Blog Is Harnessing The Power of SMS For Social Change

Do Something, a US-based non-profit organization for teens, is managing to raise social awareness by means of connecting with them through their mobile devices. SMS…

Do Something, a US-based non-profit organization for teens, is managing to raise social awareness by means of connecting with them through their mobile devices. SMS is the new route this non-profit organization is taking in order to educe consciousness, discussion, and action regarding the realities of violence and bullying, HIV and sexuality, poverty, hunger, war, politics, and environmental issues, among other pressing national and international concerns. While these topics may not be entirely avoidable, Do Something still believes in a way of mitigating such social woes by engaging potential and current volunteers and donors, starting with teens.

Teenage Text Messaging Statistics

According to a December, 2011, Nielsen report, teenagers between 13- and 17-years-old used an average of 320 MB of data per month over the course of the year, a 256-percent increase over years past - and growing. Messaging, therefore, remains the focal point of teen mobile use. Acknowledging these statistics, Do Something has proceeded to fuse SMS with a philanthropic edge. In a recent interview with Stephanie H. Shih, who is responsible for digital engagement at Do Something, Fueled was able to zero in on how mobile acquisition has been working in a positive way for this nineteen year-old non-profit organization.

Shih explains, “We are running about 30 national cause campaigns this year and nearly all of them will have an SMS component. We allow our users to get information about campaigns, and report back to us about what they did. We try to innovate new ways for them to use the seemingly simplistic SMS technology - including sending us photos of their drives or artwork.”

The Don’t Be Trashy campaign, for example, inspires followers to come up with creative and effective ways of promoting the practice of recycling in their communities or simply among friends. There are sweet incentives for completing great projects, such as a $500 college scholarship. Information about the effort is sent directly to one’s text messaging inbox. According to Shih, “SMS is much more successful for report-backs and engagement than email or web. Our opt-out rates are consistently low (under 1-percent) and our response rate average is roughly 10-percent (sometimes as high as 46-percent).”

An Instance of SMS Platform Success

The potential of using an SMS platform for social good has not gone unnoticed by other non-profit orginizations. Text4baby, a free mobile health information service that supplies pregnant women and new moms with maternal and newborn health information via text messages, is one excellent example of the benefits gained from using an SMS platform as a means of reaching out. A research team in San Diego reported that 75.40percent of mothers reaped the benefits of Text4baby messages. They were kept informed and thus up to par with adhering to obligations such as remembering doctor appointments, getting necessary immunizations, and learning of eye-opening medical warning signs and topics to discuss with their doctors.

A Sure Way of Offering Opportunities

In a sense, using SMS communication as a platform for reaching out to teens offers both a valuable and viable way of engaging students who may not necessarily participate actively in the classroom for one reason or another. It is a chance to give such students an easily accessible, alternative outlet for asserting their viewpoints regarding social issues that are pertinent to them.

The text message notifications sent out use a diction that is cleverly geared toward a teenage demographic to create a more intimate form of communication. This is actually an essential detail when considering how much the language used in prime-time news programs can potentially complicate the understanding of current events for some.

Active teens get the opportunity to have their thoughts and feelings recognized by an organization that legitimately acknowledges their input and provides a different kind of path to obtaining grants for great social change project ideas. Most importantly, everyone benefits from feeling part of a discussion that can in many ways prove to be larger than themselves.

The blending of philanthropy and teens with their nearly second nature text-messaging ways adds a particularly positive layer, facet, and dimension to some of the more negative stereotypes surrounding teens and cell phones. For one, it destabilizes the notion of teenagers as socially and politically ignorant and thus impotent in terms of insight and action. The second ideology it directly addresses is the stereotype that cellphones cannot be used to further a socially beneficial agenda. Of course, these stereotypes are arguably true to some degree, given a plethora of contingencies, but at least there is now some inkling of a positive and productive attribute to add to the debate.

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