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5 Successful Uses of Text Messaging (SMS) by Government

We are excited by the possibilities of the government using text (SMS) to communicate with its residents. There are lots of success stories to pull from, where government departments have used text (or SMS) to alert citizens, keep people informed, or remind folks of meetings. Ponder some of the success stories below:

1. Adding Choice for Food Stamp Recipients

SnapFresh is a text-message and mobile web app that helps people find places nearby that accept food stamps, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. The app is available in Spanish, Chinese, and English, both via SMS and a simple web app. Most SNAP recipients have money in their accounts, but many are embarrassed to go to farmers markets and nice stores and ask if they accept SNAP. The app allows a user to send in their address, zip code and/or cross streets and a reply is sent to the user with a short list of the five closest stores that accept SNAP food assistance cards.

2. SMS for Volunteers

Barack Obama used a vanity short code, 62262 (or, Obama in letters) to rally supporters and voters and put him in the White House.  He chose to announce the nomination of his vice president pick through a text that went out to 2.9M opted-in SMS subscribers; he called people to rallies where he was to appear; he urged people to donate and vote using texts. Once elected, Obama encouraged supporters to volunteer for service projects across the nation.

Here’s what one message sent Jan. 15, 2009:

“Help President-elect Obama renew America w/ service projects around theInauguration. Txt SERVE to 56333 for info. For Inauguration updates txt HISTORY to 56333.”

To those responding to the message, here’s what was returned:

“Welcome to updates about the President-elect’s commitment to service Txt HELP for help & STOP to quit. Standard rates apply.”


Of the 4.7 million NY-Alert subscribers, 2.3 million (49%!)  have provided their mobile numbers to receive text messages. The mobile alert notification system is a free, subscription-based offering that lets consumers register multiple devices from which they want to receive alerts. Subscribers receive emergency information such as major road closures, severe weather events and protective actions recommended by state, local governments and universities, all through their mobile device.

When someone texts in to the agency’s short code, she is sent a text message with a URL to the NY-Alert Web site where New Yorkers can subscribe for notifications by providing their email address, mobile phone number and fax number.

The agency claims to be increasing its SMS subscriber base by 10,000 users per month. It sends out an average of 110,000 text messages per day, the bulk of which are transportation and severe weather alerts.

4. Jackpot--Maryland uses SMS for Revenue Raising

Lottery players are highly loyal and have an ongoing need for information such as keeping abreast of winning numbers, jackpot sizes, new games and retailer locations. Moreover, many players don’t have access to a computer.

The Maryland Lottery turned to mobile marketing to drive more ticket sales from consumers within the state and outside as well.The opt-in messaging program includes announcements on jackpots, promotions and new games. 

Thousands of active users on the SMS service text the keyword PLAY to the 635688 keyword (it spells MDLOTT) to receive up to seven messages per month on hot lottery topics and promotions, as well as jackpot announcements and winning numbers.

5. Orange County--SMS to reduce costs.

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) launched a text-messaging program to reduce call-center volume and costs. The public transportation agency’s addition of text messaging lets passengers send a bus stop number and route number to the short code OCTAGO to receive arrival times of the next three buses for that stop. The SMS program is expected to reduce the nearly 2,000 bus status and route inquiries received daily, reducing total call-center volume by as much as 25 percent.

OCTA’s “Text for Next” program not only provides an easy and convenient option for people to access bus schedules, it also helps mitigate the ever-rising cost of the agency’s call center.

According to a recent customer survey, 75 percent of OCTA’s bus customers have mobile phones and 64 percent use text-messaging capabilities.

As you see from the above case studies, text messaging is a vital tool for government to get the word out to the people they serve. Any thoughts on how you could use it in your area?