Using Mobiles for your Cause: Do's and Don'ts of mAdvocacy

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Apr 24, 2008

Mobile advocacy efforts are just beginning around the world. What are we learning from these emergent campaigns what works and what does not in using mobile phones to advance a cause or an issue?

Of course, we think that advocacy organizations should start to pay serious attention to using mobiles in their work. There is increasing evidence that mobile social marketing works in increasing brand awareness and moving people to actions. It is also becming an increasingly effective way to engage users and constituents. Here are a few pointers from what we have learned to date. (NOTE: This pertains to US-based campaigns).

1. What's happening in the mobile (social) marketing market that advocacy organizations should pay attention to?

  • Over 84 percent of Americans have cell phones, according to the CTIA, an industry group. Data shows that the majority of users carry their mobiles around for up to 18 hours/day. In fact the mobile, keys, and wallets are the three things most adults will not leave the house without.
  • Sms/texting is growing by leaps and bounds. More than 48 billion text messages were sent in the month of December 2007, an average 1.6 billion messages per day. The rate of text messaging represented a 157 percent increase over December 2006 texting. (according to M:Metrics data)
  • Mobile marketers are salivating, with polls, contests, coupons, and even mobi-sodes, short sms serial stories hitting the commercial market. Pepsi, Ford, Toyota, Burger King all have mobile campaigns, and more and more marketers are allocating hard dollars to "mobile marketing" budgets.
  • Visa announced its mobile payment platform, allowing cardholders to use their mobile phones to make purchases or conduct other transactions by tapping them against readers. Think 'just in time' fundraising.
  • There are pilot projects under way to test mobile fundraising via text message where the donation is billed to the customers monthly cell phone bill. Previously prohibitive because of carrier fees, the market for mobile fundraising is opening up this year. The carriers have agreed to waive fees for a set of pre-approved organizations vetted by the Mobile Giving Foundation that has just started operations. While small in scale so far, the mobile fundraising market is bound to rapidly expand in the next 12 months.
  • More and more Americans have unlimited texting plans and WAP-enabled phones, allowing them to do more and more on their cell phones, including watching video and photos, browsing the web, and of course, ubiquitous text messaging. Social marketers now have at their disposal not only text campaigns, but can become more creative with multi-media, WAP push (clickable links to WAP-based multimedia content incorporated into SMS messages), and video shortcodes (consumers receive a video stream directly to their handset in response to texting to a shortcode).
  • In fact, wireless subscribers sent more pictures and multimedia messages. Close to four billion multimedia messages (MMS) were sent in the second half of 2007. In all of 2006, a total of 2.7 billion MMS were sent, according to M:Metrics. Likewise, data services for all of 2007 totaled $23 billion, a 53 percent increase over 2006 when data revenue equaled $15.2 billion.

So, to sum it up: Why Mobile Phones for Advocacy?

The Internet has two distinct benefits over previous media - social interactivity and search. Mobile technology goes even further - not only can all elements of existing media be delivered via mobile, there are additional advantages of mobile that makes it far superior to other media forms. These include:

  • There is a relatively low learning curve to using a phone, making it far more accessible than computers to a wider range of constituents.
  • Mobiles are a highly personal means of communication that reaches the target constituent directly and immediately.
  • They are hence conducive to instant participation and response.
  • Mobiles are small and highly portable, and always-carried. Our mobile devices go with us everywhere.
  • Always-on. Mobiles are always on and thus the ultimate news and alert media, faster than any other media.
  • Donation and purchase channel. While not quite there yet in the U.S. mobile phones will eventually become wallets and payment systems.
  • Hybrid communications tools with varied content and convergence with other media such as the Internet. Mobiles allow for texting, increasingly have multi-media support with built-in still and video cameras, can carry games, music, ringtones, and data.
  • As such, mobile are media and creative devices. Users can increasingly create and share content from their cell phones.

But what's the ROI for mobile marketers - such as advocacy organizations?

Everyone agrees: The medium is young, it is risky when poorly done, and it'll take time to judge payoffs. Our research of existing campaigns shows some interesting returns with sizeable opt-ins, and rather impressive open and forward rates. The total numbers are still small but effect is beginning to show.

For example, an analysis of 26 research studies evaluates SMS campaigns in the U.K. Conclusions taken from the report, "Text Message Advertising: Dramatic Effect on Purchase Intentions:"

  • "Overall 44% of respondents found receiving campaigns on their mobile phones very or fairly acceptable, with only 21% finding it fairly or very unacceptable."
  • "Acceptability was inversely related to respondents’ age (younger people have more favourable views; Chi-square, p<0.01), but not related to gender."
  • "Most messages were read (89%), and 5% were forwarded to friends."
  • "For most of the campaigns (20 out of 26), respondents followed the specified call to action, with the most frequent response following the message directions. These included calls to action involving physical travel (e.g. visit McDonald’s or the Carphone Warehouse)."
  • "The overall acceptability of SMS advertising was 44%, significantly higher than the acceptability of telemarketing"
  • "Response rates varied from 68% to 3%, with an average of 31%. This compares very favourably both with direct mail, with reported response rates between 1% and 5 %, (DMA, 2003; DMIS, 2000) and permission-based email marketing, with reported response rates from 1% to 8%, (Rettie, 2002; Doubleclick, 2002; Gartner, 2002)."
  • "The reported increased likelihood to purchase is the most important finding of this research; on average this was 35%, but it was as high as 71% for one campaign."

In the non-commercial realm, there is concrete evidence that text messaging gets people out to vote. In 2006, the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project and Working Assets, two groups in the United States, worked with researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton University to study the effectiveness of text messaging on voter turnout. The researchers sent text messages to young people reminding them to vote.

The methodology was sound: Researchers selected a random sample of 4,000 mobile phone numbers from 8,000 people who had registered to vote, and tested variations of different messages.

  • Overall, they found that the text message reminders increased the likelihood that the voter would go to the polls.
  • Text messages increased the chance that a person would vote by 4.2%
  • 59% of voters surveyed found the messages helpful.
  • 23% found the messages bothersome.
  • Each additional vote generated cost $1.56; much cheaper than conventional methods like door-to-door campaigning or fliers.

Similarly, a study by Limbo, a mobile marketing company, evaluated 'brand' awareness of presidential candidates. The study included short ads (30-40 characters) on the bottom of text messages. The ads advertised U.S. presidential candidates. According to the study, 6% of respondents reported significant changes to their voting intentions and 22% said their voting intentions had been changed a little. The study found that:

  • 6 % of those surveyed after the campaigns said that the advertising had changed their voting intentions significantly. This was highest for men at seven percent (7%), those aged 35+ at seven percent (7%), and for African Americans at nine percent (9%). An additional 22 percent (22%) said their intentions had been changed a little
  • "Fourteen percent (14%) said that their perceptions of the candidate was now more positive than before seeing the campaign, with only four percent (4%) saying it was now more negative, a net 10 percent (10%) increase in positive perception. Barack Obama saw the biggest uplift, with a net gain of 16 percent (16%)."
  • "Thirty-seven percent (37%) paid more attention to news coverage about the candidate."
  • "Twelve percent (12%) became more aware of other marketing for the candidate.
  • "Seven percent (7%) visited the candidate’s website with a further 24 percent (24%) intending to do so in the future
  • "Five percent (5%) visited the candidate’s mobile Internet site with a further nine percent (9%) intending to do so in the future."

We have seen other positive effect as well, in the form of increased PR, for example. A clever campaign, especially one that goes viral, will get earned media coverage and word-of-mouth exposure.

What are advocacy organizations concerned about?

According to a recent article Brandweek, there still is considerable "consumer resistance, the main reason behind the carriers' historic refusal to open the gates to ad content." Brandweek goes on: "Studies have shown that consumers are less than thrilled with the idea of receiving ads on their cells. While early adopter teens are among the biggest targets, three-quarters of cell phone users ages 10 to 18 said they do not think it's OK to be marketed to on a mobile device, according to a study of 2,000 users conducted by Weekly Reader Research, Stamford, Conn., on Brandweek's behalf. Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., found 79% of consumers are turned off by the idea of ads on their phones and a mere 3% of respondents said they trust text ads."

There are now strict guidelines, drafted by the Mobile Marketing Association, on opt-in and opt out procedures.

This means, of course, that advocacy organizations need to be scrupulous about their opt-in practices and absolutely meticulous in following the mobile marketing code of conduct. Organizations need to be aware that their brand is at stake, and people will get very annoyed if they perceive an organizations is spamming them.

So, what do we know about effective mobile marketing? Can we talk?

1. Mobile messaging should be about interaction, do not just pitch - a hard notion to learn for advocacy organizations used to pushing email messages by the millions. Mobiles offer a unique opportunity for interaction. Advocacy organizations need to think about mobile marketing as a conversation, a way to interact two-ways with their constituents.

2. Trust is key here as the mobile medium is so very personal. Gain permission and offer relevant and timely content that is valuable to the recipient. Tell me how to opt out regularly and never ever spam me.

3. Pull people to mobile interaction through other media -- ads, billboards, the web and offer, in turn, mobile interaction with those media.

4. Be careful about targeting your demographics and make your ask accordingly -- asking an older constituency to upload mobile photos is probably not going to be very successful.

5. Be relevant. Offer timely news and functional updates that are of interest to your audience-- and be clever. Just by way of an idea: The American Lung Association could offer air quality updates via sms for where I live, for example. If engaged in a campaign where I am signing a mobile petition, for example, let me know how it’s going – how many signatures have been gathered, for example. Remind me of events I have signed up for, or activities that are part of an organization’s campaign. Give me information I want and need.

6. Be action-oriented. Ask me to forward a note, ask me to make a call, ask me to express myself in a some way in a poll, in a 160 character message, poem or statement. Ask me to do something. Chances are, I will.

7. Ask me how I want to engage and give me choices. If we are interacting via sms, do not ask me for my email. Give me an option to get sms reminders when I sign up for an event with you. Tell me how to disengage. Let me opt in to a mobile alert via the web, via a 1-800 number and via a short code/sms. (and then compare what is most popular and effective for your purposes!)

8. Mobile marketing works best when it's pull, not push, and there is an opportunity for people to express themselves - to 'talk' back, to suggest, to respond. Humor works here!

9. Be creative. In addition to text messaging and sms campaigns, there are lot of other ways in which an advocacy organization can use mobile campaign tactics. For example, click-to-call – a constituent receives a message that places an outgoing call to a decision maker, pledge bank, or the organization itself (a member survey, for example). In a recent mobile advertising study by Neilson Reports, 9% of those that were exposed to a mobile advertisement responded with a call. Another idea is click-to-locate – I can find the nearest clinic, affiliate, meeting, organizer – you name it. While this may be a while away as location-based services are not very mature yet, keep an eye on it. Right now, there are too few handsets able to take advantage for click-to-locate services, and an SMS directory where you enter your zipcode to get relevant info is still better. Click-to-enter (a competition). Often used in commercial advertising, Nielsen reports that 26% of those who viewed a mobile advertisement responded with a text message to enter a sweepstakes. While not many advocacy organizations routinely run sweepstakes, fun competitions (a celebrity voice for your voicemail) might be an fun engagement strategy!

10. Be whole-media. Integrate your mobile marketing and messaging into your entire media and messaging campaign; do not let mobile be an add-on - it shows, and it costs you if not done well.

For advocacy organizations, mobile marketing is used most effectively for facilitating a dialogue with their constituents. This 'third screen' can create extended conversation, creating connections across online and traditional media exposures.

What should organization AVOID? The Don’ts of Mobile Advocacy

1. Don’t ask me to sign up with my mobile number and then never contact me with a text message until months later when I have long forgotten that I ever gave you my number. Opt me in right away with an immediate SMS reply and then start talking to me.

2. Don’t bombard me with messages either. Too many messages are obnoxious and a sure way for me to immediately opt out of any further communications. When in doubt, ask me how often I want to be contacted.

3. Don’t be quiet about how to opt out – I need to know that texting STOP, END, OUT all get me out of further communications from you.

4. Don't give me ambiguous information (160 characters is not a lot!) in a text message or information impossible to understand because it’s in texting gibberish. Test your messages to be sure that a recipient understands them and they are crystal clear.

5. Don't let me guess what I have to DO, what you are asking me to act upon. Always ask me to do something your message – forward, call, text back, sign, you name it. Text messages are highly actionable. Because if you don’t ask, I won’t do anything.

6. Don't give me any irrelevant information I don't need or can't use. Don't give me info that is too late to use, or irrelevant to where I am. My favorite example is the event alert AFTER the event has already happened.

7. Don't text me at 4 am in the morning.

8. Don't use just mobile as a stand-alone medium. When I go to your website, I should see a reference to the mobile portion of the campaign -- a short code to text into, text messages from supporters, campaign results including those generated by mobile, a widget to sign up, whatever makes sense in the context of your campaign. When you ask me to give you my email address, ask for my mobile and opt me in right then. When you put an ad somewhere, add a short code to get more info. In short, integrate your mobile strategy with your overall campaign and communications strategy. Mobiles are just another arrow in your quiver!

9. Don't expect huge returns - at least initially. ROI will take time to materialize. Do measure the returns, though!

10. Don’t be dour. Use humor, be personable, engage me and make me smile. I will like you better.

And finally: Don't wait to get your toes into the mobile campaign waters. This is the time to be ahead, to reach new constituencies, and to explore how a mobile strategy can advance your issue.

in the end, this is about how you as an organization engages me. People increasingly do not want to sink in the typical advocacy 'push' hole that benefits you organizationally, but in the end has no impact on the issue, nor engages me, the constituent, in any way, makes the issues relevant to my life, makes me smile, asks me to do something, or feel better and closer to the cause you are advocating.

In the end, because mobiles are an intimate medium, there is a huge opportunity for a conversation that few advocacy organizations used to messaging OUT have any idea how to do effectively. Mobiles are very much a read/write medium in the web 2.0 fashion and only those organizations willing to hear back and engage in 'it's the conversation, stupid' will end up running catchy, creative, engaging, and innovative mobile campaigns.

While this article is mostly focused on a US-context, we welcome submissions from other parts of the world. If you have ideas on how to localize this guide to your country or region or want to write pointers for how mobile advocacy might work where you are, please be in touch!

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