Mass Text Messaging Systems – Blog #1

For my project we are putting on two land rights workshops, one in each district where phase 2 of the project took place. We invited all 400 participants in our study who have been randomly assigned cell phones. They are all being invited to the workshop via SMS text message. Of those that do not have cell phones, a message that says the message is for our intended recipient will be sent to the number listed as the participant’s best point of contact.  There were about 10 women in each district (20 total) who had no listed phone number.  Unfortunately, with no way to contact them, they were not invited to the workshops. Messages were sent out on three different occasions.  One initial invitation, one reminder invitation, and one reminder about the workshops were sent out.  There was also one call reminder made to each participant, as not all participants are literate.

In order efficiently send out 380 text messages multiple times, we had to wrangle with mass text messaging systems.  We narrowed it down to Frontline SMS and to BulkSMS. The first two messages were sent out with Frontline SMS.  The final reminder (which went only to those who RSVP’d) was sent out using BulkSMS.

Frontline SMS provided the advantage that it allowed the user to personalize and customize their own messages and lists, while using an app on Android phone that allowed the messages to be sent from that number.  This makes it easy for the contacts to text and/or call back.  At first, the system is difficult to figure out.  Connecting the phone to the program made us almost abandon the system, before figuring it out last minute.  In addition, while sending out the test messages, the system proved finicky.  For no reason, messages would get stuck, and would have a ‘pending’ or ‘failed’ status for hours.  Eventually, we settled for sending messages from multiple computers and phones in order to speed the process up.  This process was used for the first two messages sent out.

BulkSMS was less fussy than Frontline SMS, however, respondents would not be directly able to respond with a text and/or a call to the message.  The messages are not connected to a phone number.  When received, the message will be seen as from a listed name.  As we wanted the women in the study to be able to ask us questions about the workshop and RSVP, we decided to not use this system for the first two messages.  The reminder that went to all of those who RSVP’d the messages used this system, as a reply back was not required.