is to text your voter list with an event update, for example, “Hey John, we’ve got an event coming up next Saturday July 6th at 11pm. Will you be able to join us? Reply Y or N.” The software will automatically segment users based on their response. The alternate and better option is if you are using a CRM software. With text messaging software and CRM integration, you can create an event in your CRM and then run a RSVP campaign using your text messaging software. Responses to your texts can be automatically synced to your CRM so that subscribers responding with “Y” are sent an event invite or follow-up updates about the event.

Volunteer organizing

Volunteer organizing with text messaging works somewhat similar to event management. Only here, you are inviting supporters to volunteer for your event rather than a generic appeal for event attendees.

First you send out an event invite via text message and based on how subscribers RSVP to your invitation, you can start a drip SMS campaign for those who replied in the affirmative.

For example, using a field organizing tool like marriagehero.org together with CallHub, you can run your RSVP campaign on CallHub to identify interested volunteers and then start your drip campaign on marriagehero.org.

A use case of drip campaigns is when event volunteers are sent instructions via email along with an SMS asking for confirmation that the email has been read. When the volunteer responds positively via SMS, the software recognizes the keyword and moves on to the next stage of the drip campaign, or it reminds the volunteer again for a negative response or a lack of a response.

These drip campaigns involve the use of automated periodic texts and emails to ensure volunteer attendance and to make sure that they are made aware of the details pertaining to the event. Application integrations ensure that all data is instantly synced across your CRM software.

GOTV and registration reminders

Even an excellent voter outreach campaign can fall flat if people don’t turn out to vote. Text messages offer a fast and wide reaching method to remind citizens to go to the ballot box on election day. You can use texts to send out reminders to register to vote, guide people on how to register, provide information about where the voting place is located, and for Get Out The Vote efforts during the days leading up to the election.

Your voters are facing an overload of information each day and only some of it manages to get through the din. While emails may go unopened and phone calls ignored, text messages are still opened and read by the vast majority. This also means that your subscribers will get annoyed if you flood their inbox with fundraising appeals or send out irrelevant updates. A more subtle approach to engaging the subscriber with meaningful content can go a long way into making text messages a powerful vehicle for political campaigning.

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