SMS Call to Action Best Practices



To review, a keyword call to action (or text call to action) is when a promotion tells the viewer to text in. This takes the form of “Text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE”, where the short code is a 5-6 digit number that is statice and the keyword can be chosen and tracked to the promotion. If I were a marketer with the Cleveland Browns I might have a call to action that reads.

“To put your name down for 2019 season tickets, text BROWNS to 216216.”

Let’s break down how all of this might work.

“To put your name down for 2019 season tickets,” Good calls to action don’t say, “For more info…”. There is a specific reason that someone should text in. If people want more info, they already know what to do. A newspaper I worked with wanted people to text in and join a database of sources for stories. If the paper needed to speak with a doctor that was over 65 and ever delivered a baby on a plane, they would have a database of people to connect with.

When they paper’s call to action read, “Would you like to be a source? Text SOURCE to 12345”, no one texted in. When the paper ran a story about a dog attack and the call to action read, “Have you been attacked or almost attacked by a dog? Text DOG to 12345”, the results were great.

The reason that someone might text in is the most important aspect of a call to action although sometimes it’s overlooked if the organization is focusing on the more technical aspects. The keyword and shortcode part of the CTA should be kept simple.

Helping hundreds of organizations understand text message calls to action, I’ve developed a few best practices.

Make the call to action clear. The call to action should avoid confusion. No one needs to remember the call to action. If they are going to text in, they will do it immediately. Make sure that the call to action doesn’t stop them from texting in.
Repeat the call to action. This is true for any response channel – if you’re promoting a URL or phone number, it’s important to repeat it. This is especially true with text messaging where an SMS call to action may be new for viewers.
Show and tell the call to action. Some people are more visual, and some people focus more on audio. No matter who the audience is, it’s best to do both. Show the words on screen – “Text JOIN to 12345” and say them at the same time. This will just get the best results.
Share a good reason to text. As mentioned before, the reason behind the call to action is the most important aspect. If it’s interesting and valuable, people will take action. If the promotion isn’t that interesting, any response will be an uphill battle.

Last note, use calls to action to test different messaging, ads or media channels. Keywords naturally act as tracking codes, so you can measure and compare response for each keyword that’s promoted.

What the heck do I know?



It was pointed out to me that I should share some of the campaigns I’ve been a part of and my experiences in the messaging space. So that’s what this episode is about. 

Why bots were D.O.A but messaging is still thriving.

(Get this article in a podcast here) In early 2016 Facebook released an API for Messenger and introduced the age of bots. Quickly it became obvious to everyone that bots were the next huge trend, startups got funded, Medium posts were written and the space was officially hot. I’d been doing messaging for about 8 years at the time and the it wasn’t clear to me that bots would work. Other people that had experience with messaging didn’t jump on the bot bandwagon either.



It’s safe to say, 3 years later, that the bot era hasn’t happened. I don’t think it’s coming soon. This podcast digs into why bots didn’t make it between 2016–2019, and why messaging is still thriving. The reasoning starts with the boring basics, but gets more advanced. So please stick through obvious stuff.

The first big problem with bots was the hype. You could see it from a mile away. Every tech publication featured articles titled, The Bots are Coming with images showing 1980’s robot toys explaining how every interaction that we were having on the web would now take place with a bot.

Oh you want to buy shoes? Soon you’ll just message into Zappos with your shoe size and their AI will automatically pick out the best shoes for you. Then you can just press a single button and complete the purchase. They hype was outrageous. These interactions would play out everywhere, from doctors offices to ordering pizza.

It was clear that tech was thirsty for the next big thing and the public oversold in the process. Of course Facebook and the promotion around the Messenger Platform launch played the biggest part. But hey, it was early 2016 and Facebook was on a winning streak, riding high. It was still before the other (Russian) bots came.

Which brings me to the second reason that the bot-craze crashed and burned — the word “bots”. I couldn’t think of a name with more baggage hanging on it. Russian bots ruined the American election. Twitter bots are spreading fake news. And both social networks are now cracking down on bots on their platform.

There are also the bots coming for your job (a lot of headlines when I was googling for this post). The robots are coming for your job and if they don’t get you, AI bots surely will. Until Facebook coopted the word, “bots” were just spam accounts on social media.

Did we mention AI? A few paragraphs back I talked about sending a message in to a webstore and that store knows exactly the right product for you. How will that happen? AI. How about when I message in to reschedule my delivery. How will the system understand my request? AI.

The tech press projected bots as the coupling of messaging with AI. The problem is that AI doesn’t exist. For some reason when the interface changed to messaging, AI came closer to possible. But this doesn’t make sense. You’ll know when it’s possible to produce the 1 correct answer to any query because google search results will just include one link.

Positioning bots as AI, spreading this through the hype cycle and at the same time conflating messaging interactions with Russian troll farms attacking American Democracy caused a little cynicism and backlash. But none of these reasons are why bots were DOA and messaging is still a strong and growing channel.

From the descriptions above, a simple explanation of a bot is that a user can text in, there will be some logic to understand what user is saying and the bot will respond back with the correct answer. This type of interaction lends itself to customer service or the actual usage of a product (what I call customer operations). Specifically this interaction is started by the user, it’s not meant to be driven by the organization. Because these bot conversations are directed by the user they aren’t marketing.

I want to quickly distinguish another approach that I call messaging as a marketing channel. The idea of using messaging for marketing means building an opt in list and then sending outgoing messages to this list. This is exactly how email marketing works. From all my experience, this is where messaging makes the most sense. This list building and activation approach is not what people are thinking when they use the word bot.

A simple way to distinguish the two approaches, when a user directs the conversation it’s a bot and when the organization is driving the conversation, it’s a marketing use case.

With this context for bots, here are the specific problems that kept bots from taking off:

It’s extremely complicated to let the user drive a conversation, understand understand that user and respond appropriately. For the user to find value the scope of conversation topics must be wide enough to address anything the user might ask. It’s just an incredibly hard problem to be able to parse and respond to so many potential inquiries.
Compounding this core problem described above is that the bot must be correct. Even a 5% error rate will be noticed. On messaging channels, it’s not particularly easy to help the user when there’s a problem. Sending the user a menu/list is a horrible UX (and contradicts the reason to use a bot) and starting the conversation over would super frustrating.
Focusing on customer service or customer operations (like calling an Uber) use cases are not easy places to build & test MVPs. These use cases can require deep integrations, and the stakes are high in these interactions. A frustrated customer failing to get an answer from the customer service bot is a much worse situation than a marketing lead not converting. Marketing departments are constantly testing and failing ideas — customer service, not so much
Which leads to the final point, customer service (and potentially customer operations) aren’t revenue generating divisions A hit strategy in marketing can drive growth. So marketing departments are looking to innovate, have test budget and will grow the channel quickly when something works. An amazing customer service bot might reduce cost, but it won’t significantly increase growth.
In summary, bots were a new interaction that tackled incredibly hard problems in high stakes company functions with little room for errors. Bot makers were pitching to teams that aren’t built for innovation and even if things work amazingly well, the upside is limited. That’s why bots were DOA.

This was a hard article to write. If you’ve made it this far, listening to the podcast might explain some of the ideas from a different angle. I hope you’ll subscribe on itunes.

Finally, I think that AI and customer service automation will start working soon. I just don’t think it will happen on messaging first. It’s more likely that call centre audio + AI is the place where humans will first start to interact with bots, if we aren’t doing that already.

The Superpower of Messaging = Response

The super power of messaging is response. With a messaging campaign it’s possible to ask people to respond, they’ll do it and the response can be valuable. I don’t know a better way to say it.

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When designing a campaign, most organizations would frame the question as What do we want to tell our list? Better results can be had if the question is instead, What’s the most valuable response someone can reply with?

Let’s take an obvious example, NPS score. We’ve already decided that the user telling us a number 1-10 is what we want. How is messaging superior for this response interaction? Compare the user experience when we do NPS via email. The user opens an email, reads paragraphs, clicks a link, chooses their NPS number and then submits the form. Now compare that to receiving a text and replying with one or two digits. What do you think gets a better response rate?

Now think about the cost and effort for an organization to build each respective NPS collection flow. With the email to webform route, most organizations would write an email that’s too long or includes more than just the NPS score ask. This drives down the response rate. Then a webpage and webform is needed. The organization will also need to make sure the page looks good on mobile where most people will interact.

Messaging is much simpler. The message and response is the email, page and webform all rolled into one interaction – simple and elegant.

This NPS idea is obvious, but it’s not my favorite use case. There is a clear and more valuable example – direct response from media. Suppose an organization buys a TV commercial or a podcast/radio ad and we wants people to sign up for their service. In the commercial the call to action will tell people to go to the URL where the webpage will collect information and turn the visitor into a lead.
Let’s examine this flow

The first issue is that the user might not have their computer next to them. If the target visits the webpage on their phone, they are 50%-70% less likely to convert. Seriously!?!? If the desktop conversion rate is 15% the mobile conversion rate will be between 5%-7.%

Pro tip: Many organizations don’t even track their desktop conversion rate vs. the mobile conversion rate. As more (most) traffic is mobile, this is definitely something that organizations should take a look at.

Even when an organization does a great job converting page visitors, no one is converting the majority of visitors. But people came to the page because they were somewhat interested. Now they are gone. The only way to get them back is to buy another ad and hope they see it again.

Messaging addresses both of the above issues and more. When the organization includes a text call to action, such as Text SIGNUP to 12345, more people will text in than will visit the URL. The value of messaging and response in this scenario is to ask the person to reply with their email address. Convert the user in a conversation rather than driving them to a page. When someone text in and is asked for their email address the average response rate is 80%.

Pro tip: Text messaging is the way to create mobile “visitors”.

There’s more. As soon as the target texts in, they are subscribed to the mobile opt-in list. If they don’t provide their email immediately the organization can reach out and ask again.

This idea of getting more people to start a conversion funnel and provide data like email is a core use case for the messaging channel and we’ll be discussing this in much more detail. We went a little deeper than response being the messaging super power, but that’s ok. This is important.

If you can think about messaging as a response channel, you’re thinking about messaging at a deeper level than your competition. Most people just think about messaging reach and open rates. Although reach and read are outstanding metrics they miss the point. Messaging isn’t a great channel for impressions, there are cheaper and better ways to get eyeballs. There is no cheaper or better way to get response, engagement or conversion – especially on mobile.

Ep 50: Does Size Matter? Longcodes vs Shortcodes in Text Messaging Campaigns

For organizations doing SMS, the default approach should be using a short code. The entire short code ecosystem was created to cater to organization text messaging rather than individuals. Short codes have specific benefits around messaging throughput, deliverability and stability of the channel. If your organization is using a short code, you can be reasonably certain that the short code will work. The same cannot be said of long codes – they are less reliable.

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If you’re a brand, non-profit or business, use a long code unless you have a specific reason not to.

The downside of dealing with short codes is all of the process around them. Whereas long codes are cheap and can be setup in minutes, a short code is costly, requires an application and can take a long time to be set up. In the US, all short codes are acquired from the Short Code Registry. https://usshortcodes.com/ Even if your vendor/partner is providing the short code, at some point they are dealing with the registry.

Once a shortcode is leased from the short code registry, it needs to be provisioned. This process connects the shortcode to the carrier networks. Provisioning is done by aggregators, which are the hosting companies in the SMS space. Getting the shortcode provisioned takes a lot longer than one would like, 8-12 weeks. In the application it’s possible to specify what organization is leasing the code and there can also be a different organization that manages the code. So a vendor should be able to easily help with the application. The applicant also shares some information as to the type of messaging campaigns they plan to run. Pro Tip: Messaging can be a dynamic channel so it’s best to share very broad use cases on the application.

Pro Tip: Most organizations will have a vendor involved in their messaging programs. Have the vendor help procure the short code.

Expected Cost and Timeline: Short codes cost about a thousand dollars per month, but can vary depending on a few variables. Once the application is submitted an organization can expect 8-12 weeks before the application is approved and the short code can launch. In an annoying detail, an organization needs to license the short code before submitting the application. So essentially there is a $3,000 setup cost and a 3 month timeline before a short code can launch.

If this sounds like a dealbreaker, don’t worry. Soon we’re going to explore more options regarding short codes.

Episode 48: The Chat Bubble is back!

The Chat Bubble is back with a new spin. We’re going to publish regular episodes that focus more on education explaining how messaging works as a communication and marketing channel for organizations.

This episode focuses on the basic pitch – how to explain messaging and why it’s interesting for business & non-profits to investigate the channel.

We briefly touch on the big news this week that Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram messaging will merge.

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The Facebook Apocalypse

It’s been a bumping road for Facebook and anyone working in their ecosystem. Here are my thoughts on what happened and where all of this will lead.

Facebook is back, approving new apps! So it appears that things will be back to normal soon.

Notes:

Set the stage: Set the stage: –

Facebook is not launching/approving new apps.
Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress.
#delete_facebook is a thing

My take:
Yes Facebook is agressive.
They are going to come out of the sitation in a very good place.
Huge misunderstanding about the situation.
The data that was swept is FB Likes. Not personal information.
What CA did with the data — imagine what FB can do with the data.
FB might get penalized, but this proves the value of their asset.

Prediction
Essentially nothing happens, maybe some small regulation.
More importantly for people working with FB Messenger, I think that FB Messenger Apps will be getting reviewed again by F8 or before – May 1-2. (and apps being reopened was announced the day I recorded this episode).

It’s not the most fun thing to talk about, but let’s dig a little into how the FB setup and approval process works. It’s confusing and there are a lot of misconceptions.
FB Page + FB App + Platform
Logo, Privacy Policy, ToS
Approval – Messaging & Subscriptions
Big shift coming from approving apps to approving pages. Part of real policy enforcement efforts.



Messenger Platform 2.3 Release

The last few episodes focused on SMS. This episode we are going to snap back into the FB Messenger world in a big way. Today we’ll talk about new features that Facebook released, and we’ll get into a big permission update included in the Messenger platform 2.3 release. But before we get into that, as always if you have feedback, questions or comments, the best way to get in touch is to send a Message to the podcast FB Page – Open Facebook Messenger….



Back to Messenger Platform 2.3

First off, I love what the FB team is doing here. The innovation is incredibly fast and this is really the first time that I’ve gotten to know a development platform so well. It’s hard to keep up with all the new releases. Let’s look at what’s new

First up -Quick Replies with contact information. A lot of the campaigns that I build for organizations start with data acquisition. Typically how that goes is the user starts the conversation and the Page sends a Message that asks the user to respond with their email address typically. The user responds with their email and then the next message happens.

We see really high response rates. Once the conversation starts, we generally expect to see 50% or higher conversion rate for email collection. It’s actually much harder to start the conversation than it is to collect an email address.

With this new feature, Facebook is juicing this use case. So a bot can send a message that asks the user to reply with their email. Facebook will then show a user a button, with thier email address entered. All the user needs to do is push that button and their email will be messaged into the page. So instead of the user typing their email, Facebook auto-fills for a one-click experience. Facebook will also do this with the user’s phone number – so they will show the user a button where they can click and send in their number.

It’s pretty cool and it really validates a use case that I’ve been focusing on for a long time. But there might be a downside.

First of all, when you ask the user to send in their email address, the results are good. Almost always 50% or higher. Notably, asking the user for their phone number performs much worse. I believe that we saw about 24% conversion rate when we asked the user for their phone number so that we could text them. It’s still really good, and the cost per phone number was amazing, but just a big dip compared to email.

I guess the point I’m making is that I don’t know if typing the email or phone is friction that actually slows people down, or if they just don’t want to give the info. It will take some testing to see if there’s a difference, so it’s really about launching these quick replies and seeing how well they convert.

There is a bigger question though, is how good is this Facebook data? People signed up for Facebook years ago, and Facebook basically keeps you logged in forever. So the question is whether people still use the email or phone that they gave to Facebook when they signed up or if they have moved on. The reason this is a concern is that I’ve heard that data that Facebook shares in lead ads, doesn’t perform that well.

A lead ad is a type of Facebook Ad where FB autofills the email, name and phone number in a webform. It’s the same data that Facebook is autofilling here. The lead ads convert well, so clickers convert into emails, but I’m not sure if those emails perform up to par. Or to think about it another way, asking the user to type in their is effort, and that might actually prove to be a good signal that the user actually wants to give their email address – and make those typed in emails worth more. I’ve heard both very good and very bad things about the Lead Ad data – so again, we just need to test. Either way, this data autofill is a cool feature.

The next feature in 2.3 release is Customization for the Customer Chat Plugin. I usually call this the web chat plugin – it seems to have a lot of different names. This was a pretty cool feature release in the Fall. Anyone with a Facebook Page and a FB Messenger App can install some code on their website, and on the bottom right of a webpage, the Messenger icon appears. It shows a greeting, like “Click here to chat” and when a visitor clicks it opens a little messaging window and starts a conversation via messenger that is showing on the webpage. Previously, to start a conversation with a FB Page, the user needed to go to the FB Page, or open Messenger and talk to the Page that way. Now it’s possible to start a conversation from the website – but still have the conversation in Messenger.

Why is that cool? Well, this idea of live chat on the site has been a big trend. There are companies that do just that. The problem with traditional live chat (now that FB Messenger is here) is that traditional live chat lives in the browser. So a user can be in the chat while they’re on the page, but if they leave the page, the chat – the connection also ends. With FB Messenger, once they start the chat, the website has connected to them on Messenger. So even when the visitor closes the page, they still have Messenger on their phone. The website can respond the next day and the user will get that message.

All of this changes the dynamic of how live website webchat can work. When you have live chat, it needs to be staffed. If a visitor chats, doesn’t get a response and leaves they are gone for good. With Messenger, a connection has been established with the person, not just their page session. It’s possible to respond instantly with some automation and the Page can follow up directly in the future.

Anyways, this plugin was released in November, and we’re just starting to see it appear on websites. With the new release it’s possible to customize the greeting that the user sees. I believe the default is something like, “Click here to chat”, but now the page can say anything they’d like to frame the conversation.

The results I’ve seen from the web chat plugin have been so so, but it’s all going to depend on how much traffic the site has.

The BIG BIG announcement with this platform release(and I wouldn’t call it a feature) is a policy change and a break notice. The break notice means that it’s really important. This change will break existing apps or bots. This change requires a lot of background so hang tight. And if this is confusing, please message in any questions.

The way to set up a Messenger interaction, or bot, is through a Facebook App. So the brand has a Facebook Page of course – that’s where the user is sending their message. There will be a platform or system that manages the automation – like a 3rd party bot builder. And then there is a Facebook app that connects to both the Facebook Page and the bot builder platform.

Before launch, in the FB App we need to submit for approval from Facebook. There are two types of approval. The First is called Pages_messaging approval – this is the name FB uses. With this approval, Facebook is checking that the automation works. So they will test it, they send a message in and make sure they get a message back. Once approved the Page can launch their interaction, but only immediate messaging is allowed. When a user messages in, the page can respond.

There is a second type of approval called pages_subscription_messaging. Again, these are Facebook terms. Subscription approval is exaclty like it sounds. This approval is needed to send broadcast messages that happen outside of the scenario where the user has just messaged in.

Let’s add a little more detail. The first approval, pages_messaging gives the bot a 24 hour window to message the user after the user sends a message in. The bot can send any message it likes in that window – specifically there can be marketing or promotional messages. With the second approval, pages_subscription, the Page can send a message outside of the 24 hour window. The critical criteria is that Facebook explicitly does not allow broadcast messages to be marketing or promotional messages. In fact they only allow a few use cases – news alerts, productivity and personal tracking.

Alright, hopefully you’re following so far.

Now, when the Messenger Platform launched, a bunch of companies popped up that all called themselves the easiest way to build a Facebook bot. If the promise to the user is super fast setup, you can’t really ask the user to submit and wait for Facebook approval. So these companies would build a single Facebook App, get it approved for both the instant messages and subscription and then they would use this single app and approval to allow multiple customers to all use the same app and send both instant and broadcast messages.

The big change that Facebook announced is that messaging approvals will now happen at the page level – not the app level. So every page that wants to send messages needs approval and a single app cannot work for multiple pages. From the language, it appears that every FB Page that launched on Messenger, but did not get their own approval, will need to submit the page for approval and need to get it to keep running. It’s kind of a big deal – I do individual apps and approvals for each client and it’s definitely a process.

Why did Facebook do this? Here is my guess.

The first approval for instant messaging is pretty easy and straightforward. The second approval for subscriptions and broadcasts is much trickier. Facebook only allows a few use cases and specifically not marketing or promotional messages. The reason FB doesn’t allow for marketing or promotional broadcasts, is because they have a new ad called sponsored messages. If a Page wants to send a marketing broadcast, they pay Facebook to send a Sponsored Message.

Real quick aside, a sponsored message is an ad where Facebook will basically send a message only to people that have previously messaged into the FB Page. So basically, once someone messages in to the FB Page, that channel is now open to communicate with the user. If it’s a non-promotional use case, then the messaging can be free. If it’s a promotional use case, then the Page pays Facebook.

Currently we have these bot builder platforms that include the subscription messaging for customers by default. These customers never got approved and most of these customers don’t fully understand that marketing messages aren’t allowed. Some bot builder platforms actually promoting marketing broadcasts which is a clear violation. Facebook seemed to let it go, and my guess is that the Sponsored Message product wasn’t ready for prime time. But now sponsored messages have arrived and Facebook is starting to enforce their broadcast policy.

This will be a big reckoning for pages that think they’ve built a marketing automation list on Messenger and the rug is totally going to get pulled out from under them. It will most likely be a big hit to FAcebook’s numbers as well. But I think it’s a situation where they’ve grown the space for 2.5 years, and now they are going to test monotizing.

Either way, there are a lot of developers in the FB forums that have been complaining about pages that are cheating – sending marketing broadcasts. So it’s good that Facebook is enforcing their rules and leveling the playing field. We’ll see how this all goes.

That’s the big news. Thanks for listening.

Messaging and non-profit fundraising

Today’s show is another response to questions that I found this week. This time the questions came from a list serve that I subscribe to, and the focus was about how non-profits can use text messaging for fundraising. I responded on the list serve and was kind of surprised that I hadn’t already done a podcast on this.



One interesting thing about podcasts is that it’s really hard to know who is listening. We get stats on how many people download, but it’s not possible to know who you listeners are. If you’re not a non-profit, keep listening. If you are interested in Messaging, there is a lot to learn from the non-profit space. This might not be typical – or stereotypical – nonprofits usually aren’t thought of as being on the vanguard of technology. But I would posit that NPOs are really leading the charge when it comes to messaging, especially text messaging.

Think about it – in 2008 Obama announced his VP pick via SMS. That was a national news story and almost a decade ago. A year and a half after that, the Haiti earthquake happened and mobile donations exploded on the scene. The Red Cross raised 36 million dollars from Americans texting Haiti to 90999 and giving $5 donations on their phone bill.

So as messaging and bots came back into vogue in 2016 when FB Messenger announced the messenger platform, it wasn’t really a breakthrough. A lot of organizations were already doing SMS campaigns.

But before we get too far into the conversation, a little promotion. If this is the first time you’re listening to The Chat Bubble Podcast, please subscribe on itunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have a question or feedback, the best way to get in touch is to message us on Facebook. To do that open Facebook Messenger, search for The Chat Bubble and then send in a Message. Of course, thanks for listening everyone.

Why are non-profits advanced?
Back to non-profits. I’m pretty convinced that NPOs are pretty far ahead of the game compared to commercial businesses. There are a lot of companies doing SMS, certainly more than there are NPOs, but I haven’t seen the same type of innovation from business. I’m not sure why exactly, but I actually have a new theory. Previously I had 2 ideas as to why non-profits seemed to be out in front of corporations.

1. It’s pretty simple, I thought it was vendor-driven. Being in that space, I knew a number of vendors doing innovative campaigns. When I saw and heard about some of the SMS vendors working with for profits, I wasn’t that impressed. I doubt this is still the case, but it was a few years ago.

2. The second theory was the nature of non-profit communications. When the non-profit finds a new supporter, they aren’t focused on the short term donation, it’s nice of course, but the organization is also thinking about this person donating 50 thousand dollars in their will. The idea of ongoing CRM and building a relationship is incredibly important. I worked with many for-profit companies where we would build a big list, and then just stop communicating with people once the conversation was over. This mindset is changing a bit, but this change isn’t wide spread. I spend thousands of dollars on my car and never hear from the manufacturer or the dealer for that matter.

I think this second idea sticks a bit, but the big reason that nonprofits have had better results with SMS is user driven. Messaging is a personal channel. It’s a little scary for a consumer to trust a company on the user’s personal channel, but a non-profit that focuses on a cause the person cares about. Yes, they’ll connect on that personal channel. If you love dogs, you’re willing to give the Humane Society your phone number. No matter how much you love hot dogs, you don’t want Oscar Meyer texting you.

That’s the theory at least.

Anyway back to the question about how non-profits can drive fundraising via SMS. We’re going to list a few options. One point to think about with all of these options is – where does the transaction happen. If you work at a non-profit, think about that and think about if where the transaction happens is important to you.

1. Mobile Donations — Our first option for non-profit fundraising is a Mobile Donation. This is sometimes called mobile giving or text to donate, but the idea here is that the donation goes on the users phone bill. That’s what distinguishes mobile donations. When I mentioned the Red Cross raising money for Haiti, this is what they did.

The advantage is that it’s easy and fast to drive small donations from individuals. With mobile donations the organization can collect $5, $10 or $25 dollar donations. They set up the campaign and select a keyword. The user texts in the keyword and recieves an immediate response asking them to confirm the donation. The user replies yes and then the charge is added to the phone bill. That’s all the user needs to do – except pay their phone bill obviously.

The downside of mobile donations is that the carriers are collecting money and remitting it all to the non-profit, but the carrier doesn’t give the customer data to the non-profit. Most of the time, this is a problem for the non-profit – the donors data is just as important as the donation – especially a small donation like 5 or 10 dollars.

So mobile donations are mostly used in disaster type situations. If something is front page news, like a hurricane for instance, there might be a lot of people willing to chip in. The non profit might be in major fundraising mode, but these people that want to help are not the typical donor for the organization. They are donating because the news or celebrity tells them to do so. The non-profit probably doesn’t even want this donor in their CRM becuase they are so unlikely to donate again or want updates from the organization.

Basically, mobile donations work when the organization would rather have a small donation, rather than the donor and their information.

We’re going to move on to the next approach for an organization, text to pledge.

2. Text to Pledge – This is a term of art. Basically, it means that the organization builds an autoresponse conversation that collects contact information and donation amount or “pledge” amount. The supporter is then followed up with to complete the transaction. Usually this followup is via email, a link in a text or even a phone call.

This idea originated because mobile donations (added on the phone bill) became a big trend after the Haiti earthquake. But setting up text donations was a process and it’s fairly inflexible – there are low donation amounts and no data. A few companies started promoting this idea of text to pledge and it fit well for some organizations. Most of the time it’s more of a service than a product – so the text to pledge vendor might be running the event or staff the people that are calling on the phone.

I mentioned that text to pledge is a term of art. The idea of collecting data over SMS and driving action is kindof what every organization is doing. Text to Pledge means speeding up the interaction and trying to squeeze everything into a single day or single campaign. When I was selling SMS software, our pitch wasn’t opposed to text to pledge, but we viewed SMS as a long term channel for the organization – not just something that powers an event.

Text to Pledge is a short term campaign, focused on a little data collection and driving a transaction.

3. Integrated Transaction – The next fundraising approach doesn’t really have a name. It’s been called quick donate or fast donate. I’m calling it an integrated transaction — not super-catchy. What this means is that an action in the text message triggers the credit card transaction. This is pretty powerful. Text messages have high open rates and high response rates. If someone signs up for the SMS list, they are generally a big fan, not just checking it out. If these people can be sent a message and complete a donation with only a few clicks, that’s a big deal.

This is exactly what we talked about with Lloyd Cotler who managed SMS on the Hillary Clinton Campaign. You can check out that past episode – it’s from November 25 of 2017. This integrated transaction is pretty advanced and only a few organizations have been able to pull this off. The results are generally great, so hopefully any technical issues can be worked out and more organizations can take this approach.

In order for this integrated transaction to work, a few pieces need to be in place. First the organization needs a system that can save a credit card and attach it to the user. This generally won’t happen in the text message platform, but some non profit CRMs/donation platforms allow this. Once it’s possible for this credit card to be saved then the SMS platform just pings the CRM system and tells it to drive a transaction. There are probably a million particular details, but this is the gist.

When done correctly this is a home run. We already have the user data, the transaction can be fast, and the donor can choose any amount to donate. I guess the one hang up is that it’s not great for first time donors. The supporter would have needed to give their cc previously in order to have that saved. This type of transaction is also a shift in timeline – compared to text to donate or text to plege. With those options, the entire messaging interaction is focused on the donation. Literally, the call to action says, Text In To Donate. This integrated Transaction works with an ongoing relationship. we’ve been building a list and communicating regularly and this donation ask, is just one ask throughou the relationship.

The other interesting thing – in my work on FB Messenger, this integrated donation is a little smoother. It’s not being done yet, although it’s quiet possible.

4. Campaigning – The last approach to fundraising doesn’t really have a name. I’m just going to call it text message campaigning. In my opinion this is obviously the way that makes the most sense. When an organization launches a website, it’s not just a page to make a donation. There’s campaign information, petitions, about us, contact us and then also pages to donate. Same with an email campaign. No one would join the email list if the pitch was – sign up for our email list and we’ll ask you to donate over and over again. Email and the web are channels. The organization needs to connect with users, share information and of course every once in a while, ask for donations.

It’s the same with a text message list. The organization needs to build their mobile list and start with interesting and engaging commmunications and then mix in donation asks. You would never build a one page website and then tell people to go there to donate. Telling people to text in to donate would be analogous to that one page website. Sure, when there’s an emergency and it’s all about fundraising, maybe the donation form goes on the home page – but that’s rare.

What works for most organizations is to build a mobile SMS list, and keep the people on that list active. The same way they’d build an email list and keep it active. When there is a fundraising campaign the organization will send out an email ask, and at that time, they should also send a text to the mobile list. Even if the user doesn’t donate, by clicking the link in the text, the SMS will make the supporter more likely to donate online. In the past I’ve done a study and found that and a supporter that receives a text and an email is 3 times more likely to donate, compared to someone that receives an email and no text message. Most of those donors just aren’t donating on the phone.

So again, it all comes down to building a list, nurturing that list and giving people a good reason to support the organization.

New Channels — I mentioned it a little, approaches that we already listed, but there’s also an additional option where an organization can use Messenger and take advanatage of Facebook donate or a saved credit card that FB might be holding. I expect this will be possible, but w just need to see if this comes to fruition.

To sum up, there are really a lot of approaches when it comes to fundraising via messaging. The big questions that an organization needs to ask are – 1) How are we going to get people to message in. Same as if you built a website, you would need to decide, “How will we get people to the site.” The other question is about the transaction. What type of amounts make sense, and would you like the donation coming through a credit card or to try something more advanced. And like everything in life, there aren’t too many shortcuts. What really works is to connect with supporters, engage and nurture the list and make strong asks that are connected to issues that the list cares about.

Hope this was a helpful overview. I’d love questions or feedback….