How to use text message marketing without annoying your supporters

Among a frenzied election season with typically boring races turned competitive, and a higher than average turnout for midterms, there was one constant: text messaging. Campaigns across the spectrum used textbanking to send hundreds of millions of texts to their constituents urging them to vote.

And it’s not just political campaigns, advocacy campaigns are employing it, too. Recently, the Movement for Black Lives sent out a text asking if supporters had read their new report, and the ACLU sent its members updates about an important net neutrality case.

And it’s no secret why organizations are turning to text message marketing and advocacy. Texting is far more time efficient than door-knocking, and 129 times more effective.

But it’s a relatively new tactic, having gained popularity after the Bernie Sanders team used it in 2016. People aren’t used to being bombarded with texts from candidates and advocacy organizations, and they’re feeling pretty annoyed about it.

So how can organizations wield this powerful tool without turning off would-be supporters? Here’s a few tips.

Don’t use text messaging to shame your supporters into taking an action.

This was a mistake that a lot of midterm campaigns used -- sending messages saying if you don’t vote, everyone will know, or, if you don’t vote, you don’t deserve to live in a democracy, or some other nonsense.

Instead, use it to ask your supporters questions. This will do two things: (1) engage your constituents in a back-and-forth dialogue so they don’t feel like they’re being talked at and (2) give you the information you need to persuade them into action in the future.

You can also gently remind people of events, encouraging them to invite their friends. And afterwards, send them a link to where they might find photos of events they attended. Or if they can’t make it, don’t harass them, simply send a link to where they might get a recording or view it live on social media.

Don’t expect a call-to-action blitz to turn out results from folks you’ve never reached out to before.

One of the more attractive things about text message marketing is you can reach out to new people -- those without landlines, or whose neighborhoods are difficult to get to. Typically, campaigns didn’t see these communities as worth the cost of reaching out. But that’s the wrong way to look at potential supporters.

Instead, work on building a relationship with new targets. It may be something as simple as sending out a “Happy Thanksgiving!” text before you start asking them for donations during the holiday season.

But it also means you need to research these constituents -- find out what issues they care about, and connect with them through that, rather than using a firehose approach and crossing your fingers that they’ll be interested.

And if these new people respond negatively, or ask to be taken off of your list, take them off. There aren’t official rules yet for campaign text message marketing that you have to give people an opt-out option, but bad phone numbers are just dead weight, and it could turn an uninterested person into an active opponent.

Don’t contact people only when you want something.

Text messaging is more personal than getting a mailer, or seeing a YouTube ad. In this way, you want to create a reciprocal relationship. If you’re doing issue advocacy, try sending out “breaking news” texts, informing people of both the setbacks and successes of your work, without immediately asking for something in return. Thank them if you’ve hit a fundraising goal.

All of these texts can be linked to articles or press releases back on your website, bringing more traffic there and possibly turning someone on your text list into a newsletter subscribe or a first-time donor.

The basic rule to remember here is that text messaging is a more personal platform than other forms of digital marketing, so try to connect with people on a human level, just as you would if you were organizing or advocating face-to-face. As the quantity of text message marketing campaigns increases, you’ll stand out in a good way if your quality of outreach keeps up, too.