How to Not Ruin Texting in 2018

2018 is finally here, and if you work in politics, get ready for the year of the text! Peer-to-peer texting has quickly grown from a promising trend to an essential campaigning tool. Team Relay is (of course) delighted about this evolution, as it’s allowed us to support an incredible range of progressive causes, from nationwide protests to save Net Neutrality to helping flip 15 seats in the VA House of Delegates.

But we also recognize that popularity is a double edged sword, bringing legitimate concerns about over-texting that will cause recipients to tune out. As critical as the 2018 elections are, we want to make sure P2P texting remains a powerful organizing tool for years to come. So we humbly offer these guidelines for how to not ruin texting in 2018.

The Basics

• Honor Opt Out Requests— Consider this the first commandment of P2P texting: Thou shalt opt out! When someone says don’t text me, in whatever language they choose, you are morally and legally bound to honor that request. We recommend immediately processing opt outs to make sure they don’t get missed. We also recommend letting people know you are opting them out so they have confirmation that their request has been heard.

• Introduce Yourself— In most P2P texting programs, the texter will not personally know their recipients. Which is why we highly recommend scripts that introduce the sender and the organization they are texting for. Messages without that information won’t just be annoying, they’ll likely be confusing and ineffective too!

Answer Every Question — P2P texting is about having conversations, which is why we tell every client, if you’re not prepared to answer questions, you shouldn’t be texting people in the first place. We know that some P2P texting programs are organized to simply send outgoing messages and ignore any replies. To those programs we say emphatically: you are doing it wrong!

Respond Quickly — While texting is not instant message, it’s also not email. When people send you a text they expect a speedy response, and it’s in your interest to meet that expectation. The faster you respond, the greater chance the person is still available to finish the conversation and (hopefully) say yes to whatever you are asking them to do. You should answer questions as soon as possible — ideally within the hour. If you can’t get right back to someone, we recommend a maximum of four hours delay.

Leveling Up

Record Wrong Numbers — If you’re texting a lot of people, you will invariably get some wrong numbers, especially when sending cold texts. Learning that you have a wrong number is actually a valuable piece of data, as long as you track it! The best practice is to capture wrong number data to avoid texting that person again unless you have figured out whose number it is. Texters have a lot to learn from phonebankers, who have built systems for pulling wrong numbers out of their follow-up call lists.

Sweep Up After Your Texters — Many Relay clients have developed a “sweeping” strategy to make sure that no questions go unanswered and no opt-out request goes unprocessed. This is especially important when using volunteer texters who may be unable to stick with their assignment through the long tail of replies. Sweeping usually involves a dedicated cadre that reviews assignments at a specified interval after they began. Sweeping is a smart tactic, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Relay provides great tools to facilitate this process.

Train (and Retrain) Your Volunteers — One of the upsides of P2P texting is that it is easy for volunteers to pick it up. This is also one of its downsides. Just because they can start texting doesn’t mean they will do it well or stick with it. If you’re planning to use volunteers, consider providing specialized training about what your organization is texting about. To confirm that volunteers have reviewed training materials, some organizations require them to take a quiz. And once volunteers start texting, if you see them making mistakes — like not answering questions or recording data — make sure you give them the feedback so they can improve!

Who You Gonna Text?

• Take a Hint: Don’t Over-text — Questions of volume are central to the long term health of P2P texting . While we can’t yet offer bright line tests, if you have sent a similar ask to someone 3 or 4 times and have not gotten a response, you should consider taking them off your list for that type of ask. Effectively tracking their responses and incorporating that into future targeting is, in our opinion, the most important part of texting administration. (If you’re wondering whether that kind of advanced targeting is possible in Relay: it is!)

• Ask Yourself: Would I be OK to get this Text? — The final question is the most important one — what should you text for and what should you NOT text for? Texting is an intimate form of communication that people mostly use to talk to their friends and family. As such, we think the bar is different than, say, email. To help you answer that question, we offer a simple rubric for campaigners: would you feel OK getting this text?

You may have noticed that many of the above recommendations should lead to less texting, not more. Yes, Relay is a business and we want to be successful. But we want that success to be sustained. Just as importantly, the Relay team comes from the world of progressive politics. We are honored to support our clients’s amazing campaigns, and we want our tools to help them for years to come. But for now we’re setting our sights a little lower: let’s just not ruin texting in 2018! We’re happy to get your help: if you have ideas for P2P texting dos and don’ts that we missed, please add a response below.