It’s been several years since REALTOR® associations started experimenting with text message programs, and, by most accounts, it has been working well. Important safety and MLS outage alerts reach members faster than email and quick event reminders keep attendance up. Dues payment text notices linking to online payment methods have reduced late payments, and texts to associations from members are surpassing phone calls in some cases. So, what’s holding you back — cost, time, or where to start?
Starting (or growing) a program
Selecting a texting platform is the most time-consuming part of establishing a texting program, AEs say. REALTOR® associations use TextBox, Text Request, Skipio, Textedly, and many others, all varying widely in price and features.
To know which service is right for you, first detail a plan for what you intend to text to members, how often you want to text, and which members should receive your texts.
What to text
“We launched our member texting program with a provider called Textedly,” says Candy Joyce, RCE, CAE, EVP at the Middle Tennessee Association of REALTORS®. “It has definitely been worth the cost and effort because it has increased participation and early preparation for programs and meetings. It helps us all to be more professional and safe, and it saves money.” The safety aspect of texting programs comes into play when they’re used to send alerts and reminders to members. “I used it once as a safety notice when we had an incident with a member and a showing.”
Joyce estimates that she sends about 14 texts a month to her board of directors, five texts a month to each of her 15 committees, and one full-membership text, which is mostly a reminder to attend events, such as RSVPs to the annual leadership installation and luncheons, dues deadlines, and lockbox renewal deadlines. “The morning of the meeting they should be attending, we send the reminder text to get back in their schedule and top of mind,” she says. As a result, committee participation has increased. “We try to be selective with the full-membership texts to avoid members blocking us or ignoring texts.”
Maria Brogan, RCE, CEO of the Northeast Association of REALTORS®, Mass., is also conscious not to excessively text members and “abuse their opt-in,” she says. “We send deadline reminders for things like dues, COE training, awards, and event reminders only to those registered. We also send safety alerts, calls for action, and office or class closures due to weather.”
Lauri Rottmayer, AE at the North Central Board of REALTORS®, Ark., says her members love the association’s texting program. “I used a text message to announce a CE class that was free for the first hundred members [who responded], and it was like we were giving away free cars,” she says. “The class filled in under an hour.”
Members like text communication from the Knoxville Area Association of REALTORS®, Caitland Orlicz found through her recent member survey. As communications director of the 4,500-member association, Orlicz uses the service Mozeo to communicate MLS and phone outages and unexpected office closings, and she is considering texting for election notices and dues deadlines.
The largest texting program among REALTOR® associations is the National Association’s REALTOR Party® Mobile Alerts with more than 200,000 subscribers nationwide. When a national or state legislative call for action is launched, subscribers get a short text message, containing information to take action.
On the local level, associations use their own texting platforms for advocacy. “We text our members to remind them to register to vote and to encourage their clients and customers to vote,” says Lisa Yelichek, RCE, AE at the Stark County Association of REALTORS®, Ohio. “We have lists of our members by their school districts and encourage them on levies in their specific areas that the association supports.”
“We send [text] deadline reminders for things like dues, COE training, awards, and event reminders only to those registered. We also send safety alerts, calls for action, and office or class closures due to weather.” — Maria Brogan, RCE, CEO of the Northeast Association of REALTORS®, Mass.
Whom to text
The ability to segment groups within your membership, such as committee members, those registered for an event, or those who have not yet paid dues, is an essential feature of a texting program. Some services offer only the ability to message an entire list, not groups within a list.
Jim Schiefelbein, marketing and communications director at the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS®, Ill., uses the service Text Request, which enables him to target not only specific populations within his membership list but also members in certain geographic areas.
“Our texting solution has become an absolutely essential tool for member communications in this new era of physical distancing,” says Schiefelbein. “Texting is one of the things that has helped keep NSBAR up, running, and available as always, to service our members.”
Another feature of texting programs that associations value is the ability to integrate with association management software so membership lists don’t have to be updated manually in the texting software. Some texting services, such as TextBetter, integrate with Outlook. Navica Association Management System has a built-in texting feature.
One important point to keep in mind is that texting without members’ specific consent beforehand is not only rude but illegal. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires your association to secure prior express consent before sending informational text messages to members, and prior express written consent before sending marketing text messages to members. Both forms of consent can can easily be incorporated into your membership applications. Remember, your text message platform must also allow your members to opt of receiving future text messages.
“We’ve changed our membership application language to include consent for text messaging,” says Orlicz. “We did initially try to get them to opt in, but it was an incredibly low percentage.”
Brogan also includes consent language on her association’s membership application and adds it to event registrations. She promotes the text option in email newsletters, via social media, and at live events where members can text an opt-in code to the association’s number. “We currently have about 50% of our membership opted in, which is about 900 members,” she says.
Managing inbound texts from members
The Text Request app serves as a member helpline at the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS®. The number is the same as the association’s main telephone number. The advantage to this setup is that no opt-in is required because the member initiates the contact. When a text message is received, the phone number can be matched to the member in the association’s database, allowing a staffer to see more background information about the person asking a question. “It was a rocking hit from day one,” says Schiefelbein. “More members are finding it organically and loving it. It will ultimately pass phone calls for answering their questions.”
Schiefelbein’s solution also comes with a text feature on the association website where members can initiate a text conversation with staff by entering their name, phone number, member ID number, and questions. Staff can then text back the answer.
Chat apps for instant response
Similar to texting, chat apps on association websites enable members to ask quick questions without having to email or call. Christy Broccardo-Grove, digital media manager at Illinois REALTORS®, says the MyLiveChat app is especially helpful around renewal time to answer quick questions about CE credits. “We have also used it during times of change, such as when we needed to have our members create a new login for our website. It greatly reduced the extra phone calls that we had been experiencing during this period.”
The Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS® in Arizona receives only three or four chats a week though its Tidio chat app, with more during dues season; the app has not cut down on the number of phone calls. “In all, though, we do like the way the chat works, and so do the members,” says Sylvia Rodriguez, the association’s membership coordinator. “They have the ability to rate the chat line service, and the rate is pretty high.”
Anything that boosts members’ interaction with the association and makes it easier for them to receive information and communicate with their association is worth the effort, association executives agree.