An effective campaign must know two things: who is being activated, and what is the best way to engage them? When engaging young people and lower-income communities, text messaging increasingly seems to be the way to go.
Be they non-profit programs or political campaigns, many initiatives need to target young people in particular. Many non-profits focus on providing resources and support to young people in particular, as they are at a vulnerable and formative point in life. Successfully engaging young people and getting them to listen--a feat easier said than done by organizations in which most employees are much older than their target demographic--is critical to the success of this work.
When it comes to political engagement, young people are notorious for poor turnouts at the polls. According to Brookings, only 50% of the electorate between ages 18 and 29 voted in the 2016 presidential election. Midterm elections fare worse: in the 2014 midterm elections, only 22% of that same demographic voted. Countless thinkpieces have sought to explain this phenomenon, but what is consistently clear is that young people don’t show up on election day.
Clearly, advocacy and politics alike need targeted outreach to young people in order to succeed. And since young people are so attached to their mobile devices, texting seems a natural route to take.
The numbers support this approach: a 2016 OpenMarket survey reports that, if they could only have one, 75% of millennials would choose the ability to send and receive texts over the ability to make and receive calls. And while emails can be received on smart phones, text messages boast a 98% open rate and a 45% response rate over email’s meager 20% open rate and 6% response rate. Additionally, research demonstrates that 19% of people will click a link sent in a text message campaign, but only 4.2% will click a link sent in an email. Clearly, when it comes to how young people use their devices to communicate, texting comes out on top.
Initiatives designed to reach low-income people may also benefit from favoring SMS over email. Low-income communities have numerous specific interests at stake in the political arena, but, like young people, show up to the polls in disproportionately low numbers, according to a 2015 Pew report.
Also like young people, low-income communities are the focus of many advocacy initiatives that seek to create equity and improve quality of life for disadvantaged people. Low-income communities face systemic inequity and lack of opportunity that often intersects with other marginalized identities.
Regardless of their affiliations, entities seeking to engage low-income people need to know how best to reach them. Low-income communities are less likely to have reliable access to the Internet, with either slow connections or no connection at all. They are also less likely to have their own computer, something that less than 80% of Americans own. Low-income people are also more likely to experience housing insecurity, forcing more low-income people to live on the move and have limited access to reliable resources and means of staying connected.
However, according to Pew’s 2017 report, a whopping 92% of people from households earning $30,000 or less own cell phones. Without reliable Internet or data service, and given the popularity and many benefits of texting for marketing and communications, SMS appears to be the best way to reach low-income communities.
Across communications and campaigns, it is clear that a need exists to reach particular groups, and this need can require tailored modes of contact. Texting offers a simple, affordable, and dynamic approach that, when it comes to engaging young people and low-income communities in civics and advocacy initiatives, holds much promise.