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Nicole Crilley

By: Nicole Crilley on March 31st, 2021

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How Associations Can Use SMS the Right Way

SMS Texting

Text messaging enjoyed a cultural heyday back in the early 2000s when nimble-fingered teens used their Nokias to shoot quick messages to each other. These days, there’s a greater focus on digital communication apps, such as WhatsApp and iOS Messages. But if you think that SMS texting has gone the way of cargo pants and ‘N Sync, you’d be wrong.

In the past decade, the number of text messages sent has increased by a whopping 7,700%. SMS texting still has one of the highest engagement rates of any channel, with exceptional open rates. If you have a timely, relevant message, SMS is one of the best ways to deliver it.

Which makes SMS texting ideal for associations. With the right strategy, you can use text messaging to create a first-rate member experience.

Why use SMS texting?
In a word—access. All cell phones support SMS. People can always send and receive text messages, even if they don’t have a data connection. An estimated 97% of American professionals are within three feet of their phone at all times, which means SMS is an always-on communication channel.

That’s perhaps why the stats for SMS texting are so impressive:

  • SMS texting leads to 8x more engagement than email marketing
  • The average person opens an SMS within 90 seconds
  • B2B audiences have a 98% open rate for SMS messages

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that every SMS campaign is going to be successful. To get results, you have to understand how to get the most out of text messaging and recognize that it’s designed to supplement your larger marketing efforts, rather than replace existing lines of communication.

What does SMS texting do?
SMS is one of the fastest ways to put your message in front of someone. That means it’s great for information that’s:
  • Timely
  • Succinct
  • Relevant
  • Welcome

For an effective campaign, you have to choose messages that are best suited to this format. If it’s not urgent or it’s too complex to fit in a text, then it’s not an ideal message for SMS texting. But with the right message, you can do a lot, such as:

  • Inform members: Text messages are great for short, relevant bursts of essential information. For example, you can message members to let them know about a change of venue or to inform them that their certification is about to expire.
  • Inspire members: SMS can help create a sense of community. Use text messages to deliver brief updates about what’s going on, so members have a sense of the association being alive and active.
  • Educate members: Text messages can keep members in the loop about things that matter to them and their business. For instance, during the Covid-19 pandemic, SMS continued—and continues—as an invaluable way to send timely updates with reliable information.
  • Mobilize members: SMS can help with the political side of association membership. You can use text messages to drive advocacy, recruit members for subcommittees, or encourage people to contact their representatives about forthcoming legislation.

What about selling to members? In general, SMS texting is not an ideal sales tool. The urgent quality of SMS can backfire when used to present a sales message, and the recipient feels like they’re having a flyer shoved in their face.

Instead, most associations should use SMS texting to connect with people, drive engagement, and encourage participation. This engagement leads to sustained ROI over the long run.

So, how do you start using SMS texting to speak to your members?

How to get started with SMS texting
Like email marketing, SMS texting is mostly an automated process. To get started, you’ll need to do the following:
  1. Select and integrate an SMS Texting tool: There are many SMS platforms available, each with different features and pricing structures. We, at HighRoad, have done our due diligence to identify mGage as the association industry's SMS Texting Platform of choice. There are a number of reasons why this platform aligns well with associations but, in the end, you really need to choose the platform that makes the most sense for your organization. 
  2. Create text messaging rules: Most SMS tools allow you to create rules-tied, branch-based journeys that allow you to build sophisticated message sequences. You can also segment and target your users to ensure they only receive relevant messages.
  3. Personalize outgoing messages: Include personalization tags such as “Hello <<FIRST_NAME>>, Did you know we’re having a big meeting tonight?” This helps build a sense of connection with the recipient. It shows that this is a targeted message for the user, rather than a Send All announcement.
  4. Measure campaign performance. SMS campaigns offer very reliable metrics, such as deliverability and open rate. You can also measure click-through but you need to do that on the content-hosted side of your application. Keep an eye on the efficacy of every campaign to ensure you’re hitting targets.
  5. Generate additional contacts: You’ll need to acquire members’ cell numbers, as well as explicit consent for messages. Fortunately, you have plenty of opportunities to obtain both from sources like:
    • New member sign-up form
    • Renewal form
    • Event registration
    • eLearning registration
    • Lead Gen website
    • Sign-up box on your main website
    • During online profile updates

Remember that you need to ask for explicit consent to communicate by SMS.

SMS texting best practices
When you’re reaching out to members over SMS, there are a few best practices you should bear in mind. Some of these rules are enforced by legislation and FCC, while others are lessons learned from thousands of association SMS texting campaigns.
 
1—Be compliant
You’re required to obtain explicit individual permission to market by SMS. That means you can’t hide this option in the T&Cs or automatically opt-in new users. Message recipients should be free to choose whether or not they receive your text messages.

This is actually a sensible rule that improves the quality of your marketing. The goal of SMS marketing is to strengthen your bond with your member or prospect. If you send unsolicited text messages, you’re likely to drive the person away.

2—Provide value in every message
Why should your member open your SMS? What’s in it for them? You’ll need to answer these questions before you hit send. The worst thing you can do is to waste someone’s time.

Each message should be brief, relevant, and useful. If you can consistently meet that quality level,  you’ll create an ongoing sense of curiosity. Whenever members see that you’ve sent an SMS, they’ll be excited to see what information you have for them this time.

3—Limit your send frequency
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially in SMS marketing, so it’s best to space out your messages over a relatively long timeframe. Give each message time to sink in before you move to the next.

What’s the ideal SMS frequency? It depends on your audience and the nature of the information you’re sending. You can experiment with some A/B testing to see if open rates change when you alter your sending schedule.

4—Send during business hours
In general, you should only try to send association texts during normal business hours. Sure, since Covid, many people work from home and keep flexible schedules. That’s all the more reason to respect the typical work-life balance.

There might be some exceptions. For instance, you can send evening texts about late-night events or urgent political actions. But these late-night messages should always be the exception.

5—Make it easy to opt out
This might seem counterintuitive, but an easy opt-out option will actually improve engagement. People who don’t want your messages will stop receiving them, which means that everyone else is choosing to remain on your distribution list.

Opt-out data can also help you track campaign success. You can use this data to improve your segmentation and refine your member personas. Ultimately, this leads to higher engagement for your campaigns.

6—Use common and easy-to-remember keywords
The mechanics of SMS marketing usually involve sending a keyword or phrase to a special number. 

Simple, memorable keywords will help to increase engagement. You should also try to use common keywords for admin operations, like HELP for assistance or STOP or QUIT to opt out.

7—Be conversational
SMS is, first and foremost, a tool for conversation. You can really connect with members if they get a personalized response to their text messages.

Personal replies may not be possible at scale, but you can use automation tools to set up a response. Conversational chatbots can perform advanced operations over text, such as confirming event attendance or providing updates on membership application status.

Building an association marketing strategy
SMS marketing works best as part of a broader marketing and communications strategy. You can use email automation to handle most of your outbound communications, including your association newsletter and marketing automation to generate and nurture new leads.

Let’s consider a real-world example—Events. Whether you’re hosting an event in person or virtually, SMS can be a great supplement to your communications strategy to keep attendees informed. You’ll continue to use email to send event agendas, session descriptions, and other long-form communications. But SMS texting can be incredibly useful to send day-of updates, such as room changes, reminders of upcoming keynote addresses, or quick links to register for workshops.

As you can see, SMS Texting can be a highly effective way to reach members in real-time. As long as you’re being judicious in your approach, sending timely, succinct, and welcome messages, you’re likely to further develop delighted and engaged members.


 
How do I get started with SMS Texting?
If you're interested to learn how SMS Texting can fit into your organization's communications strategy, book time with us
 

About Nicole Crilley

Nicole is a digital strategist and content designer with 10 years of experience in email marketing automation, web design, marketing technology, user experience, and content production. With a versatile background in freelance, consulting, and corporate settings, Nicole specializes in identifying and implementing effective digital strategies.