Publication Date
Publication Date: 
January 1, 2012

This 7-page guide shares experiences of Text to Change and FrontlineSMS in using SMS as behaviour change campaigning tool. This resource is intended as an introductory guide, suggesting some key points which can be considered when planning to use SMS as a campaign tool. According to Text To Change, behaviour change campaigning is inherently interactive. In order to encourage positive behaviour change it is important to not only push campaign messages out to people, but to listen to the responses, and SMS is an ideal tool.
The publication explains that getting SMS campaigns right is not simple. The right content, delivered at the right time in the right context, is critical. Adding the right kind of interaction to campaigns can make them more engaging, and increase their power in encouraging positive change. Positive behaviour change campaigns should also ideally be measurable - this is never easy, but when recipients are difficult to access physically, as is often the case with SMS campaigns, this becomes more challenging.

The case study examples within this resource demonstrate how text messages can help encourage people to change behaviours and attitudes towards issues as diverse as HIV/AIDS to reproductive rights. The examples come from Uganda and India which are completely diverse geographic regions, but in both locations SMS behaviour change campaigning proved to be a success. Based on these experiences, the guide outlines the following as key points to think about when planning an SMS for behavioural change campaigns:

Context is king

The guide outlines how it is important to research the mobile market and infrastructure in the context in which the campaign will take place. Many local factors relating to the way networks price their services and the way that people use them, as well as availability of handsets and mobile signal, have an impact on whether SMS is the most effective communications channel for a campaign. This includes finding out which communication patterns people use and trust, and spending time learning how people use mobile in the region, and whether they are accustomed to using SMS. On the other hand, the guide advises to not ignore cultural norms and their impact on communications patterns, or presume that everyone will be able to use SMS.

Effective content is central to a good campaign

For campaigns to be effective, it is important to use the language and dialect of the people the campaign is trying to reach. Test the software and content before launching the campaign, engage people with interactive questions and incentives, and engage local partners when producing content. On the other hand, it is advised to not send messages too often or without permission from the recipient, or write long messages. Think carefully about how to get the message across in 160 characters, which is an enormous challenge and should not be underestimated.

Creating sustainable behaviour change campaigns

The guide advises to allocate sufficient human resources to manage the SMS campaign, usually 15 minutes, several times a day, can manage most campaigns with up to a few thousand participants. As well, consider the costs involved in running an SMS campaign. Interactions will need to represent real value to users in order to engage their interest and lead them to spend money interacting with the service. As well, it is necessary to do a careful needs and communications assessments of the intended community.

Effective impact measurement

To measure impact, campaigns should identify measurable indicators of success at the outset, as milestones to gauge progress and effectiveness. This includes collecting baseline data on those indicators to measure the change your campaign creates over time. It is also advised not to miss the opportunity to collect feedback via SMS. Interactive SMS campaigns can allow engagement with populations in interactive dialogue, and provide opportunities to improve the service and learn from mistakes.


Text to Change website on February 20 2012.