The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe
“An online community for Zimbabwean activists”
How to Run a Mobile Advocacy Campaign
For advocacy organizations, mobile phone messaging is used most
effectively for facilitating a dialogue with their constituents.
In a 'mobile advocacy campaign,' your organisation develops a communication strategy that
incorporates the sending of text messages to your members' mobile phone numbers. There are many
reasons why you might want to do this. Texting gets the attention of your members as it is delivered to
a device they carry wherever they go – their mobile phone. It opens up channels for speedy, affordable two-way communications with your members. And in many contexts, more people have
access to a mobile phone than they do to email or the Internet. Importantly, they don’t have to be at
work or go to an Internet café to get your communications.
However, SMS also has some constraints, and it is important to bear these in mind in your work. A 1text message can contain only 160 characters, which limits how much you can say. This makes SMS a great tool for getting people to meetings and events, prompting them to act on an issue you’ve
already informed them about, or directing them to alternate sources of more information about an
issue. Remember, mobile numbers can also change owners – if someone sells their line or gives it to
a friend, you may have people getting your messages who aren’t the same people who originally
SMS should be used to supplement an organisation’s other communications methods, not replace
There are essentially four key components to running a Mobile Advocacy Campaign:
- a creative outreach and publicity campaign to attract subscribers
- selecting the most appropriate technology and/or SMS gateway
- securing the budget and resources to implement the mobile advocacy campaign
- integrating SMS within your communications strategy
1 Some phones can handle more than this, but that means sending more than one text message – so
your costs go up. Also, some people’s phones (particularly in developing countries or in lower income
communities), can only get 160 characters at a time – so if your message is longer than that, it will get broken up or truncated.
You can read some interesting case studies of how organisations have used mobile phones and SMS
in innovative ways for their campaigns in this recent report: Wireless Technology for Social Change:
Trends in NGO Mobile Use available at http://mobileactive.org/wireless-technology-social-change-
A. The First Step: subscriber database, outreach/publicity campaign
If your organisation wants to use SMS to communicate with your constituency then you need a
database of cell phone numbers.
It is important to get “buy-in” from the people to whom you wish to send text messages. Otherwise it is
likely that you will be accused of sending out “spam” (unsolicited messages) and you will irritate your
constituency rather than encouraging their support. In a politically sensitive environment, your
organisation could be reported for invasion of privacy and thus run the risk of incurring investigation,
fining or closure by the telecommunications authorities or the state.
Ensuring that you sensibly and creatively collect and organise your database of cell phone numbers is
an integral factor in the success of your SMS outreach and communication campaigns.
Remember that you should never share or sell subscribers’ mobile numbers to third parties without the subscribers’ permission.
Make sure to:
? take backup copies of your updated SMS lists
? encrypt or securely store SMS lists particularly if you are communicating with stigmatised or
persecuted individuals or if you are operating in a politically sensitive environment
Here are some tips:
1) In all your organisational emails encourage
recipients to sign up for your SMS campaigns. Get organised!
Place this call for participation as a footer in your The more information you collect from your emails. subscribers, the more you'll be able to target 2) If your organisation has a web site make sure your campaign to specific sectors of your that you include the call for participation in your constituency. For example, if you collect SMS campaigns on your home page. information like the subscribers' gender or 3) At public meetings, workshops and conferences where they live, you'd then be able to target make sure that you collect contact details from all SMS's to women, or to those living in a the attendees. Back at the office send them either certain city, and so forth. Organising your an SMS or an email asking them if they would like information in a database like Microsoft to subscribe to your SMS campaigns. Access will make it easy to select just the 4) If your organisation produces media products subscribers you want to target each time you like calendars, leaflets or magazines make sure to send a message. include your call for participation in your SMS
campaigns in these products.
5) Engage a creative resource to design newspaper or magazine advertisements for your
organisation so that you reach thousands of members of the general public who are your most
important constituency. Remember: if your adverts are boring then you won’t excite people enough to
sign up. Make sure to come up with creative advertisements which compel people to subscribe. Be
strategic about which publications you put these in, so that you reach out to thousands of potential
subscribers. And focus your advert so that you reach that publication's target audience.
6) Internet banner advertisements on popular local websites are a useful tactic.
7) Consider placing billboards in strategic places telling the public about your SMS campaigns and
encouraging them to subscribe.
8) Use broadcast media to inform the public about your SMS campaigns.
9) Engage some volunteers like students on campuses around the country to spread the word amongst their friends.
10) Approach other individuals and organisations in your field and your constituency directly. Invite
them to join your subscriber list, and ask them to spread the word through their networks.
Remember: you don’t have to use all of these tactics but the more you can use the more diverse your
subscriber list will be.
? Make sure that you keep good records which track when people sign up so that if you are
accused of spamming you can refer back to your records.
? Make sure that you engage a trusted member of staff to handle your SMS campaign
communications. Databases of mobile phone numbers can be traded – sold to businesses which
want to sell advertising to mobile phone users. Disgruntled or retrenched employees can also
abuse their access to mobile phone databases by sending out negative information about your
organisation to your subscriber list. We recommend that the member of staff assigned to SMS
campaign communications signs a contract which specifically forbids the abuse of the system and
the sharing of the database with other organisations and companies.
Exercise 1: Get started!
How many SMS subscribers does your organisation currently have?
How many would you like to have in six months from now? In one year?
How will you get these members?
? Public meetings and events you can attend to recruit at:
? In-house publications you can use to let people know about your SMS subscriber list:
? Publications and media you can advertise in:
? Other advertising ideas:
Find out how much these different options will cost. Use this information to get a sense of the types of
advertising you want to do, and the quantity and frequency, given your organisation’s budget.
Are you concerned that the authorities might target the recipients of your text messages?
If Yes, how will you limit unauthorised access your SMS list? :
B. How Do You Do IT? Selecting appropriate technology, SMS gateways
OK. So now that you’ve got some back ground information, how do you put it into action?
As mentioned previously SMS campaigns work best if you provide an interactive, two way service.
People like to respond, and they like to have their feedback recognised and recorded. Our
recommendation is that you select an option which encourages dialogue.
Here are some options for you to consider:
Option A – Sending OUT only – using a commercial bulk SMS gateway
2eg Clickatell. 3? Sign up online by opening an account. There are 2 useful options:
- Communicator account
- Messenger account
? Transfer money to Clickatell in preparation for sending out messages (the amount you
credit will be dependent on how many messages you want to send). When you buy
credits in bulk, the unit cost is discounted.
? Set up the name or phone number you want for your sender ID.
? Upload the database of mobile phone numbers that you’ve compiled.
2 To use Clickatell you’ll need Internet access and a credit card or some other way to deposit your
payment into one of Clickatell’s bank accounts. See www.clickatell.com 3 In the Communicator account, mobile numbers are held online with Clickatell. You can manage your
address book and send messages to these mobile numbers from any computer as long as you can
login to your account via the internet. Clickatell protects the privacy of your subscriber lists. But, if you
are dealing with a very sensitive subscriber list, and do not want this list hosted online, or if you have
very limited Internet connectivity and want to be able to manage your subscriber list offline, you may
want to download the Messenger application and manage your subscriber lists from your own
computer. This training manual assumes the Communicator account scenario.
? Use Clickatell’s online facility to send an SMS “blast” to all your subscribers.
Differentiate between Communicator & Messenger accounts here?
? You can use Clickatell's reporting services to monitor the "land" rate of your text
messages, and you can use their web interface to update and manage your subscriber
*Note – unless you’re based in South Africa, your organisation will need access to foreign
currency to use Clickatell.
Security concerns and SMS Option B – Sending OUT – using local funds Depending on where you are conducting your SMS campaign, the types of issues you If your subscriber list is not large (less than 500 address, and your target audience and numbers) then we recommend using subscriber base, you may need to be aware of 4. FrontlineSMSsome security concerns surrounding SMS. To use FrontlineSMS, you don't need access to If you are working on a campaign that has the internet. You do need a computer on which security risks, your organisation probably you can run FrontlineSMS, and a GSM modem already has a variety of security measures in or a mobile phone handset that works with place. Make sure your SMS policies fit into FrontlineSMS. FrontlineSMS is a small these measures, and that you discuss the risks application that doesn’t use up too much associated with SMS campaigning, and how memory – so you can keep it running in the you’ll address them as an organisation, before background whilst you do other things on the you get started. computer if you like. Here are some security tips to think about: You'll also want a SIM card just for your SMS campaign. Ideally, a contract line is the best - Encrypt your subscriber list and message logs, idea - otherwise you will need to top up the pre-or keep all SMS campaign related material on paid line regularly and keep your airtime window an encrypted PGP disc. open. - If you’re using Clickatell, use a Messenger account so that your subscriber list is not hosted Then you'd use the Frontline software interface online. to: - Get someone in South Africa to deposit money ? Load your subscribers' numbers directly into the Clickatell account at a bank – ? Send your text messages rather than using a credit card or bank transfer ? And manage your subscriber list which can be traced. - If you’re using a local number to send or Option C – Sending OUT and RECEIVING receive messages, make sure it’s a pre-paid line that doesn’t have any user ID associated You can also use FrontlineSMS to be able to with it. Keep your SIM card out of the phone receive text messages from your subscribers as when you’re not using it, and try and send well as just sending them out. This opens up the messages from different locations each time, so genuine two-way communication options that that it is harder to triangulate your position. SMS provides. Also look at the Security section of Mobiles in-a-You would load your numbers and send out box – www.tacticaltech.org/mobileadvocacy your messages in the same way as in Option B above, but you would also use another component of FrontlineSMS to receive subscribers' messages directly onto your computer as a
text file. If you have a lot of SMS subscribers, you might find it more efficient to use Clickatell to 5send out the text message – but you can still receive the replies locally.
A staff member could then process this raw data, extracting the sender's number and message,
enabling your organisation to track communications across a campaign.
4 http://frontlinesms.kiwanja.net/ 5 Note that, for a fee, Clickatell also enables user to set up two-way SMS Messaging for certain
countries. You can find out more at http://www.clickatell.com/products/two_way.php
What is this going to cost?
C. Budget and resources Budget A - using an online SMS gateway such as Clickatell
Suppose you wanted to send an alert to your 1500 person subscriber list, once a week, for one month.
Clickatell works in units - depending on what carrier they use on a given day, text messages cost
between .8 and 2 units to send. You can find out exactly how much it costs to send to a given network
on the Clickatell website.
So, to be on the safe side, let's say it will take 1.5 units per message. Credits with Clickatell cost
about USD .06 each (less if you buy in bulk).
So that's 4 days of messages x 1500 people per message x 1.5 units / message x USD .06 / credit
= 4 * 1500 * 1.5 * .06 = USD 540.
These costs will go up or down depending on the frequency with which you send out your text
messages, and how many people are in your subscriber list. This is one more reason to make sure
that you are sending your messages to people who want to be on your list, rather than wasting
organisational funds spamming people.
Budget B - using FrontlineSMS
If you use FrontlineSMS, your costs can come down (if your local text messaging costs are less than
Clickatell’s), but the administrative time spend sending out the messages increases. Sending
messages using Frontline is a much slower process than using a web-based gateway, and is only
recommended for lists of less than 500 subscribers.
Frontline also requires an investment in the SIM card and GSM modem or compatible handset. This
will probably cost between USD100-300, unless you already have a handset that works with
Remember that it is advisable to dedicate a SIM card and device to your SMS campaign for its
GSM modems we’ve tested with FrontlineSMS include:
? Falcom Samba 75 modem - http://www.falcom.de/products/mobile-data/samba75/
? Wavecom GSM modem (abt USD 300) -
Or have a look on the FrontlineSMS site for a list of mobile phone handsets that have been tested
with FrontlineSMS - http://www.frontlinesms.com/download/requirements.php
You will also need to factor in costs for advertising or other methods to recruit new subscribers to your
campaign, as well as the costs of producing, posting, or distributing any materials which you offer to
share with your SMS subscribers.
D. Running the campaign
Right. So now we're all set up. How do we get started?
How to compose a message
? Message space is very short so it is suited for very straightforward notifications,
announcements, appeals or alerts. It is not the right medium to make constituents aware of
complicated issues. But you can use SMS to raise an issue and then direct the recipient of
your SMS to find out more by visiting a web site, contacting your organisation, or reading a
? It is also important to make sure that you have verified your facts and that the information
you’re sending out is correct. Make sure to double and even triple check dates and times for
public meetings because if you get it wrong you’ll have to send out another text message to
set the record straight. This will make you look disorganised and it will also deplete your
budget, and your subscribers will question whether they can trust your information
? When sending out a text message be aware that you will be reaching a diverse audience of
different genders, ages and professions. Your language should always be inclusive and
? What makes a message worth reading? People like to receive information that helps them
make more informed decisions, helps them become involved in actions and activities to
improve the quality of their lives and the fate of their country. People need to receive positive
and uplifting information rather than messages that will further erode their optimism and self
esteem. Therefore it is important to think at length and to seek some broad opinion on the
messages you are compiling before you send them out.
Exercise 2: Try it out!
Think about a few issues that are important to you, or up coming events you’d want to communicate with your members, then try and compose a few text messages about these. Test the messages out
with your colleagues to get other opinions.
Who is your target audience?
What issue do you want to communicate about?
Draft your SMS:
Think about this!
- Mobile phone messaging should be about interaction, not just pitch. Mobile phones offer a
unique opportunity for interaction. Advocacy organizations need to think about mobile phone
outreach as a conversation, a way to interact two-way with their constituents.
- Trust is important because the mobile phone medium is so very personal. Gain permission
and offer relevant and timely content.
- Be relevant. Offer timely news and functional updates that are of interest to your audience.
- Be multi-media. Integrate your mobile phone outreach and messaging into your entire media
and messaging campaign; do not let mobile be an add-on - it shows, and it costs you if not
- Be varied. Mix up the types of messages you send and what you say in them.
- Get feedback. Ask other people in the organisation what they think of a text message before
you send it out. Ideally, particularly in the early days, you should pilot test some of your
messages with a small group of your members and ask what they think of them.
Make sure you give your organisation enough time months to publicise your SMS campaigns and to
compile your SMS database. It may require several different initiatives, over a few months, to build
your SMS subscriber database and develop a sense of community around it.
Frequency of messaging
Less is more! A cell phone is a very personal device. It is important not to overwhelm your subscribers
with too many messages. If you do they will unsubscribe.
It is important that you inform your constituency about your campaign in some detail so that
subscribers know what they are signing up for.
Often your budget and the size of your subscriber list will determine the length of your SMS campaign
and how frequently you send out messages.
If you’ve given your subscribers a number they can contact you on, they’ll probably text you from time
to time. Sometimes, this may be directly in response to something you’ve asked them – for example
maybe you’ve texted them to offer to post them an advocacy DVD, and they are replying to you with
their address. You can use a spreadsheet programme like Microsoft Excel or Open Office Calc to sort
the replies, and to organise the postal addresses and use this information to update your contact
details database with subscribers’ addresses and cities. At other times, you may have asked for
feedback – you can give this feedback a wider audience by using it in a blog, sharing it in an email newsletter, or featuring it in a print publication. Of course, you’ll probably also get requests from new
members wanting to subscribe – make sure you include them in your subscriber list, and add them to
your database before you send out your next message.
You’re ready to start your SMS campaign! To get other people in your organisation on board, discuss
and agree some of the following:
? Reasons for an SMS campaign
? The tone and language of messages your organisation is comfortable being associated with
? How often you’ll want to text your subscribers
? How you’ll send the messages
? How you will manage, record and respond to subscriber feedback
? Costs of the campaign – include advertising, equipment, message sending costs, and costs
of postage, photocopying, envelopes, etc.
Useful additional resources:
1. New Tactics Notebook listing the Amnesty example:
2. MobileActive: http://www.mobileactive.org
3. FrontlineSMS: http://frontlinesms.kiwanja.net/
4. Tactical Technology Colelctive – Mobiles in-a-box – http://www.tacticaltech.org
SMS Campaign in Action
This case study of our experience using SMS to communicate with our members may also give you some ideas . . .
From 300 subscribers as of 1 June 2007, the Kubatana SMS subscriber list grew to over 2,700 subscribers by 31 May 2008. We used SMS to alert people of meetings and events, to draw attention to content on our website, and to share inspiration.
Using Clickatell to send messages, and FrontlineSMS to receive, we were able to develop two-way communications with our subscribers, so that they could take advantage of the convenience of SMS to send us their thoughts and queries. We used this facility to solicit opinion on issues such as HIV/AIDS, price controls, and stay aways, to ask people for their email address to receive a series of articles on relevant issues such as Pius Ncube, MDC unity and the Constitutional Amendment 18, and to invite people to text us their postal address to receive materials from us such as CD's and DVDs.
Examples of text messages we sent include:
? How do we resolve Zimbabwe's leadership crisis? Txt yr email address to 0912 452 201 to
receive Political Leaders in Africa: Presidents, Patrons or Profiteers. ? Text your email addr to 0912 452201 for a broader perspective on the Pius Ncube issue. Get your
friends to join this service. Kubatana.net keeping you informed. ? Ngazvitaurwe-Lingathuli-Speak out!To get a copy of the Crisis Coalition CD featuring Chiwoniso,
Leonard Zhakata & others txt yr addr to 0912452201. Kubatana.net ? How are water supplies in your area? Circulate the petition to protest ZINWA management.To get
a copy txt yr postal or email address to 0912452201. Kubatana.net ? Public meeting - Women and the 2008 elections - Weds 13 June, 2pm, Meikles Hotel. Email
email@example.com for info. Kubatana.net - Keeping you informed.
SMS was also a key communications tool during the election period. The growth in our SMS subscriber base was in part due to a variety of advertising approaches in local newspapers. But our subscriber base also doubled in the two weeks surrounding the 29 March Harmonised Election – a
period during which we did not flight any advertisements, but in which our SMS service was highly visible.
The House of Assembly and Senate results were released very slowly over the course of several weeks after the election. The Presidential results were only released six weeks after the election. This delay exacerbated the frustrations ordinary Zimbabweans face in accessing information. The state-controlled broadcaster, the lack of an independent daily newspaper, the high cost of the independent weekly newspapers, limited internet and email access and regular power outages that make listening to time-limited independent radio broadcasts difficult, compounded to mean that ordinary Zimbabweans often did not know what was happening in the post-election period. Kubatana sent out regular text messages, often several times a day, during these weeks. We updated our subscribers on the election results as they came in. But importantly, we also countered the fear and challenged the propaganda, by sharing messages of hope and encouragement and by opening our two-way communications service to invite Zimbabweans to share their thoughts, fears and hopes.
Congratulations and thanks for your excellent service in updating us so frequently before,
during and after the elections. This is really appreciated.
Another key component of our SMS campaign is the ability to integrate SMS and post – by offering
SMS subscribers materials via post, we reach out to a receptive, interested audience that does not have email or internet access. For example, as the delay in announcing the Presidential election results extended, the National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) launched the Make Our Vote Count Campaign, drawing on civil society organisations from all sectors to work together to demand the release of the presidential results.