You've most likely hear A LOT about including text messaging as part of a church communications plan. Some of what you've heard is in favor of including texting and some is against.
It can seem a bit confusing, and as a result of the confusion,
Add to that the fact that text messaging has matured which means the rules have changed, and users today are more choosy. If the texts they are receiving aren't relevant, chances are your users will unsubscribe from your texting service. Or just ignore you if you're sending them direct texts.
Is including text in your digital strategy worth it?
Mobile phones are the most used global communications device. Recent figures put the global figure for smart phone users at 2.6 billions ... and growing!
In the U.S., 97% of people text one or more times every day. That means the number of texts sent by the average American is double the number of phone calls. In some groups, the texting rate is even higher. Each Millennial, on average, sends 2,022 texts each month. That's 67 texts each day. And people rush to answer their texts: Answering an email? 90 minutes on average. Answering a text? About 90 seconds!
As a result, mobile devices are becoming the #1 choice for digital communications.
Does your church have a mobile communications strategy?
Many pastors, church leaders, and ministers face the same problem: how to quickly communicate important information to your entire congregation. The emergence of numerous digital, mobile, and online communication channels has created a wide variety of digital options and tools that you can use to get your messages out and cut through the clutter of daily life.
When a message is sent, people are notified right away. Text messages are the most efficient solution if you are looking to get a brief message out to the majority of people. With a 97% open rate, it is worth the small cost for each message because you can be certain that nearly everyone who receives the message will read it.
Phone or free app options
With text messaging services like Viber, Skype, iMessenger, Google hangouts, WhatsApp, GroupMe, kik, etc. available for free use, why would you need anything else? For example, both GroupMe and WhatsApp are applications for a smartphone, but have a limited number of features. The application GroupMe allows you to create groups on your mobile device so you can send the same message to a group of people. You are able to add everyone within your address book to the GroupMe application which allows all messages sent in response to a group message to be propagated to the rest of the group. The application creates what is known a private chat room. The WhatsApp application works in much the same way, but each
user must have the application installed on the mobile device they will be using for sending the messages.
These are applications that can be downloaded and used on mobile devices work well for small groups, but are not suitable for use with large groups.
API (Application Program Interface) is a way in which vendors can allow apps written in different languages to talk to each other. These apps can talk together because they are connected by what is called ‘the cloud’ (a communications network). Phones usually don’t allow you to extend your SMS application that way unless you hack themneither scalable OR legal! Other free apps such as Skype and WhatsApp
are niche networks. They prefer you to use their apps and their solutions so they are not interested in integrating either.
The advantage of using cloud-based text solutions is that they are built on architectures that allow you to extend the application and integrate with other tools that you are using. This means churches or the vendors can build integrations with other vendors such as MailChimp; hence, ensuring they can roll out a streamlined digital strategy. A digital strategy that is fully integrated, in which all your systems (or most of them) are speaking to each other, can be worth the expense of using a cloud solution versus just your phone or some free app.
What are short and long codes?
Members and visitors must opt-in to be able to receive messages sent by service providers. To do this, most service providers use what are called short codes or long codes.
A short code is a number to which an SMS, or text message, can be sent. The code is usually five or six digits in length, making it easy for people to remember. For example, a short code could be 54321. A short code may be specific to one mobile operator or “common” and supported by all major mobile operators. A long code is a 10-digit telephone number.
Short Codes +/-
Although usually more expensive, short codes (being short) are easier to remember. Also, you can send large volumes of messages without being flagged by the cell phone carrier. For example, it is possible to send 1 million messages within 5-10 seconds.
Short codes are great for opt-ins during conferences, large evangelistic events, and in larger churches because they give people a quick, easy way to connect with what’s happening at the moment. However, due to their power, there are many more TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) restrictions governing how you can opt people in (usually only favors self opt-ins vs. manual). Also, once a person unsubscribes from that one shared number, they have essentially unsubscribed from everything. E.g. Using this shared short code across a multicampus? This means they would be removed from all communication across your campus as well. At least, this is what short code providers are legally meant to do.
Long Codes +/-
Long codes have a lower barrier of entry because they are more familiar to people. After all, long codes are just like regular telephone numbers, complete with local area codes. Also, long codes generally offer easier options to build your contact list. Plus, manually adding names is ok.
Long codes are used for the continuing relationship for three important reasons:
On the other hand, the length of the long code has a higher barrier of participation. For example, it is not as easy to say as the short code. As a result, it can be difficult for the church to sell a longer code to a crowd who may be distracted by what’s happening in the conference, concert, or other major event. In other words, the end user in that crowd might feel like it is a hassle or too much to actually do in order to participate.
How to choose between short codes and long codes
The type of relationship you want to create determines the choice.
Short codes feel more controlled, more professional. Users don’t feel they are giving some random, unknown person their phone number. So, short codes suit large, anonymous situations such as public events and business campaigns. A recent use by a larger church was a wavechurch.com campaign. Wavechurch used a short code at their main service to encourage thousands of people to join their small groups. In addition to services, short code opt-ins suit large musical church events.
Long codes, on the other hand, are much more personal. The church can say, “Here’s our pastor’s number which is set up for both calls and text.” This creates the feeling that the user is getting direct contact to the church team since the user needs to give their cell phone number. For most churches, the number of first-time guests tends to be low—usually 5 - 10% or fewer of the church membership AND these first-time guests are familiar with the church or someone connected with it. In these situations, the long code does not have the same stigma but actually aids in building a healthy, communicative relationship from the start.
What else you should look for
Here are some other things you need to consider when looking at cloud-based text messaging provider.
Be proactive by going to the company website to check out how active they are and if they are providing value. Are there any case studies? What about social media activity and blogging? What about the company’s attention to best practices? Is the system church-focused? If the company is familiar with the church niche, they will most likely have relationships with other church vendors (programs, apps, etc.) which you are already using. Also, they will understand church culture which is usually going to mean that their solution and process reflect common values.
Speaking of integrating, does this company offer an API? If not, does it at least integrate with your current app vendors? Adding a digital tool that doesn’t fit into your digital tool kit just doesn’t make good sense.
Can you try it out easily, contract-free? Really, there is no reason why a reputable company is not able to let you try out their system with no obligation. Avoid contracts where you have to sign up for a year. Also dubious are trial options which ask for a small cost to cover the purchase of the phone number. If you are really sold on a ‘pay first’ system, speak to a salesperson before signing up in order to see as much of the system as possible.
To help you with your research and next steps, download this free guide.