Texting the General Election: The Subtext Playbook

As news organizations gear up for the upcoming election cycle, they will undoubtedly confront a host of formidable challenges. One of the most pressing issues is the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, which can sow confusion and undermine the integrity of the electoral process. In an era of social media echo chambers and deepfake technology, verifying the accuracy of information has become increasingly challenging. Additionally, the sheer volume of information available can overwhelm both newsrooms and audiences, making it difficult to sift through the noise and find credible sources.

Whether you’re planning on combating misinformation, wanting to be first with the latest election updates, or looking to send out a clear analysis about what’s happening, integrating SMS communication into an election plan can be the key to successful coverage.

Why SMS?

With the noise surrounding email and social media, SMS offers a direct and immediate connection to audiences. You can produce more audience-focused election coverage by hearing directly from your community via text and creating content they let you know they want and need. Information equity will play a crucial part in the upcoming election. According to census data, 23% of US households do not have direct broadband access but 97% percent utilize SMS for various communication purposes. With an overall open rate of 98% and 96% open rate within the first three minutes, SMS is an ideal way to disseminate information in a way that everyone has access to.

On to the strategies. If you’re focused on next year’s general election, let’s go.

Distribute Election Information

Text your subscribers the basics of who and what is on the ballot. By creating a direct line of communication with your audience, it’s easy to decimate the most important information around the general election. Subtext’s features make it easy to scale your distribution efforts. For example, drip sequences make it easy to set up a stream of texts that go to all subscribers once they sign up. You can build a sequence of texts introducing candidates, initiatives, registration information, and other information people might need to know before they head to the ballot box so your audience is getting the information right out of the gate.

If a voter guide, or something akin to it, is already on your radar, then the heavy lifting that goes into these texts (the reporting) will already be on your list of things to do. Sending them out via text takes moments and ensures that the most interested members of your audience will not only be the first to see your guide but also take part in creating it with their questions.  Don’t go through the trouble of creating a voter guide without taking this important step to make sure its distribution is a success and its info is on point.

After you’ve done an amazing job covering the election via text, the audience now considers you a friend. You’re saved as a contact on their phone. You’re part of their daily routine. Every time the phone buzzes and it’s you, they’re accustomed to becoming a little smarter, a little more aware, and more engaged. You’ve officially Pavlov’s dogged them. And they want more.

Voice of Sandiego-2

When the election is over, you’ll be able to ask for support or subscribers. This won’t be a faceless and boring email to join/subscribe to. This will be a text — from their friend. No amount of engagement on FB or Twitter can earn that kind of relationship.

Breaking News/Pop-Up Election Coverage

This is your bread-and-butter election coverage. There are local, state, and federal elections to watch. You probably already have a plan on how to cover what’s in your purview. But here's the rub, election coverage that doesn't reach the audience is a waste of resources.

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Luckily, SMS has an open rate of 98% and an engagement rate of 20%, while the leading social media platform has an engagement rate of 4.25%. Text is the best way to make sure your coverage is seen. If all you do is distribute the information on social, algorithms and short attention spans will get in the way.

While email newsletters are one step up above social, the average person has 198 unread email messages. Do you really want to send them their 199th?

Finally - text as a medium allows you to weave beautifully between breaking news and bringing people into a larger narrative or beat. Texas Tribune

Audience Growth

During the election cycle, you can harness the power of Subtext to strategically expand your audience. Maybe you want to go hard into the election but don't want to alienate your existing audience. Create a text channel! This will allow you to do in-depth, engaging, and breaking news for all things politics without pestering folks who come to you for Arts & Entertainment, Sports, or other less polarizing topics.

With features like audience segmentation, your subscribers can opt-in to election coverage. Creating an audience segment is a perfect way to test the waters with new content while still giving your audience some sense of control. You’ll learn more about what your audience wants to hear without interrupting your regular texts.CBC Lethbridge

Inside Local Government

If you’re a local beat reporter, you likely know and understand more about what's happening in politics than most. You have analysis and people want to feel like they're on the inside with you.

In Florida, it's Peter Schorsch who runs “Florida Politics" which focuses solely on the state of Florida. “We know we’re not trying to go beyond Florida and we focus on the 50k people involved in Florida politics and maybe 200k that are curious. So when you start with that framework, we leverage it in different places where we've already found that audience.”Florida Politics

Joe Eskenazi in San Francisco has a similar campaign. Both of these are "overheard in city hall" type texting channels. For the political wonks and insiders who can't get enough - these campaigns have become must-read sources. Even better, they're both stand-alone subscription campaigns earning revenue for their creators and putting them in touch with sources and insider info.

The National View

Similar to the last use case, but on a national level. Some people just want to hear federal-level information and that’s it. Australia News Corp's lead political editor, Samantha Maiden texted throughout the country's Federal Election which took place in 2022.undefined

During the 2022 midterms, The Hill Editor was keeping his audience up to date on what was happening on the national scene from reports about Biden’s stops to senate campaigns or strategies from either side of the aisle.Inside Chat with The Hill

The Reporter’s Rolodex

While we’ve talked a lot about distribution, there’s also the listening angle. If you’re working on a story and want as much input from your trusted sources as possible, a texting channel is a simple way to reach all your sources easily.

In Pennsylvania, a story came to life for WITF when a tip came in via their texting channel. The premise of their campaign is simple: "Message me anytime with your thoughts, ideas, and anything else on your mind. In return, I’ll keep you up-to-date twice a week with what’s going on in the room where it happens.

The modern Rolodex is your iPhone. But with Subtext, you can message your entire contact list (or subgroups) in one click through a medium that is the most likely to get a rapid response. In fact, 90% of people who do respond to a text do so within the first hour.  

Combat Misinformation and Voter Suppression

With the rapid spread of false information on various digital platforms, it's crucial to offer the public a reliable and easily accessible source of accurate information. Subtext
lets you reach a wide audience directly on their mobile devices, offering real-time corrections and verified facts to counteract false claims. A benefit of SMS is that the public can send items to you to investigate. While you don’t need to respond to EVERY inquiry, it’s not uncommon for channel hosts to get lots of leads about rumors. With eyes and ears everywhere in the form of your audience, your information helps build trust with them for potential future projects.Verify

Spanish Language

Texting is a fantastic way to meet a community that has language requirements, and whose needs can’t always be met on social or on your website. If you want to serve the Spanish-speaking community in your area but aren’t sure how — texting is a perfect medium that they’re already using.

Some members of the Spanish-speaking community might feel more comfortable asking questions via text rather than wading into the waters of social media or your site’s comment section.

It’s Easy to Get Started

Getting your texting channel is easy. We give reporters and journalists the tools and support they need to stay on top of the coming election season. Our team works with you every step of the way from implementation, management, and enhancement while measuring the success of each channel. See how you can run your texting channel by setting up a time to speak with one of Subtext’s SMS experts.

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