Short Message Service or SMS protocols allow users to communicate by sending short messages (generally 160 characters or fewer) between mobile phones. SMS outreach and organizing capabilities are improving quickly as mobile phone usage rises, especially in rural or low-tech environments, and it is proving to be an effective tool for engaging youth. A party or campaign should be sure to keep these important points in mind when planning to incorporate SMS in its campaigning:
- What is the cost and availability of mobile phones?
- Is there an SMS application that could be used, such as WhatsApp?
- What are the demographics of mobile and smart-phone users?
After assessing these baseline considerations, a party or campaign should not shy away from innovative uses of SMS messaging. For example:
- India’s Aam Aadmi Party made WhatsApp a central tool for mobilizing volunteers prior to the party’s 2013 and 2015 municipal election victories in Delhi;
- In the United States, Democratic Party organizers saw a noted increase in completed volunteer shifts in the 2013 Virginia governor’s election after adding SMS volunteer shift reminder/confirmation messages, in addition to their standard phone calls; and
- The ORCA project, implemented by United States Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, used SMS messaging for real-time voter turnout reports.
As with any other ICT solution, and especially with newer or untested technology, it is important to conduct periodic assessments of SMS messaging’s impact and effectiveness to ensure that valuable campaign resources are not misallocated.