July 28, 2008

New report: How mobile media can serve the public good


JD LasicaIn December I attended an Aspen Institute roundtable on civic engagement and mobile media held in San Francisco with thought leaders in the mobile space such as Jed Alpert, founder of Mobile Commons, and Katrin Verclas, head of MobileActive.org.

I wrote a report about the gathering’s conclusions, and the Aspen Institute just published it as a small book: Civic Engagement on the Move. It’s full of interesting analysis, case studies and recommendations. Alas, I don’t control the copyright and the Aspen Bookstore charges $12 (less for bulk purchased).

Update: I overlooked an inside link: You can download the 95-page report for free as a PDF here, and in chapters here.

From the bookstore description:

Civic Engagement on the Move looks at how leading edge
practitioners are using mobile media to engage citizens to solve
problems, bridge differences and strengthen community. Mobile media
technologies provide new tools for journalists, government and
nonprofit agencies, civic organizers, elected officials, activists and
ordinary citizens to inform, to reach out to others and to galvanize
community action on a wide range of issues. Written by J.D. Lasica, the
report details the hallmarks of successful mobile campaigns around
civic engagement and provides case studies of several successful and
emerging initiatives, including those above that came out of the recent
Aspen Institute Roundtable on Mobile Media and Civic Engagement. Noted
experts in the field add their insights on using mobile media, with a
list of “Mobile Advocacy Dos and Don’ts” by Katrin Verclas of
MobileActive and “A Mobile Media User’s Guide” by Jed Alpert, CEO of
Mobile Commons.

I learned a lot about the state of mobile in support of the public good during this terrific gathering.

Later: Katrin Verclas’s sidebar in the report can be found here:

the Do’s and Don’ts of Mobile Advocacy at MobileActive.org

Mobile Advocacy Do’s and Don’ts at Calder Strategies

Using Mobiles for your Cause: Do’s and Don’ts of mAdvocacy at MobileActive.org.

A Mobile Activism User’s Guide

I asked Jed for permission to republish his 16-page “A Mobile Activism User’s Guide,” and he agreed. So I just uploaded the guide as a downloadable Word doc to Ourmedia. Download the free guide here. Here’s an excerpt from the guide:

Basics of SMS messaging

Text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service), is everywhere.  In some parts of the world, text messaging is far more popular than traditional telephone calls.  Here in the US, text messaging isn’t just for the young anymore; SMS is popular among nearly every demographic, and the average age of a texter is 30+.

And why not?  After all, text messages are concise (up to 160 characters) and timely, and they can reach your supporters wherever they are. (95% of mobile subscribers have their handsets within arm’s reach 24/7.)  Better yet, mobile is a non-SPAM, opt-in-only medium.  And for that reason, text message open and response rates are higher than in any other medium.  In other words, mobile is a great way to reach out and mobilize your supporters – anytime, anywhere.

Getting Started

I’m interested in mobile; what’s my first step?

First, you’ll choose a mobile application provider – a software solution that will let you create and manage your mobile campaigns.  Using that software, you’ll create a text messaging program and encourage your supporters to opt in by either

a) texting a keyword to a short code, or
b) filling out a webform on your webpage.

When a user does so, he will receive an automatic response message welcoming him to your campaign.

Short codes

So what’s a short code?

A short code is just a 5- or 6-digit number that’s used for opt-in text messaging programs.  Mobile application providers will often provide you the use of a shared short code as part of their fee.  This means that you’ll be able to create keywords on that short code and then encourage your users to opt into your program.

Your mobile application provider may have other clients using this short code as well – this is what’s called a “shared” short code.  Don’t worry –
your data is secure, because your mobile programs are distinguished from other groups’ programs by your keywords.

Can I get my own short code?

If your organization wants its own short code for branding purposes or any other reason, you can lease one from the Common Short Code Administration. (Typically, your mobile application provider will do this for you.)  There will be some extra costs involved – the carriers will need to review and approve your program, and you’ll have to pay to lease the code. (It costs $500/month to rent a randomly chosen short code, and $1000/month for a vanity short code.)  It also takes 6-12 weeks to get a short code approved, aggregated, and provisioned across all of the carriers.

I’ve built a list of subscribers – now what?

Now you can do all kinds of things – mobile petitions, geo-targeted event notification, mobile town halls, rapid media response, text-to-call and text-to-screen campaigns, database-backed programs, or anything else you can think of.  Just remember, text messages are most effective when you convey timely, urgent, and/or action-oriented information to your users.

A great example is GOTV; if your work involves turning people out to the polls, then you need to be using mobile.  Recent studies by Princeton and the University of Michigan have shown that users who receive a text message reminder to vote on the day before an election are 4-5% more likely to do so.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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