SMS Campaigns Taking Off

Posted by Bonnie Bogle on May 02, 2006

SMS campaigns are becoming common in many parts of the world, but perhaps no where so much as in India. Every couple days it seems like a new campaign has been started and is getting coverage in the Indian online newspapers.

On the heels of the Justice for Jessica SMS campaign that received significant press coverage in India and abroad, a campaign has been started seeking justice for a woman in Patna, India. Text messages asking people to forward the message on to friends and to the head of police showing their support for a woman who says she was sexually exploited by a police officer. 

A political candidate in West Bengal, India, is sending text messages to reach out to urban and semi-urban citizens to ask for their vote in an upcoming election. Text messages are being circulated in Madhya Pradesh, India,asking people to conserve water. In several parts of India SMS campaigns are urging parents to send young children to schools that teach in their native language, rather than in English. And university students started a campaign for the quick recovery of Pramod Mahajan, an Indian politician who was recently shot several times.

All of these campaigns were going on last month. Whether they are being used as calls to action, political messages, or simply requests for prayers, Indians are using cell phones for advocacy. In most cases it’s hard to say if these campaigns will be successful (or if it can ever be proven), but the variety and amount of campaigns show that Indians see text messages as an effective way to spread their messages.

Of course this isn’t just happening in India. Around the world text message campaigns are proving successful. In the United States text messages were one of the main ways high school students organized last month’s large walkouts in protest of proposed immigration legislation.

The Star-Telegram describes how a 16-year-old high school student, to his surprise, helped organize a large protest:

Later Sunday, [Gustavo Jimenez] tried calling people to get the word out, but no one was picking up their phones. He texted a few people. And on Monday, the tide started to turn. He got a text message — one that he’d sent out — and noticed that it had already been forwarded about six times.

“It was like a spider web,” Jimenez said. “I would tell five people, and those five people would each tell another five people.”

He thought he’d be lucky to see even 300 people show up at that first Dallas protest; it ended up drawing between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Radio personalities, fliers and e-mails helped the effort. But the fliers ran out, and e-mail is only effective as long as you’re at your computer.

This, along with the campaigns going on in India, shows the main reasons SMS campaigns are taking off: it’s quick, easy, and affordable to send and receive text messages, the people being targeted have cell phones, and these people are already familiar with text messaging.

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