Text Me!

Every month, the SouthEast Valley Regional Association of REALTORS® in Mesa, Ariz., sends one or two text messages to 9,377 phone-toting members who opted into the program, from a total membership of about 12,000. Most messages concern upcoming dues deadlines, membership meeting reminders, urgent news (such as if a major system is down), or significant association events.

Wyndi Austin, director of marketing communications, says the association decided to use texting after she noticed members using more mobile devices to view its website. Using the Ez Texting messaging platform, the organization purchased a package that includes a specific number of monthly “credits”; each text sent uses two credits.

For the last three years, the association has sent just one or two texts per month. This optimal level was determined based on member input that said “most of them like receiving messages from us,” says Austin, “as long as we don’t abuse it or overdo it.” Before launching the program, Austin consulted with the National Association of REALTORS® to ensure that the program didn’t violate the CAN-SPAM Act, which sets the rules for commercial e-mail, establishes requirements for commercial messages, and gives recipients the right to opt out of receiving messages.

Calling the effort “wildly successful,” Austin sees texting as an immediate way to reach members without calling or waiting for e-mails to be opened. From the association perspective, she says, sending a text and including a link to sign up for a class or attend an event is easy. “Personally, I’d love it if we could increase the frequency to three a month, but our members are already being bombarded by messaging,” says Austin, “so we’re staying true to our promise.”

More Texts, Please

As REALTORS® use texting more often in their personal lives, they’re more likely to accept it from their association. More associations are turning to texting as a result. The benefits are clear: Open rates for text messaging are about 98 percent versus 15 to 22 percent for e-mail, according to Mobile Marketing Watch. According to CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, it takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an e-mail, but only 90 seconds to respond to a text message.

MetroTex Association of REALTORS® in Dallas has been using text messaging for about two years with good results, says Bill Head, director of communications. By texting a short code to a specific number, members opt into the Ez Texting support platform, which the association uses mainly to communicate MLS-related news and association alerts, such as system updates or downtimes. “If we’re going to take the time to text, it has to be important and related to the MLS, not just random stuff,” says Head. The communication method—which was rolled out after a member survey was “quite one-sided toward texting”—is underused, he says. “I’d like to see it used for advocacy as well.”

Texting is not just limited to large metro areas. Vicki Heebner at the 520-member Ocean City Board of REALTORS®, N.J., says her latest association survey showed, for the first time, that texting was the number one way members would like to receive communications from the board, outranking the previous list-topper, e-mail messages.

“Our tech committee researched and tested some of the many texting vendors out there in the market,” says Heebner. “The key features that we identified were the ease of use of the system (we are a small board with a small staff) and the ability to conduct polls. We’ll be testing a vendor for the next six months to see how our membership responds.”

Danielle Boutin, director of emerging technologies and communications at the REALTORS® Association of the Palm Beaches, Fla., says the group’s 3-year-old text effort is also going well. With about 14,000 members, the association uses Dotsignal—which partially integrates with its contact management system, RAMCO—to send out dues notices, compliance-related announcements, and event information. “It’s been most successful though when sending a dues notification,” she says. “A link is right there in the text for them to access a mobile site and pay. We think it contributed to our very high early renewal rate this year.”

Boutin is careful to send text messages only once or twice a month, but says she would like to see the system used for education reminders and other functions. To make this happen, she says, the association will need to provide an opt-in for members (using short codes such as “reply ‘EDU’ to receive education updates”). “We know our members are inundated with e-mail,” says Boutin, “and texting is just one more way we’ve been able to adapt to their needs.”

However, when associations ask members via survey if they want association texts, the answer is often no. “We are not using text messages,” says Mary Prenon, director of communications at the Hudson Gateway Association of REALTORS® in New York. “We did a survey and members overwhelmingly rejected the idea.”

At the Maryland Association of REALTORS®, “only 8 percent of our membership said they would be OK with text messaging,” says Melissa Lutz, communications and public affairs director. Lutz says she was surprised by the data, considering the popularity of texting among REALTORS® in general.

“We didn’t survey our members,” says Boutin, “but the opt-out rate is very low and it seems to have been well received. I imagine if asked, most members would say no to texting, assuming they would get bombarded with a ton of texts from the board, but we have shown we use it only when needed.”

Just Getting Started

This is the year that the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® will begin text messaging—an effort driven in part by members of its Young Professionals Network. “It’s something our members said they’d like used for urgent messages that need their immediate attention, including calls for action and legislative advocacy,” says Steve Reese, vice president of marketing for the Oklahoma City–based association, “not just for general messaging that they’d typically get from us via e-mail.”

Reese says the system will be set up using mobile app provider BFAC and will provide local associations in Oklahoma with opt-in codes that members can use to receive app-based text messages from their respective organizations. “The local associations are very member-centric, whereas we deal more with committees and leadership from the state perspective,” says Reese. “For that reason, we felt the messaging needed to come from a local level.”

Once they’ve opted in, members will also receive two to three text messages per month from OAR. Reese expects the communication mode to go over well with members. “We plan to use it very judiciously,” says Reese, “and only for very important, timely messages. Once they see that we’re not spamming or overwhelming them, we think we’ll see pretty good reception to this program.”

Which texting service is right for your association?

There’s no easy answer to this question, but the good news is that your options are growing almost daily. Texting is a huge business and options range from full-featured plans that enable voice and video texts to lower-cost, bare-bones plans. Most providers’ websites don’t list prices clearly, so have an idea of what you need before you call. Here are some features to consider—just watch out for those monthly fees, hidden costs, or setup charges.

  • Two-way texting so members can respond to your association via text. Some plans actually only allow you to send, not receive. Ask about the price for incoming messages.
  • Voice texts (record your own message and send it).
  • Social media integration (send a text and have it post on Facebook and Twitter automatically).
  • A user-friendly interface for managing contact lists and campaigns, which also generates reports for messages sent and responded to.
  • Preconfigured texting campaigns, such as text-to-vote that integrates with a spreadsheet-type tally system.
  • Integration with your member management system so you can customize messages to members based on their profile or target messages to members who haven’t paid their dues, for example.
  • Privacy and security should include safeguards against hackers and assurances that the vendor can’t use or sell your member contact list.
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