Why would Facebook spend $19 billion to buy the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, a company with only $300 million in revenue? Because Facebook hasn’t been able to monopolize and monetize the mobile world on their own, so they buy those who have, first Instagram and now WhatsApp with its 450 million active users.

textingMobile is where the action is. 91 Percent of American adults own a cell phone, and 81 percent of them are using it to text – the most common cell phone activity. We pay more attention to texts than any other type of communication, reading 90 percent of texts within four minutes of delivery. Texts have a 99 percent open rate, compared to a 14 percent open rate for emails, and they have a higher click through rate too.

Should your association be texting members?

Texting members: smart or dumb idea? Well, like most questions about members, it depends. If your members want to regularly receive information from you via their phone, and you don’t abuse that privilege, then, yes, a texting program might be a smart idea.

Before asking members to opt in, figure out how what type of information you’ll send them. You need to answer these questions:

  • Where and when are they using their phones?
  • How are they currently using their phones for informational purposes?
  • What type of messages would they find helpful? What kind of information or reminders?

You’ll have to understand their behavior, needs, interests and aspirations before making any decisions. Once you identify the type of information or reminders you’ll send and how your texts will improve their lives, only then should you ask for their cell phone number and permission.

SMS campaigns to tweak

You don’t have to start from scratch. Think about how your association can adapt one of these ideas.

Education: Exact Target, a digital marketing software firm, shares digital marketing tips, strategies and best practices via texts. When setting up their account, subscribers select topics/keywords of interest, for example, email, social, data or content. Keep an eye out for knowledge nuggets to share that can be translated into 160 characters or less. Remember to repurpose texts into tweets.

Information: Every Friday afternoon, the Good Food show at public radio station KCRW sends its subscribers the name, address and phone number of the restaurant of the week selected by food critic Jonathan Gold. After receiving the suggestion, members can text back the word EAT to get his list of recommended dishes. What type of data, statistics or other information would your members want to receive regularly?

Jobs: New York City’s TXT-2-Work program sends subscribers text messages with job opportunities, job-seeking tips and other alerts. I don’t know whether the job boards in the association market have this functionality, but your unemployed members would certainly appreciate the heads-up on a job listing.

Advocacy: Send out political calls to action via text, or targeted reminders to register or vote. Keep members informed about local news, issues, legislation and regulation that matters to them.

Crowdsourcing: Send out one-question polls to get members’ opinions on association issues and decisions. Use reminder texts to gather news and information from chapters and committee chairs.

Engagement: Let your members know about virtual micro-volunteering opportunities. Send out targeted information about events in their area.

Conferences: Donna Kastner of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting suggests using SMS to improve Q&A and audience engagement, for example, letting the audience text their questions for the speaker — a good option for those who aren’t comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Or, have a Conference Concierge team on call to assist attendees with questions and problems.

Speakers at the ASAE Tech Conference have used texting apps like Conferences.IO and Poll Everywhere to facilitate questions from the audience and collect data using real time polls.

Reminders: Let members opt in for reminders about registration deadlines, webinar start times, association elections and votes, and membership renewal.

Although it’s tempting to use texting for promotional reasons, be careful. Instead, send out an educational text and link it to a blog post that dives deeper and ties the topic to an upcoming webinar, conference educational session or publication.

You don’t want to become a nuisance, so find out how often they wish to receive texts and what type of texts they want to receive. For more tips on acquiring, onboarding, engaging and retaining SMS subscribers, download ExactTarget’s Definitive Guide to Mobile Messaging.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who wouldn’t mind a daily text linking to a recipe featuring local, seasonal ingredients.