SMS Best Practices for 2020 Elections

Jul 27, 2020
Sam Reeve

Top 7 Tips to Ensure Your SMS Texts for 2020 Elections Are Delivered


SMS texting can reach the broadest range of constituents. It reaches across the digital divide and enables even those people without Internet access to get your communications.


It makes sense then that more elections offices and nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofits will look to use texting for the 2020 elections.


From our years of experience in sending mass text messages, here are our top tips to ensure your voters get your messages:


1. Make Sure You Have an Opt-In List

Obtaining a clear opt-in from constituents before you message them is a key component of successful SMS text engagement. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) applies to pretty much everyone — political parties, nonprofits, and state and county election offices.


In our experience, if a carrier detects that a larger number of users are blocking a telephone number, carriers will filter those messages. When they suspect potential abuse from a sender — such as sending messages to people who did not sign up for these messages — they will often stop delivering messages to end users. This type of “carrier filtering” uses algorithms that vary from carrier to carrier and change over time. Carriers tend to be sensitive to message content as well. If there are repeated hyperlinks or commercial language without user responses, this can trigger filtering.


Before you can send a text message to a recipient, the recipient must have previously opted in to receive this information from the organization. This ensures that you are sending constituents messages that they want to receive.


2. Get Opt-Ins

Here are four common ways to get opt-ins:


Web/Paper Opt-In: When voters are on your website providing information about themselves, add language that informs them that they may receive text messages. These often are checkboxes on a webform or some other assent.


Ask in Person/Via Phone: A field-worker can verbally ask a constituent if they’d like to receive text messages. The field-worker needs to document this opt-in, including time and place.


IVR Opt-In: You have constituents who are calling you and you have an automated phone system for when they are on hold. You can provide the constituent with an option to “Press 1” to opt in and begin a text-messaging support conversation.


Handset Opt-In: If your constituents voluntarily send a text message to start a communication via text messaging, they are considered opted-in so long as they are informed. For instance, they see a flyer or a billboard, or a website that advertises: “Text [keyword] to [yyy-yyy-yyyy] to participate in a survey about Internet access.”


3. Marketing Materials Should Have a Clear Disclaimer

In the outreach materials of all of these examples — whether print or web, or in person — it should be communicated to your constituents what they are opting in to, as well as include a disclaimer about fees. The typical language is “Message and Data Rates May Apply.”


4. Get Double Opt-In

Even after people opt in, it’s also good practice to do a double opt-in. After the user texts in, the first message can ask “Msg&data may apply, continue?”


Similar to email marketing, you want to make sure you get consent.


5. Tell People How to Opt Out

At some point, even constituents who may have originally opted in to your list may no longer want to receive messages for you. So don’t forget to provide instructions for how to opt out.


Opt-outs are the revocation of consent from the constituent to receive a message. Commonly, this is done by replying STOP to a message. However, STOP is an opt-out at the carrier level. Therefore, rather than asking users to reply STOP and triggering the carrier-level opt-out, you can use a different opt-out keyword, such as EXIT, to opt out of a given interaction without blocking all future messages from you.


6. Don’t Share Short Codes with Possible Overlapping Organizations

If you or your text-messaging provider is using a single phone number for different organizations, this may be problematic. If a user opts out of receiving messages for one organization, they may be unintentionally opting out of receiving messages for another organization using that same number. Our advice is do not share short codes with other organizations.


7. Say Thank You

And last tip: It’s good practice to respect and acknowledge opt-out requests with a “Thank you! You’ve been opted out of future texts about this program.”


This helps ensure people feel respected and less likely they will report you to the carriers.