The New York Times ran a story yesterday on the Barack Obama campaign’s aggressive use of text messaging this cycle.  I was interviewed for the article and a few of my quotes made the piece.   The reporter, Brian Stelter, interviewed me via email, so I figured I’d publish my responses in an effort to get an easy blog post out of the deal.  Questions and answers from the interview below.

In general, what do you believe the benefits are/will be to having a campaign reach voters via text message?

The most important benefit of text messaging is its immediacy.  Most people have their cell phones with them at all times, meaning text messages are received by people pretty much right after they are sent, no matter where the person is.  Most people still check their email on their computers, so people won’t get messages if they are out and about.  This means that text messaging is a great way to reach people when you have a timely message that needs to get out right away.  It is great for get out the vote efforts, political organizing, announcing last minute appearances, responding to crisis, etc. 

In addition, many people get an extremely high volume of email messages (spam in particular), which makes a campaign message less likely to be read and acted on, as it gets lost in the pure volume of the dreaded inbox.  Unlike email, most people are only getting text messages from close personal contacts and services they specifically opt in to, meaning there is less noise for the campaign to compete with. 

It is a great way to reach young voters who are heavy users of text messaging and in many cases have turned against email.  For a lot of young people text messaging is a primary mode of communication, supplanting regular phone calls and email.

Text message is still in its infancy as a political mobilization tool.  A lot of people simply don’t use text messaging yet and a lot of the people that do use it are reluctant to sign up to receive mass text updates.  They prefer to use texting solely for personal communication.  Due to this, I would suspect the text message lists of most political campaigns are extremely small.  If Obama or anyone is able to build a text list of a couple of hundred thousand people (or more) that would be a huge asset on election day.

Are there any obvious drawbacks?

Text messages are more expensive for the campaign to send than emails.  Also, depending on plans, people may actually get charged extra to receive the text messages the campaign sends.  I would also guess that people are less tolerant of messages they receive via text than those they receive via email – “don’t text me unless its important.” 

The result of these factors is that campaigns need to be careful not to abuse texting the way they do email.  It should be used judiciously – only send something out if you actually have something important to say.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.