Still Not Using Text Messaging? 5 Billion Reasons Why You Should Reconsider

Someone holding mobile phone with computer in the background
Text messaging (SMS) is a growing digital channel in the public sector, and it’s understandable why: there are over 5 billion mobile phone users around the world.

As the public sector’s use of mobile to connect with various audiences continues to grow, we’ve learned a lot about what makes for a successful civic outreach campaign. In the last year, GovDelivery helped deliver over 295 million text messages for communities across the country.

According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, less than two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone. For 97 percent of those with a smartphone, text messaging was the most widely-used feature. See chart below:

Pew Chart

Still unsure about texting as a way to connect with your audience? Let’s start with answering these three simple questions:

What’s your ultimate goal?

When considering a text campaign, start with identifying your ultimate goal and work backwards.

Text messaging can be a great way to connect with your audience where they are – consider the way they typically communicate or how they prefer to receive information. Also consider what types of data, information, or engagement would be most useful for influencing decision-makers. SMS can be a great (and fast) way to gather information that can be quickly translated into a narrative for building a local park, informing citizens of a health risk or ensuring all cars are properly towed.

Once your goals are clear and you’ve identified that your audience would benefit from text messaging as an option, all that’s left is getting people hooked and asking a few follow up questions.

Do you think you could get people’s attention with SMS?

The first question plays a huge role in developing an interactive SMS campaign. If your goals align with text messaging, start brainstorming for a hook.

Here is more motivation: Once people text into your campaign, completion rates are usually quite high: 90% for 3-question surveys, and 50-70% for 5-8 question surveys. But only if the first question is compelling!

Here are a few ideas for how to get people’s attention:

  • Get people interested or emotional: take advantage of both topic and phrasing. Topics such as a new minimum wage or proposed rapid transit line may have broad appeal. Using imaginative language, making it clear that respondents can truly make an impact, and presenting visually descriptive options will further encourage people to respond.
  • Start with a simple question. Make it as easy as possible for people to get started. A yes/no or multiple choice question makes it faster for people to respond. You can ask for more detail in follow-up questions.

Example Questions:

  • Does this [picture] look like a good idea? Text Yes or No
  • How is the city doing on transparency? Give us a letter grade from A-F.
  • Business Owners! Which of these 3 changes would make it easier for your business to grow?

Can you create 5-8 engaging questions?

GovDelivery Interactive Text Messaging supports surveys of any length, but 5-8 question surveys hit a sweet spot for most campaigns. They provide plenty of room to collect enough data and demographics to make informed decisions, while respecting people’s’ time and keeping response rates high.

If your organization isn’t utilizing texting to connect with your audience, consider these mobile stats from Text Sprout:

  • 96% of smartphone users utilize SMS text messaging
  • 98% of text messages are read
  • The average person looks at their phone 150 times per day

If you’re looking for a real-world public sector example of SMS marketing, take a look at this blog post we did awhile back on a GovDelivery client who knew the power of being able to send information to the public wherever they are instantly: Washington State. Washington State uses email and SMS alerts to provide information on traffic incidents, road conditions and construction alerts.

Questions about how to implement SMS in your organization? Let us know at

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