For many years, campaigns relied heavily on phone calls and door-to-door canvassers who spoke with members of their communities in person. But as new methods of communication and advertising emerged, political campaigns began to modernize their approach. Enter: the emergence of political text messaging. In this blog post, we discuss the definition of political text messaging, why candidates and political organizations use this marketing channel, and how to ensure political text message marketing campaigns are following guidelines and within their legal rights.
How Is Political Text Messaging Defined?
A political text message is any text message an individual receives on their cell phone number with a political theme or subject. This election-related text message can be peer texting or texting via SMS software. In this blog post, we’ll focus on political text messages sent by an SMS software provider.
Are Political Text Messages Legal?
In the month preceding the 2020 election, we probably all received a few extra calls from campaign staff and political groups. In addition, there was probably a significant amount of peer texting related to the election that most of us felt we could have done without. But the calls and peer texting certainly don’t compare the number of SMS messages most people received from election-related text campaigns. Did you know that in October 2020 alone, candidates and political groups sent more than 5 billion text messages?
Shutdowns in many states resulted in limited in-person appearances and face-to-face interactions, so many political consultants recommended text campaigns. While political text messages are an excellent option for many campaigns, many people wonder, “Is this legal? Are political candidates and organizations allowed to send SMS messages to my cell phone number?”
The answer is both yes and no. If political candidates and organizations take the proper steps and abide by the laws and guidelines around text messaging, it is absolutely legal. But if they’re sending unwanted text messages that don’t comply with legal regulations, then it’s illegal for them to contact individuals via SMS.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
The TCPA protects consumers against unwanted phone calls through auto-dialed systems or autodialers and prerecorded messages. This law also protects consumers against unwanted text messages, spam text messages sent by scammers, and unsolicited election-related texting campaigns.
To comply with the TCPA and legally send political text messages, organizations must do two things. First, they must obtain written consent from the recipient of the political text messages. Written consent can be obtained via a web form, point of sale, a mobile device, or even pen and paper. The political campaign or organization must disclose the following statement: “By participating, you consent to receive text messages sent by an automatic telephone dialing system.” This “automatic telephone dialing system” disclaimer must be visible to the subscriber as they opt in to the SMS campaign.
An organization may have a list of thousands of phone numbers, but if it doesn’t have written consent from each phone number owner, it’s legally not allowed to send them any SMS messages.
The second requirement of the TCPA is that any organization that wants to send SMS messages to its supporters must include a clear statement that the subscriber’s consent is not a condition of purchase. Although political text messages don’t technically involve any type of purchase, they are still subject to the requirements of the TCPA.
Any organization—whether a political organization, store, or restaurant—must comply with the TCPA. Any organization that does not comply with these regulations is subject to a fine of $500 to $1500 per unwanted text message. Political campaigns must be particularly careful. Failure to comply can result in a large sum of fees paid out to each individual as well as costly legal fees.
Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association
In addition to the FCC, an organization called the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) has a set of guidelines for organizations that wish to send SMS messages to customers and supporters.
Established in 1984, the CTIA is a nonprofit trade organization representing wireless carriers (such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon), manufacturers, and providers of wireless products and services. This organization is vital to the text marketing industry as it oversees all aspects of short codes. The guidelines established by the CTIA are not laws and technically don’t carry any fines or fees. But if a political campaign doesn’t follow CTIA guidelines, it can be subject to suspension of its short code, which means it will no longer be able to send SMS messages to supporters.
When a political campaign or organization wants to send its supporters SMS messages, the CTIA requires that it include the following information in both the opt-in and opt-out messages for its SMS marketing program:
Requirements upon opt-in:
- Program name or description
- How to opt out, sent at least once a month (“txt STOP 2 end”)
- How to find more information (“text HELP for help”)
- Recurring-messages disclosure (“3 msgs/mo”)
- “Message and data rates may apply” disclosure
Requirements upon opt-out:
Any organization, including those that want to send political text messages, is subject to the law and industry guidelines. Compliance is essential to the foundation of an SMS program and will help create long-term success and mitigate the risk of legal actions in the future.
Types of Political Text Messages
Politicians and organizations that want to send political text messages can use various types of messages to communicate with their supporters.
Person-to-Person (P2P) Political Text Messaging
P2P texting is what most people do daily. P2P texting is any message sent from one individual to another. For example, when anyone sends you a message from their personal device, that’s a P2P message. P2P messages can be sent from an individual’s mobile device or from various P2P texting platforms.
Political campaigns and organizations use P2P text messages to communicate with individuals whose phone numbers they have on file but don’t have the individuals’ consent to send them a text using an SMS software provider. Campaign volunteers use P2P texting to gather support, donations, and votes. Volunteers can send political text messages from their mobile devices or via one of the P2P platforms available on the market.
Short Messaging Service (SMS)
An SMS message is a message that a political campaign or organization can send utilizing an SMS marketing platform, so long as it abides by the rules and guidelines established by the TCPA and CTIA. An SMS message can contain up to 160 characters, including text, emojis, clickable phone numbers, and hyperlinks, keeping in mind that the hyperlink counts toward the character limit.
Political campaigns may choose SMS messaging when they have shorter messages to send that don’t require much explanation. But for messages that need more space or that include media content, political campaigns would need to send an MMS message instead.
Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)
MMS text messages allow political campaigns and organizations to send various media content to subscribers, including video, sound files, images, multiple contacts, or GIFs. With additional media functionality, MMS messages also allow organizations to send up to 5,000 characters.
Political campaigns may choose MMS messaging for a lengthier messages. Additionally, if a political organization wants to include an eye-catching graphic, an MMS message is the way to go.
Why Political Candidates Use Text Messages
Political candidates and political organizations use a wide range of tactics to communicate with their audiences. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, political candidates continued to send printed mail and relied on volunteers to canvas door to door and make calls. But there has also been an increased investment in digital methods such as SMS messages sent using text messaging platform, Facebook advertising, and email.
This year in particular, we’ve seen an increase in political text messaging. Text marketing is a great way to communicate with supporters, and there’s data to back it up. SMS marketing messages have a 99% read and open rate! And, 90% of SMS messages are read within three minutes of being sent. It’s no wonder so many political campaigns are utilizing SMS messaging. Here are just some of the ways they’re turning to texting.
Election day is pretty widely known, and thanks to the constant reminders on every social media platform, most people are aware of that day. But for local elections that don’t get as much media attention, voting reminders sent via SMS messages are a great way to get more people out to the polls. Considering that 99% of SMS marketing messages are opened and read (most of which are read within three minutes of being sent), it’s an ideal way remind supporters to go out and vote.
Many events take place around an election cycle, a presidential election, and local elections. When sending political text messages utilizing an SMS marketing platform, a campaign or organization can segment subscribers into volunteers, general supporters, and donors. Segmentation makes it easier to send event alerts to volunteers with instructions on where and when to arrive. As mentioned earlier, MMS messages are better suited for lengthy messages such as these, so there’s more space to craft your thoughts. A political text message informing a group of volunteers about the proceedings of an event is a perfect example of an MMS message.
For those just attending an event, the message may be a simple reminder with a link. In that case, an SMS message is more suitable. Additionally, with a text messaging platform it’s possible to send text messages based on actions. For example, if a voter registers for an event, they will receive a reminder to attend. If they didn’t register, they could receive several reminders to do so.
Many times throughout a political campaign when information needs to get out as soon as possible, SMS messaging is the best way to go. Often, when email goes out from an email marketing tool, those messages end up in a spam folder. But when a political text message goes out from an SMS marketing platform, there’s no way it will end up in a spam text folder because such a folder doesn’t exist. All text messages—SMS, MMS, and P2P—arrive in the same inbox.
As we shared earlier, 90% of SMS messages are opened within three minutes of being sent. For a fast-moving campaign that may need to gather staff and volunteers quickly, SMS messaging gets the job done!
Take a Stance
During an election cycle, we vote for more than politicians. We also vote for new laws in our states, for example. SMS messages are great for sending information about a particular subject to educate voters and help them decide how they will vote. MMS messages provide a longer character limit and can include media content such as a video or infographic, which is why this type of message is great for educating voters on issues within their local government.
SMS messaging is also an effective way to help organize rallies and protests to raise awareness about issues surrounding elections. An SMS marketing platform makes it possible to schedule text messages to notify attendees when and where an event will start and, and the rules and guidelines for participation. Most people don’t check their emails during an event, but they check SMS messages often and open them quickly.
Mobilize the Youth Vote
A voter file (a database of voter information used by a political party or an individual politician), provides insight about every demographic and their different communication preferences. Older constituents who have voted in person many times and are accustomed to phone calls and door-to-door volunteers may not appreciate SMS messages.
But members of younger generations, including those voting for the first time, spend a lot of time on their mobile phones and SMS marketing may be the perfect way to reach them. For example, a political campaign may use the voter file to determine how to allocate communication funds for political text messaging, Facebook advertising, and mailers. Campaigns have seen success in mobilizing the youth vote using SMS messaging and P2P messaging to reach younger voters.
Getting Voters Signed Up
For those who follow politics closely and are even part of a political committee or two, the assumption is that most people 18 and older in the United States are registered voters and vote in every election. But in reality, quite a few people are potential voters who still need to take the first step and register to vote. SMS messaging makes voter registration a breeze, especially for people who may be hesitant to register.
Communicating with potential voters via text message is a great way to mobilize them to register and get them excited about voting. SMS marketing software allows users to send targeted text messages to help people register to vote and boost voter turnout.
Getting The Word Out
As we mentioned previously, there’s always a lot going on within a political campaign, and everything can change in a day. Political campaigns need to be able send out time-sensitive information as candidates release new details about their initiatives. Many political campaigns also utilize organic social media and social media advertising to get the word out about important items. Text messages are also a great way distribute campaign-related updates—SMS messages for a quick note, or MMS messages for longer and more captivating ones.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of any political campaign, regardless of political party affiliation. They play a huge role in encouraging potential voters, younger voters, and overall voter turnout. Text messaging is one of the best ways to enlist volunteers. It’s an easy process. Anyone interested in volunteering simply provides their mobile phone number, and they’ll be signed up to volunteer.
Your SMS subscriber list is a great place to start when soliciting volunteers. As long as your subscribers gave consent, your political campaign won’t be at risk of sending spam texts.
All political parties rely heavily on volunteers. There is no shortage of things to do within a political campaign, and volunteers are needed in a lot of different areas. With thousands of volunteers in different locations, SMS marketing platforms make it easy to segment subscribers and text them specific communication depending on their desired volunteer events and locations. Additionally, SMS messages allow the use of keywords, which help your subscribers interact with your campaign. Through SMS messaging, a political campaign can determine who will be able to volunteer and what gaps need to be filled.
Donations are vital to political campaigns. SMS marketing allows subscribers to easily send donations from their mobile devices. Anyone who wants to financially support a campaign can text a keyword to that campaign’s short code. In response to that keyword, the SMS software will automatically send instructions on how to donate quickly and securely.
Political campaigns strongly rely on surveys to help determine the consensus of the population. Although email and social media are also popular for sending survey requests, SMS messages are particularly useful in this regard. SMS software allows you to segment your subscribers to get the perspective of specific groups such as undecided voters and younger voters. SMS messages go directly to the subscriber’s cell phone number, unlike emails which often go into the recipient’s spam folder.
Why Political Campaigns Win Using Tatango’s SMS Marketing Software
A significant factor in the success of a political campaign is its ability to communicate effectively with potential voters. This is why choosing the right political SMS marketing software to quickly and easily send text messages is vital to a campaign.
In a recent study conducted internally by Tatango, we discovered that for every dollar invested in building and operating a texting program, campaigns net $5 in donations on average. We at Tatango strive to ensure that our political campaign clients meet the unique goals of their political campaigns. Whether your SMS marketing campaign focuses on fundraising, getting out the vote, engaging with supporters, or organizing volunteers, Tatango’s platform helps political campaigns win. Tatango offers easy-to-use software and industry expertise to help political campaigns solve their SMS marketing challenges.
Some features that set Tatango apart from other text message marketing companies include:
- Segmentation: Tatango’s subscriber segmentation allows campaigns to create and send highly optimized messaging to custom subscriber segments.
- Messaging workflows: With our platform campaigns can create virtually any messaging workflow without any coding knowledge or experience.
- Analytics: Gain insights and visually display subscriber data trends with our easy-to-use responsive graphing tools.
- Merge tags: Personalize each text message using merge tags. For example, include a subscriber’s first name in each mass text message.
- ROI: Recall that in a recent internal study, we found that for every dollar invested in building and operating a texting program, campaigns net $5 in donations on average.
We’d love to hear about your organization’s communications goals and share with you how the Tatango SMS marketing software can help. Talk to a text messaging expert today.