Using SMS to S.O.S


Promise. Tool. Bargain.

These together, in this order, can lead to a successful SMS campaign to improve health. Since 87% of the global population is a mobile phone user, and there are 4.5 billion users in the developing world, an SMS campaign about various health topics or even alerting them of health news, updates or warnings could be extremely effective and widespread. How this tool is implemented is important. As Clay Shirky writes in “Here Comes Everybody,” a plausible promise, effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users is key to success in using these social tools.

1.) Plausible Promise

This is the reason why someone would want to join a SMS group to improve health. This could be many different reasons depending on the location. Does this person have access to health care? What are their main concerns with their own health? In a rural area, the individual may have very basic concerns such as not being able to The promise has to be tailored to the location. The National Cancer Institute now uses an SMS campaign to send advice and encouragement to help young people stop smoking.

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2.) Effective Tool

As stated, 87% of the global population is a mobile phone user. This communication tool is widely spread throughout the world, and should be utilized in information dissemination. According to the PEW research center, 83% of American adults own cell phones and three-quarters of them send and receive text messages. The most avid texting group in the country are the 18-24 year olds, who exchange an average 109.5 message on an average day. Techipedia states that of all the SMS messages sent on a daily basis, 98% are opened, with 83% opened within 3 minutes. This is an amazing way to get out information quickly that will mostly likely be seen. The National Cancer Institute’s SMS campaign targeting young adults fits in just right with the population using the text message medium most frequently.

3.) Acceptable Bargain

Bargaining in the cases of SMS campaigns is simple: you agree to receive and pay for the SMS messages. When it comes to health, this is an easy bargain to accept. This makes SMS health campaigns an easy, simple and fairly painless way to send information, resources and support to those that need it, and may not have received it any other way.

Exploring SMS health campaigns, I especially liked the SmokeFreeTXT since it is tailored to the individual by putting in information when signing up such as smoking status and frequency, goal date to be smoke free, and if you can access the internet on your phone to know if they can send additional online resources via SMS. This tailoring of SMS could be a very useful tool to utilize in the public health world.

Using a plausible promise, effective tools and an acceptable bargain, SMS campaigns could potentially be used to S.O.S. and really put the public in public health.


One thought on “Using SMS to S.O.S

  1. Nice way of tying your 3 points together from when you first introduce them in the beginning of the post. Both you and Chafeek cite the SmokeFreeTxt example, which really supports your argument. It is crazy to me to think that for 18-24 year olds, an average of 109.5 messages are sent per day. Good example though of the high percentage of texts that are opened. This further supports your claim that public health info text messages are great ways to disseminate SOS alerts. When I was at USC, the school would send out warning SMS text messages whenever there was a violent crime on or near campus. This was particularly helpful and widely read, as many students would be discussing the text messages during the following days.
    Perhaps you could make the pictures slightly bigger. I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts on how to make these text messages free for demographics that cannot afford to receive and pay for such information (i.e. the acceptable bargain). Great post though.

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