A mobile phone is the most important possession of today’s teen. It's how they keep tabs on their social circles, store precious memories, discover new information - and communicate with the world.
About two years ago, a light bulb went on for the DoSomething.org team. We realized that an organization that understands young people could have a real impact with them through text messaging.
Since then we have grown and maintained one of the largest mobile subscriber lists for non-profits in the country with 705,000* numbers (updated as of Nov. 28, 2012). And we're growing at a rate of 15,000 new subscribers per week.
But how do you communicate with a hyper-wired, hyper-active 16-year-old who sends more than 160 text messages per day?
Here are 5 things I’ve learned for communicating with teens and growing an SMS subscriber list:
1. Provide value to the user.
- Don't look at text messaging as a one-way tool for notifications or alerts - rather as a simple platform that can provide the same value to a user as a website, mobile app or phone call could.
- At DoSomething.org, teens can get involved in campaigns, report back on their experience, win scholarships and get their friends involved in causes they care about— all through text messaging.
2. Offer context and creativity in your SMS messaging.
- Using SMS is understanding that the user is on-the-go. Our members could be at an after-school club meeting, chatting with friends on the bus, in the middle of a Halo game, etc.
- This on-the-go mentality coupled with the fact that teens are texting all the time, means that when they see a text pop up on their phone they need immediate context.
- We maintain consistency by sending text messages to our members weekly, on the same day, signing off with the name of the staff member who is sending the text and always mentioning DoSomething.org.
3. Quirk it up. Why not?
- It's important for messaging to have personality and be relatable.
- We’ve seen as high as 12% increases in response rates when we’ve had funnier, edgier and an overall more relatable tone in our messaging.
4. Yes! Text messaging can be inherently social.
- We harness the refer-a-friend functionality of our mobile platform so our members can do everything from invite friends to join a campaign, sign a petition, play a texting game together and even enter to win scholarships.
- Truth: the number one reason teens volunteer  is because it’s social. (Fun fact: 1 in 3 of all DoSomething.org mobile subscribers have been brought in by a friend!)
5. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate.
- While text messaging is typically seen as a limited medium, we are constantly pushing the limits and thinking of ways we can create and build better experiences for our users.
- President and CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer once said that "creativity loves constraints." This couldn’t be truer when it comes to text messaging. Our weekly mobile experiences may seem like just a 160 character text message, but in reality it is a way for users to get involved, have their voices heard and to use their phone for social good.
- Marah Lidey is our fab Digital Engagement Manager. She sends the best txts. Literally.
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