The following is a guest contributed post from Roddy Lindsay, CEO and co-founder of Hustle.
In the 2016 election cycle, one of the biggest stories has been the rise of person-to-person text messaging as the most effective ways for campaigns to engage with voters. Tools like Hustle and Megaphone have made organizers on the ground 48 times more effective than traditional phone banking, and have transformed the way that campaigns think about communication.
Unlike broadcast media and email blasts, person-to-person texting allows a genuine, authentic dialogue to take place between a voter and a campaign organizer. During the primaries, the Bernie Sanders campaign leveraged the Hustle platform to invite millions of supporters to events, text them their primary or caucus location, and ask them to volunteer with the campaign. Having a direct channel to a campaign organizer allowed each voter to have her or his questions answered immediately by a real person. In many cases, such as when polling locations were moved last-minute, the immediacy of this connection, and the ability to turn a texting conversation into a voice call, was invaluable.
Platforms like Hustle have created the Holy Grail for campaigns: one-on-one conversations with voters at internet scale. Indeed, the Sanders campaign ran their entire “Text for Bernie” program, which leveraged thousands of volunteers around the country to personally engage millions of supporters, using only a handful of paid staff. What’s more, each of these volunteer texters was empowered to speak personally to voters about why they believed in Bernie’s message and were volunteering with the campaign. Bots cannot imitate the inherent authenticity and humanity of this type of communication.
Text messaging is a highly inclusive, empowering channel, as it supports communication with the millions of Americans who do not own smartphones. Indeed, a 2015 Pew report found that smartphone ownership amongst those with a household income of less than $30k was only 52%, equal to the ownership percentage amongst rural Americans. 36% percent of Hispanic adults do not own a smartphone. Since even the most basic flip phone supports SMS, text messaging is a great unifying technology that enfranchises our voters.
The benefits of person-to-person text messaging platforms are not limited to political campaigns; it can foster engagement of all kinds. A 2016 Knight Foundation study found that people who received text messages from a real person were more than three times more likely to attend a civic event than a generic text message from an organization. What’s more, there were almost four times as many messages exchanged in the subsequent conversations if the initial message contained an organizer’s real identity. Leveraging an organization’s authentic voices to communicate isn’t just a gimmick; it leads to more butts in seats at events, dollars raised at fundraisers, and votes in the ballot box.
Text messaging is a highly personal and intimate channel, and the wireless carrier trade group, the CTIA, has worked diligently to keep it this way. The CTIA’s special classification of peer-to-peer (P2P) text messaging services in its SMS guidelines ensure that consumers receive text messages only from real people in their communities, not spam bots. Strong privacy regulations make sure that messaging services do not scan these personal messages for targeted contextual advertising. These consumer protections, thoughtfully evolved over many years by the CTIA, ensure that text messaging will be a great channel for authentic conversations for years to come.
As political campaigns are usually among the fastest adopters of new technology, owing to each new campaign’s lack of legacy infrastructure and lightning-fast sales cycle, expect many non-profits and relationship-driven B2C businesses to adopt person-to-person text messaging as a powerful new tool for authentic engagement. As always, organizations that treat people like actual people – and put genuine relationships first – will win the hearts and minds of voters, supporters, and customers.