Text Messaging Q&A with Freddie Bologno at DoSomething.org

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Craig Van Korlaar (TopNonprofits) With me today, I got Freddie Bologno the Director of Mobile Messaging with DoSomething.org. Through their work, they develop best practices for how to engage young people in social action using everyday technology like text messaging. Freddie, thanks for joining us.

Preview of the Topics Covered

Q: Freddie, can you tell us a little bit more about the platforms and responsibilities that you have as director of mobile?

Freddie Bologno (DoSomething.org): Sure. Essentially my title, director of mobile messaging, is a fancy title that covers the fact that I oversee our strategy and engagement of our DoSomething members through text messaging and then any other kind of upcoming communication apps like Facebook Messenger, but our main focus is definitely on text messaging.

As an organization that is focused on young people, we need to make sure that we’re focusing on the places that they’re engaging with and reach them where they are. That’s text message. We know that text message has a 99 percent open rate. So even if a young person isn’t responding to me necessarily, I know that they see our message and we are getting to meet them where they are.

Q: How do you interact and collaborate with the other teams and departments within DoSomething?

Freddie (DoSomething.org): DoSomething is an organization that strives to be as cross-functional as possible, so our different departments are not working in different silos but really working as a team to pull together calls to actions or campaigns that resonate with young people.

In terms of the messaging team, we support every single department that falls under the umbrella of the organization. If it’s our campaigns team who are putting together these incredible calls to action, the messaging team is working on what does that text message look like? What does that user flow look like as soon as I send that text? How is someone – one of our members going through that experience, understanding what the call to action is? Getting support on how to actually do a call to action is another thing that falls under our messaging team. As member support, we’re using text message to respond back to our members who have questions or might need help or support on the different calls to action we’re providing to them.

If we’re working with the marketing team, we’re using text as a way for different influencers to connect their audience with our text message program or if there’s an article or a PSA that’s out. We will make sure that there’s text callouts or text keywords that people can text into to get more information.

When working across all of these teams we want to make sure that that messaging piece doesn’t become an afterthought, but is part of our planning and brainstorming phases because often, we will create calls to actions or campaigns or even entire experiences that center around SMS.

Right now, we’re running a campaign called “Show Stress Who’s Boss” and it’s all about getting young people to share with their friends five days of anti-stress tips. So they’re able to send that to them over text message. So you sign up and for the course of five days, every day we will text you a new tip on how to combat stress. We know that this is really effective because a lot of young people are in school or college and what we’ve seen from other text platforms like the crisis text line is that 9:00 PM is one of the times that young people are feeling that anxiety. So we text them around that time with this tip. We’ve seen a lot of success with that.

Q: What tips and best practices you would you give to a nonprofit considering a mobile communications strategy?

Freddie (DoSomething.org): Definitely. Many organizations aren’t using text messaging today, and I think people overlook something like text because it seems too simple or too easy. I think often people are chasing the next big thing that we should be doing. What’s the flashy thing, right? Think back to a few years ago when everyone was using QR codes. But they’re trying to use technology that hasn’t been proven yet to be effective. But we’re rushing to do it because it’s the new thing. But sometimes, the best way is just to use exactly what’s in front of us and reimagine the ways that the technology we use every day, how can we use that to power our organizations or engage with people.

With text message, the tip I usually provide people is that you just need to respect the platform that it is and truly seek to understand the ways that people are currently using text message.

Think about it. How do you communicate over text? It is with your friends and family, right? So as an organization, how do you fill that spot? You’re not necessarily someone’s best friend. You’re not their family member. So what is it that you’re providing them that gives them that same source of trust, that they would with a friend or family member?

All of the text messages that we send out to our members, we make sure that we’re building that relationship with our members and creating that sense of trust and honesty and authenticity. We want them to feel like we’re a friend or a family member, just like anyone else would be in their phonebook.

For example, every broadcast that goes out comes from me. Every message that says, “Hey, this is Freddie,” you start to have people understand that there is a real human on the other end of this. That’s why member support has become such a big part of our text program. We’ve seen people who have texted back, and maybe we’re a little apprehensive. “Hey, is this a real person?” and when they get a real response from a human, people respect that, and it makes them want to continue to engage with the content that you’re sending them.

On top of that, I think the other best practice that I would give other organizations is to question what value you’re giving to a user. All the time I’m sending out a broadcast, I’m asking young people to get involved. We’re asking them to take action in their community. A lot of times, it seems like me just asking them to do something, so I have to understand in me asking them to do something, what value are they getting back? Is it that they’re learning more about a specific issue and I’m able to give them a breakdown in a way that they understand or is it letting them know exactly where they can drop off jeans that we’re asking them to collect in their community?

Being able to give them that kind of information so that they don’t have to go look for it on their own and make the experience as simple for them as possible.

About author

Craig Van Korlaar

Craig specializes in strategy, systems, and metrics. He enjoys cross-pollinating ideas from the nonprofit, government, and business sectors (all of which he's worked in). In addition to heading up topnonprofits.com, his passions include technology, books, social causes, and the global church.

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