SMS strategy

SMS: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

It’s natural to worry that launching a new side of your digital program can come with steep learning curves. If that’s held you back from considering SMS, never fear! The great thing about SMS is that it can scale incredibly quickly – even if you’re starting from scratch. We’ve worked with many organizations to launch their SMS programs, helping to add additional touchpoints and creating a surround-sound experience for their audience. Ready to give it a go yourself? Let’s walk through the process:

So you’re ready to start an SMS program:

To launch your program, you’ll first need to build your audience, which requires them opting in. To get your existing audience opted in to your program, you can append phone numbers your housefile/direct mail file. Another fantastic way to acquire cell phone numbers and emails at the same time? Add a cell phone opt-in on your landing pages, a strategy we implemented with the USO. They launched a major ad campaign around the Fourth of July and used that moment to add a cell phone capture to their landing pages, ensuring they were acquiring cell phones opt-ins at the same as they were adding new names to their email list. Just by adding this optional cell phone field, they saw explosive growth that took their SMS list to an unprecedented level. Remember how we said the SMS learning curve doesn’t have to be so steep? This is exactly what we mean!

The data we gathered from that Fourth of July was powerful, but we wanted to have as much data as possible. We extensively tested the impact that adding a cell phone field to our ads landing pages would have on overall acquisition and conversion. While we of course wanted to grow the size of the SMS list, we also wanted to be cautious that we didn’t grow it at the expense of overall email acquisition. So how did it go? We saw that marking the cell phone field as explicitly optional led to a slight decrease in the number of SMS opt-ins, but it also had the least impact on completion rate. What’s key here is that the folks who gave their number on this page are the most invested – they know it’s optional and still want to join, indicating that they’ll be strong supporters going forward and won’t opt out.

So you’ve acquired a strong SMS list – what type of content should you serve them? 

For another of our SMS partners, Sandy Hook Promise, we’ve taken what we know works incredibly well over email and translated that to SMS. Sandy Hook Promise has worked hard to build an engaged audience that cares deeply about their work and its real-world impact. Narrative and voice are critical to the program, so it was equally important that we translate that authenticity to a new channel.

The tricky part from a voice perspective, though, is that SMS means restrictions on character count – so every word matters. We’ve extensively tested where adding additional language and voice has made a difference in both engagement and conversions. For Sandy Hook Promise we’ve seen that leaning into “voice-ier” content and emotional language often lifts those KPIs. Many messages signed by leaders of the organization, with whom the audience is familiar from the email program, have also translated well to SMS. But these factors will be different for every organization, and you should understand both your messaging and your audience. Our usual advice absolutely applies here: test, test, test to find out what works for your SMS audience.

Across channels it’s crucial to consider the balance of fundraising and engagement – and this is especially important with SMS. Once someone is on an organization’s SMS list, they’re able to see all your past messages right in front of them every time they open a new one. As you’re developing content, make sure you’re thinking about the stack and the comprehensive story you are telling, and find that correct balance so you aren’t only asking for money, but offering back engagement opportunities.

Interested in chatting more about starting an SMS program for your organization? Email us at [email protected]!