Lessons from RootsCamp: How Long-Term Mobile Engagement Can Set You Up for “Big-Bang” Wins


Sam McKelvie is the head of Mobile Strategy, dedicated to helping customers use text messaging to accomplish their goals. On Friday, November 30th, she and Mal McKay, Lead Developer, presented at RootsCamp 2012. 

Coming out of this year’s election, RootsCamp was supercharged with activists and technologists gathered to share best practices in political organizing. More than a few Mobile Commons clients achieved incredible success on November 6th. We shared some the main takeaways we observed this fall with our friends at RootsCamp in a panel called “Using Mobile to Build Long-Term Engagement for Big-Bang Wins!”

What would I consider a “Big Bang Win”? It’s when everything’s on the line and you have a very short window to mobilize your supporters to take action…

  • The election is in 1 week and many of your state’s polling places were destroyed in a hurricane!
  • It’s 8pm and the polls are closed. People are getting out of line, even though they have a right to stay and vote!
  • Your union has just been locked out. Picketing starts at midnight.
  • You just got dropped by a major donor.

There are a few reasons why we believe SMS is the best driver of action in these situations. First, your call to action will not be hidden in a closed email or in a flood of user-generated content on social media. Everyone who receives your message will read it. Second, your mobile list is your most dedicated group of supporters. For example, NARAL recently matched their mobile list against their full email list and found that the supporters on their mobile list were twice as likely to be online donors as those only on their email list.

But sending out one text alone isn’t going to guarantee you a win in these high-stakes situations. You need a big list that’s primed and ready to take action from a text message call to action. This means that you have to build long-term engagement with your SMS list. They need to be used to hearing from you via text message and understand that not only do you ask them to take action via text, but you also give them good content that keeps them engaged. You want to create the relationship where your supporters expect to hear from you via text when news breaks or when you have something exciting to share.  For a lot of organizations, that means texting a little more often they’re used to. But have no fear, here are some tips for turning a lukewarm list into your hot action takers!

  • Use ALL the tools available to you: Gone are the days of email-only or Facebook-only campaigns. Got something great to tweet out? Text it out too. SMS is a great way to share videos, pics, and mobile apps. You can collect petition signatures, stories, and questions for candidates via text as well.
  • Be topical: Get people used to hearing from you via text about today’s trending topics.
  • Don’t be lame: Only text if you have something cool to share related to what’s currently happening. If it involves a pun or doesn’t tie back to your organization – you‘re probably being lame.
  • Be nimble: It’s a lot easier to break news quickly in 160 characters than in paragraphs of email. Get comfortable sending a text as a quick response to breaking news. When Kathy Lee dropped a puppy on the Today Show, DoSomething.org sent out a text immediately asking users to download their Pics4Pets app!
  • Segment & target: If you’re going to be texting often, it better be relevant. Segment your list based on location, age, or past actions. If there’s info you want, but you don’t have – ASK! We’ve seen 80% response rates to question like, “Are you registered to vote?” or “Are you 18 or over?”
  • Use transitions: Transitions can increase your response rate by 10%. And people love that you remember what you’ve been texting them about. Don’t be afraid to say, “Remember that video we sent you last week? Well now we need you to take action!”
  • Be personal: If you want people to respond to you, don’t forget to let them know that there’s a person on the other end of the text that expects a response. Check out this sample text from the League of Young Voters, which asks for a specific action, and signs off from a specific person: “Tuesday, Nov. 6th is Election Day. Find out what’s on your ballot, local voter guides, and where to vote on www.TheBallot.org. – Sarah @ the League”

This Fall has proven what we at Mobile Commons have always known: text messaging is an extremely effective way to get a 100% open rate and a response rate 5-10 times higher than email. We’ve seen SMS play an integral role in critical victories. However, the organizations that achieved the biggest successes hadn’t been texting lightly over the past few months. They had built a long-term engagement strategy with their constituents via text message. Their supporters were used to taking action via this medium and being recognized for that action. Their constituents look to their phones for breaking news and direction for involvement when time is of the essence. We recommend you start building that relationship now, so when you need a Big-Bang win, your supporters are ready!

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