Text SHUT THE *&%$ UP to Unsubscribe: Why Technology Needs to Relate to People in The Language They Actually Use


At Mobile Commons, we’ve analyzed tens of millions of messages, opt-ins, opt-outs, and help requests. We’ve learned time and again that people communicate via text messages in a colloquial, familiar manner. Even when they’re texting with a large organization, users respond like it’s a friend.

In fact, people often aren’t aware that they’re talking to a computer at all.

As a result, we’ve tailored our software to the speech patterns of real people.

For example, if you ask the user a question like “Are you a male or a female?” they’ll write back, “A boy.” Ask someone what their name is, and they might respond “My name is Bob.” You don’t want to record their name in your database as “My name is Bob.” And you also don’t want tell them you don’t understand their response because your technology can only read single-word answers.

Individuals will also often write “please” and “thank you” in their messages even though it’s not part of the pre-programmed messaging.

It’s crucial that organizations embrace this way of communicating via text by creating or using technology that can respond flexibly to natural language. This familiarity and friendliness is a major boon to organizations today.

“Who Dis?”

“HELP” is a tricky word. The carriers mandate that, if someone texts “help,” that person must receive compliance language explaining who the message is coming from and detailing the standard messaging charges.

Think about what you say or text when you aren’t sure who is sending the message. If you get a text message, and you don’t know who it’s from, you’re going to write back “Who’s this?”

That’s exactly what our data shows. People write “Who is this?” “Who’s this?” or “Who dis?” when they want to find out who’s texting them.

The mobile relationship should be a long-term relationship and, when your subscribers have a question, everyone benefits when you can provide an answer.

How People Really Unsubscribe

When you want to end a text conversation with a friend, do you write back “unsubscribe”?  Carriers mandate that certain words will unsubscribe users from a campaign. If you ever text “stop,” “quit,” “remove,” or “unsubscribe” to a mobile marketer, you will be automatically opted out of their program.

But people often use other words when they want the texts to end.

“Please don’t text me anymore.”

“Shut up.”

“F*** off.”

“Shut the *&%$ up.”

“Please don’t text me anymore” doesn’t have any of the prescribed opt-out keywords. But if you don’t opt that person out, you risk seriously alienating an individual who at one point was a supporter of your organization – and might still be.

People tell organizations to shut up in the same natural language that they tell other people to. So if you tell one of our client organizations to “shut the #$%@# up,” shut up they will. 

When “Stop” Can Be a Call to Action

But it is also important to take into account user intent. And sometimes people text in STOP or QUIT to opt in inside of out…

The National Cancer Institute has an anti-smoking campaign that you join by texting “QUIT.” Someone subscribed to an anti-war campaign will text in “END.”

One of our customers, Reform Immigration 4 America (RI4A), had a problem when their Spanish-speaking base texted “ALTO” (Spanish for “STOP”) en masse. Many of the users were trying to send a message to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop the anti-immigrant raids. They definitely were not trying to quit RI4A’s mobile list.

You see the problem. People will text in the carriers’ opt-out words all the time as part of a natural conversation. That doesn’t always mean they want to be opted out.

It’s incredibly destructive to your long-term organizing when your most passionate advocates are suddenly getting opted out of your list without meaning to. After the RI4A issue, we decided to make a change. From then on, any time anybody unsubscribes, we send them a message confirming they have been unsubscribed from the list, and telling them to reply “OOPS” if it was a mistake.

Engaging with consumers and supporters in a personal manner is an invaluable component of any mobile messaging conversation. But colloquial language – especially in the digitial landscape – is dynamic and requires constant attention. Mobile Commons continues to analyze patterns in how people communicate and hone our software to be friendly and responsive in every language our customers use.

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