My exploration into short messaging campaigns was quite fruitful this week. I had a fairly limited experience with short messaging campaigns before, however I am not surprised that they are very successful for public health campaigns – phones are relatively cheap and ubiquitous in most communities around the world (even third world), they disseminate information immediately and in short and succinct language that is easily processed. I thought I would review a great campaign I came across as well as a less than effective use of short messaging.
“Parent’s love me” vs Wireless Emergency Alerts…
In my exploration I discovered a Tanzanian text messaging campaign for healthy mothers and babies. The campaign is called Wazazi Nipendeni (“parent’s love me”) and aims to reduce the infant and maternal mortality by three quarters from 2008 to 2015. Participants register by texting a listing code and indicate how many months pregnant they are. They then go on to receive free text information that is really relevant to them; information about health care partners, education on prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission and malaria, antenatal care, signs to look out/warning signs and post-partum care. The campaign has become incredibly popular, with more than 7000 new registrants each week, and over 125,000 active users by 2013.
I became exposed to Wireless Emergency Alerts (WAE) announcements while living in SF, California.They are alerts delivered to your phone to aid public safety and awareness, and are produced by federal government agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So this sounds great yes?! Receiving emergency related information direct to your phone!? However this was a function that is automatically enabled in many phone carriers and appeared to be state specific, and hence didn’t require my registration (or even my knowledge that this was a function). So in theory – yes! I think this has great potential and importance. However as it was, it became an intrusive and irritating feature. It appeared to be state wide (California is a BIG state) and I would receive not a message, but a loud sounding alarm every time a child was abducted in Los Angeles, which was routinely at 2am. It became so intrusive and for the most part irrelevant, that I went through my phone and worked out how to disable this function.
In summary to make a great and effective mobile device, short messaging campaign it needs to be relevant and helpful. Ensuring your campaign is location specific is a key factor to be relevant and have impact. It is also probably more effective in text message format, as this is a more engaging and less provocative mode.