Let’s talk about texting

A few thoughts and links about the latest frontier in community engagement

Engagement has become one of the hottest new buzzwords in journalism. Everyone wants to know how they can connect with readers and communities so they can figure out what they really want from the news — and hopefully make money by giving it to them. But news consumption habits and user behaviors have changed so radically and so frequently over the last decade or so that it often feels like no one really knows how to do that.

Over the last year or so, a few potential solutions have become increasingly popular: texting campaigns, mostly via SMS and chat apps. Here’s a short list of other people and publications that have been documenting the rise of SMS campaigns and mobile messaging apps over the last year:

Such conversational approaches to audience engagement not only have the potential to deliver content directly into the pockets of your audience, they also cost relatively little to set up (in some cases) and require relatively few multimedia and design resources (they are text-based, after all).

Granted, some of the headlines in the list above may sound a bit exaggerated. Text messaging and chat apps, for example, are certainly getting more popular by the day, but I wouldn’t go as far as Krystal Lim when she says that “Text Messaging Is The New Email.”

That being said, Lim does make some excellent points. “The open rate of text messaging,” she writes, “is extremely high (basically 100%) and the convenience of it creates a stronger call to action.” Whether this will continue to be the case once the majority of publishers begin bombarding their communities with text messages, however, remains to be seen.

Still, SMS campaigns have already proved to be an effective method for soliciting information from a particular community. Whether you’re a reporter at ProPublica trying to get feedback about rent rates in NYC or a political operative trying to recruit young people to join your candidate’s campaign, text messages have become a valuable tool — one you’ll want to have in your arsenal.

Source: Business Insider, April 2015.

There are also some very important lessons to be learned from the rise and continued growth of messaging apps, especially when it comes to the way we think about publishing and journalism (as you can see from this Business Insider graphic from 2015).

These new mobile messaging tools aren’t just becoming a crucial part of how publishers distribute content or engage with their communities — both of which are great applications of the technology — they also have a lot of potential when it comes to revenue and sustainability.

WNYC, for example, recently took a page out of the disaster-response playbook that lets people donate to an organization by texting a keyword to a specific number. The cellphone carrier handles the rest. The good news, according to Current, is that “such campaigns can provide a streamlined process for getting donations in house.” There are drawbacks, however, especially when it comes to the ability of these text-to-give prompts to collect more in-depth information about individual donors.

The average donations were also relatively small, with most of them coming in somewhere around the $5–10 range. But for most publishers — especially the smaller outfits — every little bit helps.

Many smaller, local publications may not feel like they have the time or resources to dive into yet another hot new journalism trend, which is where our mobile lab comes in.

Right now, I’m in the process of putting the final touches on the training schedule for the NJ Mobile News Lab, and you can expect it to include at least a handful of sessions on all things conversational — from SMS campaigns to chat apps to bots.

Tell me what you’re curious about. What do you want to learn? If you have speaker suggestions or specific requests for trainings, send them to info@njnewscommons.org so I can put them on my list.


Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. He can be reached at amditisj@montclair.edu or in his office at (973) 655–5554.

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