Adding P2P texting to your outreach strategy

For decades, political campaigns have had two primary options for direct voter contact: “making calls” and “knocking doors.” In the past several years, peer-to-peer (P2P) texting has emerged as an important third option. 

This guide will help you plan the major aspects of your P2P texting program: choosing who to text, what your texters will say, when and where your texting will happen, and how to get started with ThruText. Be sure to also check out our ThruText Help Center, where you can find detailed information about how the ThruText platform works.

NOTE - This guide is intended for non-profits, candidates, state and local parties, ballot initiatives, PACs, independent expenditures, and the many other organizations involved in politics and advocacy.

Who will you text?

Determining who you plan to text and how you will “cut” those lists is arguably the most important part of an effective P2P texting program. We encourage you to think about list & data management from day one, and to write clear internal documents to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Texting supporters

Using ThruText to text known supporters consistently generates the highest response and conversion rates. As a result, texting known supporters is more time intensive because there is more data to collect and more “back-and-forth” for texters to manage. Known supporter lists may include people who signed up for action alerts, donated money, or were identified as a supporter through other means–such as a phone call or face-to-face canvass. Known supporter texts include event recruitment, volunteer engagement, fundraising, and GOTV texts, among others.

Cold texting

Cold texting generally involves texting lists of voters pulled from the voter file, similar to when political campaigns make phone calls to increase name recognition and identify supporters. Many campaigns have access to the voter file through their State Democratic Parties. Otherwise you can get a voter file from your Secretary of State or State Board of Elections and obtain updated contact information through third party data vendors.

Cold texting can be an efficient and effective supporter identification tool. But campaigns employing this strategy should be prepared for a higher percentage of wrong numbers and opt out requests compared to texting supporters. Likewise, individual texters can usually manage larger cold texting assignments because there will be fewer substantive responses. If you are asking volunteers to send cold texts, you should let them know that a small number of respondents may send back rude responses, including expletives, pick-up lines, and other inappropriate content.

As long as volunteers are properly prepared, most find this an unwelcome but manageable aspect of their work. Some even find that it strengthens their resolve. The general rule for responding to inappropriate messages is to simply opt out the recipient and move on to the next conversation.

Plan your data strategy

Because each campaign is different, it’s impossible to run through all of the possible approaches for your data strategy. But here’s a list of questions you may find helpful as you plan:

  • Will your scripts be different for people in different geographies?
  • Do you want to prioritize some lists over others, especially for cold texting?
  • Do you plan to remove some lists from certain texting campaigns–for example, not texting super volunteers for basic volunteer asks?
  • Do you have multiple phone numbers for some recipients such that you will need a plan to validate which is their cell phone?
  • How will you incorporate newly identified supporters into your texting outreach as the campaign unfolds?
  • Do you plan to run tests such that you will want to split your lists or hold some people back from some texting campaigns?
  • Do you plan to match specific texters (e.g., field organizers or super volunteers) with specific audiences?

As you plan out your data strategy, be aware that ThruText has a number of features to help you text who you want, when you want.

  • Phone Number Validation. ThruText will automatically validate phone numbers to remove non-textable phones -- be they land- lines, fax numbers, or disconnected cell phone numbers. Read more about Phone Number Validation here.
  • Advanced Targeting Tools. ThruText has extensive advanced targeting tools, including the ability to add and remove multiple target groups together and also target based on data collected or presence in past campaigns. Read more about Advanced Targeting here.
  • VAN Integration. ThruText has a comprehensive integration with VAN (aka VoteBuilder, AmericaVotes, StateVoices, etc.) that enables you to import contacts from VAN directly into ThruText. Read more about the VAN integration here.

What will your texters say?

It can be intimidating to draft a message that’s going to be sent out to thousands of people. Here’s some tips and best practices to get you started:

  • Start a conversation. Unlike broadcast email or mass texting, ThruText creates a two-way channel of communication. So consider ending your message with a clear and simple question to encourage a back-and-forth, e.g., “....we are having a big event on Saturday, can you make it?”
  • Introduce yourself. The best way to start a conversation is to introduce yourself, making it clear that the message is just for them: Hi %FirstName%, this is %SenderFirstName% from Bartlet for President.
  • Don't be too formal. Text messages are mostly used for communicating with friends and family, so are more likely to have a casual tone. Keep your messages easygoing and conversational to match the medium.
  • Keep it brief. Please remember: texting is not email! You should avoid excessively long texts, especially for the initial message. Also, text messages are sent in 160 character segments anything above 160 characters will split into two messages for some carriers. You can read more about text message segments in this support article.
  • Avoid "textese." Since the rise of smartphones, people rarely use “textese” like “i will txt u l8r,” so avoid unnecessary abbreviations, capitalize the first word of your sentences, and include standard punctuation.
  • Use short and clickable links. When adding links to your messages, make sure your links begin with http:// so that all phones will interpret them as clickable links. And check your message length (considering variable contact/sender name length) to ensure that no URLs get cut in half between 160 character message segments. Also, please note: we discourage using links in your initial messages, because it will decrease your deliverability. Never use or TinyURL.
  • Emojis. Emojis are a fun way to connect with recipients, but you may notice they aren’t available when drafting an initial message in ThruText. That’s because emojis make it more likely your message will split into 2 segments. You are always welcome to copy and paste an emoji into an initial message if you want.
When sending GOTV texts, you can skip the conversational approach, as several studies have shown that increasing the number of responses does not have an impact on voter turnout. Including polling place information, however, has been shown to increase turnout.

Using recommended replies

Recommended replies are scripts that your senders can use as they engage in conversation. A few things to remember about recommended replies:

  • Titles Matter. ThruText shows texters the titles of their recommended replies, making it easier for them to quickly scan them. So using titles like “Yes - will attend” or “No - will not attend,” which will help texters select the correct reply.
  • No Limits. There is no limit to the number of recommended replies you can create, and you can always add recommended replies after a campaign has launched. But too many recommended replies may make it hard for senders to find the right one. When creating new recommended replies, ask yourself if editing an existing reply would suffice. And if your script and replies are complicated, consider making a flowchart for your texters to explain how to respond to various situations, e.g. a wrong number who is also a campaign supporter.
  • Global Opt-Out Message. We strongly recommend that you create a personalized global opt-out message so your senders can easily acknowledge a recipient’s request if they choose to be opted out.
  • Saved Replies. Your senders can create their own saved replies, which can help your message senders add a personal touch to their conversations. For example, if someone asks “How do I know you are a real person?” your message sender can create a saved reply that says: “Haha, I promise I’m real. I am a science teacher over at Manchester High School, and I’m supporting Bartlet for Governor because of his progressive education policy.”

Adding survey questions

ThruText’s survey questions allow senders to track data based on what recipients say. Survey questions give you easy snapshots into campaign success, and can help you to target follow up messages (more on follow-up messages below).

  • Example Survey Question.  If you are recruiting supporters to come to an event, you might want to add a multiple choice survey question titled “Can they attend?” with Yes, No, and Maybe options. Your texters can then record the responses indicating whether people say they can attend. Collecting this data can help you target confirmation messages or make confirmation calls after responses have been recorded.
  • Global Survey Questions. If you plan to apply the same survey question to many campaigns, consider making a global survey question, which will make it easier to compare data across campaigns.
  • VAN Integration. If you’re using the VAN integration, you can import survey questions, activist codes, and events right from VAN -- when your texters record the data, it’ll automatically sync back to VAN in real-time!
Add a global ‘freeform’ survey question to all of your campaigns for Notes/Updated Contact information. This can help your senders capture valuable information they want to pull out of their exchanges.

Following up with your recipients

Follow up messages let you initiate an additional message to some or all of the people in a campaign. If you were recruiting for an event, you can send a reminder text with the event details to anyone who responded “Yes” or “Maybe” -- but only if you recorded their intent with a survey question the first time around! We recommend sending reminder texts beginning around three days before the event occurs. Studies have shown that sending reminder texts to volunteers significantly increases their rates of attendance.

You can also filter the targeting for your follow up messages to send a nudge to anyone who didn’t reply to the initial text, which can provide a big boost in your overall engagement. You can learn more about how follow-ups work here.

Many ThruText users, especially larger organizations, end up running the same basic ThruText campaign multiple times. ThruText’s cloning function makes this easy. Just change the target group and timing for the campaign, and the initial message, recommended replies, and other campaign settings will be transferred over to the new campaign.

When will you text?

We don’t yet have significant data yet on the best texting times, but here are some things to think about:

  • Day Time Texting. If you have an ongoing campaign or message senders who are available during the day, it is totally appropriate to text during the day, since most people have their phones with them all day long.
  • Evening Texting. Many of our clients have had success with evening campaigns that target recipients when they are at home.
  • Be Mindful Of Time Zones. Set up your ThruText campaigns and upload your groups based on time zones/geographic location of recipients so you can be sure to target your recipients at the appropriate time of day where they are living. If you’re texting a list of people living in different parts of the country, make sure that you don’t run the risk of texting East Coasters too late, or West Coasters too early.
  • Avoid Rush Hour. When planning your campaigns, try to send messages outside of rush hour as this can be a time of high distraction for your recipients.
  • Honor Non-Texting Hours. We highly recommend that you do not text before 9am or after 9pm so that your recipients do not receive messages too early or too late.

Where will your texting happen

ThruText’s web-based interface gives your campaign the ability to host in-person textbanks or allow your senders to complete assignments at home or anywhere else. Here are some tips for giving your texters the best possible experience regardless of where they are texting from.

In-person text banks

Textbanking at your office is great for building your team’s morale and makes for easier training and support for your senders.

  • It’s a good idea to ask people to sign up for ThruText before they arrive. This will help them make the most of their time in the office.
  • The ideal ThruText textbank will have tables and chairs so your senders can sit comfortably and with their laptops accessible. Since your senders won’t be actively speaking with contacts, you can create a more relaxed atmosphere than a traditional phonebank, with music playing in the background and refreshments.
  • Training your senders to use ThruText is easy. Before they arrive, you can have them watch our short video on how to use ThruText. When they arrive, you can explain the aims of the textbank, point out the survey questions they’ll need to record and provide any other campaign specific details.
  • There are a number of ways to keep up morale during a textbank. Many campaigns use encouragement like giving props to the first sender to send out a full assignment, most messages sent, etc. Because your senders will not be actively speaking to their contacts, you can address difficult questions as a group and help your senders feel more supported.

Distributed textbanks

Distributed textbanks allow you to engage volunteers who don’t live near a field office, including allies from outside your district or state. To get your volunteers started, you’ll need to either invite your volunteers using their personal email addresses, or distribute a permanent invitation link that your volunteers can click to create an account and join your campaign. Here are some other tips:

  • You can train remote senders on the tool by distributing our short training video to virtual volunteers. This is also an opportunity to give your texters other campaign specific information like talking points, information about the district/campaign, etc.
  • You should keep in touch with your existing senders and welcome new ones using some chat software like Slack. Some campaigns even use Slack to let volunteers request new assignments, which gives organizers control over the pace of outgoing texts.
  • When working with remote senders, consider appointing someone on your team with ThruText admin privileges as a point of contact for remote senders to help them troubleshoot, understand the ThruText tool, and any other campaign specific-details you need them to know.
  • We also recommend turning on self-assignment if using remote senders as this will allow them to send more messages without having to contact you for a new assignment.
Whether your texters are in office or distributed, you’ll want to make sure that they are well-trained before they start texting. In addition to watching our training video and reviewing other campaign materials, many campaigns require texters to take a short quiz or receive an onboarding call from an organizer or more seasoned volunteer before they start.

Why ThruText?

If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already thought about why ThruText is a good fit for your calling needs. But you also may find yourself needing to explain that choice to other colleagues on your team. Here’s a few tips:

  • More than 55% of Americans only have a cell phone. That percentage is even higher among people of color and young voters. ThruText lets you quickly and legally reach large numbers of people on their cellphones.
  • More messages sent, more messages read. Since +90% of text messages are opened, ThruText gives your campaign the ability to scale your voter contact program to thousands of voters while ensuring that your message is read.
  • Contact targets away from home. A pain point with traditional canvassing methods like door knocks and phone banks is that they often depend on the target being at home. ThruText lets you reach targets via SMS, allowing you to carry conversations with them wherever they are, and letting them respond at their own pace.

How to get started with ThruText

Now that you’ve thought about the basics of your P2P texting program, here’s some guidance for how you can get started actually texting with ThruText:

  1. Dive-in to ThruText
    • Schedule a training on how to run an SMS campaign with ThruText.
    • Accept your invite to join your account!
    • Familiarize yourself with sending messages with this video.
    • Begin inviting your colleagues to join your campaign.
  2. Organize Your First Text Bank
  3. Manage Your Data

We hope this guide helps you hit the ground running with ThruText. And don’t forget, our support team is always available to help answer any question, no matter how big or small. Just drop us a line at