Text messaging tool

A guide for using text messaging to send information to election staff and voters

Text messaging — or SMS (Short Message Service) — is an effective way to reach a large number of people with short pieces of information like updates and notices.

Because SMS doesn’t require internet access, it reaches people in remote areas. Because it doesn’t require a smart phone, it reaches low-income and older people who don’t have access to the latest devices. SMS also breaks through the clutter; people are much less likely to delete a text message without reading it than they are to disregard an email message. And text messages are easily accessible by people with disabilities, too.

You might use texts to provide an important reminder to your poll workers on the morning of Election Day. Or you might use them to communicate key dates or details to a group of voters in your area.

These instructions walk you through the process of broadcasting text messages using Call-Em-All, one of the simplest bulk texting platforms.

What you'll need

  • Computer with internet access
  • Money (the cost of sending one message to 500 poll workers, for instance, is $22.50)
  • Communication goals that you can reach through text broadcasts

Table of contents

  1. Establishing communication goals
  2. Setting up your account
  3. Upgrading your free trial

The instructions for this tool walk you through the process of using Call-Em-All. There are many text broadcasting platforms, but Call-Em-All is especially straightforward and easy to use.

Establishing communication goals

Before you begin drafting your first text, make sure you have a plan in place so that you’re able to get the most out of your text messaging outreach efforts. Working with your staff, consider questions like these:

  • Compared to other forms of communication you’re already using, what can text messages provide that’s distinctive? A timely reminder? An urgent note that breaks through the clutter?
  • What kind of message do you want to send? A reminder? An update? A call to action?
  • How can you be concise? Your message will need to be brief, so what’s a good way to express your point quickly?
  • What’s the best time to send the message? You can schedule your text broadcast in advance, so consider when it will be most effective or most useful to your recipients.
  • Is it worth it? You likely don’t think twice about sending a message to family and friends because your personal phone plan probably includes unlimited texting. But with text broadcasts, you have to pay for each message you send. This means you should plan carefully and use your resources thoughtfully.

Setting up your account

Begin by going to the Call-Em-All website. Scroll to the very bottom of the page, to the “Ready to Get Started” section, and enter the email address that you want to associate with your new account. Then, click the Sign Up button.

You’ll be prompted to enter information in order to create your account. For your username, enter something like County Elections Office. Once you’ve entered your information, scroll down and click the Create My Account button.

Call-Em-All will send you a confirmation email. Open the email and click the link in the email to begin the process of activating your account.

To activate your Call-Em-All account, you need to first agree to their terms. Select the boxes next to the terms and then click the I Agree button.

The Call-Em-All website prompts a user to agree to legal terms as part of the registration process

Calling and texting must be done responsibly, so take these terms seriously

Most of us are quick to agree to “terms and conditions” without really reading them, but you should treat the Call-Em-All terms of use with great care and seriousness. Because telephone calls and text messages can be intrusive, your communications must comply with federal law.

Make sure you understand Call-Em-All’s terms, and consult the terms of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act as needed. You may want to refer your election office’s legal team to this TCPA compliance guide produced by the Federal Communications Commission.

Once you’ve agreed to the terms, you’ll be prompted to enter more information to set up your account. For organization name, again choose something like County Elections Office. For organization type, scroll down to the Non-Profit section and select Government.

A user has entered information about their election office

Enter information about your election office to activate your account

After you’ve entered the rest of your information, scroll down and click the Activate Account button. You’ll be directed to your MySummary page, which works like a dashboard for Call-Em-All.

Upgrading your free trial

Signing up for Call-Em-All gives you a free trial, including 25 free credits. Since each credit will get you 2 text messages, this means you can send 50 free texts to get started.

Getting 50 free texts is a nice opportunity for you to experiment with using Call-Em-All, but 50 isn’t a lot. If you ultimately want to send messages to election staff, poll workers, or voters, you will need to update your free trial.

You may choose to upgrade right now, or you may prefer to experiment with Call-Em-All’s features first and upgrade later, once you’re ready to broadcast your first text beyond those free 50.

If you’re ready to upgrade your account, start at your MySummary page and, going to the center left of the page, click on the orange Upgrade Your Trial button.

On the Upgrade page, you’ll see that Call-Em-All has two kinds of plans: you can buy individual Credits, or you can pay Monthly.

Rundown of Call-Em-All's 2 plans complete with price details

Call-Em-All has 2 plans. You’ll likely use the Credits plan.

Since you’ll probably only be sending messages a few times a year – during elections, most likely – it makes the most sense to just buy credits.

Looking closely at the Credits plan, you’ll see some key details. For one thing, each credit gets you one phone call or two text messages. And each credit has a price of a few cents. You’ll also see that the prices vary depending on how many messages you’re broadcasting.

Just below the plan details is a field for you to enter the number of credits you want to buy. The built-in calculator does the math for you and shows how much you’ll need to pay.

Let’s say I want to broadcast a reminder text message to 500 poll workers. Keeping in mind that each credit gets me two texts, I would purchase 250 credits. The display shows this will cost $22.50.

Entering a number of credits to buy, a user has typed 250, and the website shows that will cost $22.50

Enter the number of credits you want to purchase

Do your calculations and enter in the amount of credits you want to purchase, taking notice of the cost, and click the Upgrade Now button. You’ll be taken to a purchase page where you can enter credit card information and complete your transaction.

Once you’re back at your MySummary page, you’ll see the new credits reflected in your balance. At any time, you can purchase more credits by following these steps again.

At this point, you’re ready to make the preparations for your first text broadcast. Let’s go!

Table of contents

  1. Enrolling users in your text message broadcasts
  2. Broadcasting a text message
  3. Reviewing and analyzing your text broadcast
  4. Next steps

Enrolling users in your text message broadcasts

The first step to begin broadcasting text messages is to enroll recipients. This process takes some time, so you should plan to begin enrolling users at least several days in advance of sending your first text message.

Asking users to opt in to your text messages is essential, as it ensures that your messages won’t be a nuisance to people who don’t want to receive them. It’s also critical for operating in compliance with the federal TCPA regulations.

To start enrolling users, begin at your MySummary page. In the center of the page, there are status boxes dedicated to Active Voice Broadcasts and Active Text Broadcasts.

Under Active Text Broadcasts you’ll see a message stating that you don’t have any active text broadcasts and a link prompting you to get started. Click the link labeled Click here to get started.

A user clicks the Click here to get started link to begin enrolling users

To begin enrolling users, click this “get started” link on your MySummary page

Now you’re looking at the Text Messaging Quick Start page. This is where you’ll create your keyword. The Quick Start page has 3 steps, but we recommend only doing steps 1 and 3.

Creating your keyword

The simplest way to enroll users in your texting group is to get them to text a keyword to Call-Em-All. The keyword is a code that allows people entry into your group. Once users text the keyword, they’ll be entered into your contacts list and you’ll be able to text them.

As you prepare to pick a keyword, consider one that’s simple and relevant. For instance, if we’re enrolling poll workers, we might use a word like “polls.”

To complete step 1, go ahead and enter a keyword as well as a brief description. The description should explain the purpose of the text messages that you’ll be sending to this group of people.

A user has entered a keyword and brief description

Choose a keyword that’s relevant and then provide a simple description

With your keyword and description entered, you’re ready to move on.

Again, we recommend skipping step 2 on this page: creating an authorized phone. If you want to send texts using your phone instead of this website, you can add your number here, but it’s generally easier to just use the site. So, go ahead and proceed to the next step.

Now, create a custom auto-reply. This is what users will see once they enroll in your texting group. These auto-replies do use your credits, but we recommend using them so that users receive confirmation of their enrollment.

A user has created an auto-reply thanking the people who opt in to the list

Creating an auto-reply is helpful so that people receive confirmation of their enrollment

Once you’ve created your auto-reply, scroll down and click the Submit button. A message will pop up asking you to acknowledge that your auto-reply will consume credits. Click OK to confirm you understand. Once you do, you’ll be taken to your MySettings page, which displays account information and preferences.

You’re now ready to have users subscribe to your text broadcasts.

Encouraging your users to enroll

To get people to enroll in your texting group, you have to tell them about it. There are many ways – both low tech and high tech – to get people to enroll. Let’s first get an overview of the process and then look at some methods you can use to promote enrollment.

Start by going to Call-Em-All’s Share Your Keyword page. If you’re still on your MySettings page, you can get there by looking below Preferences — Keyword and clicking Update, and then, going below the keyword field, clicking Share Keyword. Or, you can simply click this link to access your Share Your Keyword page.

On the left side of this page, there’s a note explaining the basic mechanics of how users can enroll by texting the keyword.

Text explaining that users can join your text group by texting your keyword to 292929

All it takes is to text your keyword to Call-Em-All’s number, which is 292929. When a user texts your keyword, they’ll get an notification that includes the auto-reply confirmation message you created earlier.

On a phone, a user has texted the keyword polls and has received a confirmation message in response

When users text the keyword, they’ll get a confirmation message

Now that you see how it’s done, your next step is to tell your users about your keyword so that they can sign up!

Promoting enrollment in person 

One of the easiest ways to get people to text the keyword is to encourage them in person. For instance, if you’re building a list for poll workers, you can ask them to enroll during in-person poll worker training. But Call-Em-All’s Share Your Keyword page also provides several handy options to promote enrollment online. Let’s look at these 4 options in detail.

Menu of four options for promoting your keyword: Facebook, Twitter, email, and embedding on a website

Call-Em-All gives several options for promoting your keyword online

Promoting enrollment on Facebook

To promote your keyword on Facebook, go to the Post on Your Facebook panel and click the Share button. You’ll be prompted to add a message, and when you’re done, click the Post to Facebook button to post it.

Promoting enrollment on Twitter

To use Twitter, go to the Send a Tweet panel and click the Tweet button. You’ll be prompted to edit your message, and when you’re done, click the Tweet button. Be creative to keep your message under 140 characters.

Promoting enrollment in an email

To send an email, go to the Send an Email panel and copy the text provided in the box. Then go to your regular email program, paste the text into the message box, and add recipients, subject line, edit the message as you see fit, and send the email.

Promoting enrollment with a website widget

To embed a widget on your website, go to the Add Us to Your Website panel, click Set up a Join Widget, and follow the instructions provided. Once you’ve generated your widget code, you can embed the code into your website.

And that’s it for enrollment! Once your users begin to opt in to your communications, you can work to organize them in a way that makes sense.

Sort your contacts into groups

As a final step to take before you construct a message, we suggest you organize your contacts by placing them into groups. It’s easy and helpful. From your MySummary page, scroll to the top menu and click Contacts. This will show you everyone who’s enrolled. As you continue to collect enrollees, it’s a good idea to place them in groups to keep them organized and separated.

A user has selected several contacts to add to the Poll Workers group

Putting contacts into groups is an easy way to organize them

To create a group, just go to the left side of the page and click the +Create New Group link and give your group a name. When you’re done, you can go back to your full list of contacts and add users to your new group. In the example below, we’ve selected all of our contacts and, by clicking the add or remove selected contacts toggle, added them to the Poll workers group.

 Broadcasting a text message

Once you have given your users ample opportunity to find out about your keyword and opt in, and you’ve organized your enrollees, you will be ready to broadcast a text message to them.

Looking at your MySummary page, scroll to the top menu and click Create a Broadcast to get started. You’ll be directed to a five-step process in order to assemble the message, select recipients, and schedule and submit the message. Follow through these steps and consult the tips below as you go.

Step 1. What type of broadcast would you like to create?

For text messages, select Text Only. Name the broadcast with a title that describes the purpose of the message. Click Next when done.

A user has chosen to create a text only broadcast and has named it Voting hours reminder

When you begin creating a broadcast, you select the type and give it a name

Step 2. Who would you like to receive this message?

You’re now ready to select your recipients. There are three ways you can do this.

  1. Add from existing contacts: allows you to select from the users who have enrolled in your contacts list.
  2. Upload a file: allows you to upload an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file and add the numbers contained in it to to your recipients list. When using spreadsheets, keep in mind you must still comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
  3. Add individually: allows you to input telephone numbers one by one.

For this example, we’re going to add from our existing contacts. Since we created a group of contacts for poll workers, we’re going to send our message to this group.

We’re clicking the Add From Existing Contacts button and selecting the Poll workers group. Then we’re clicking the Add Selected Groups to Broadcast button.

When prompted to select recipients, a user has selected the poll workers contact group

When you choose recipients, you can select all your contacts or just one group

Once the contacts are added, scroll to the bottom right and click the orange Next button.

Step 3. When would you like your broadcast to start?

In this third step, you have the choice of sending the text immediately or selecting a date and time.

  • To have the message go out now, shift the Start Immediately? Toggle to YES.
  • To schedule the message for future sending, select the Start Date and input the Start Time. Then, press the Next button.

For this example, we’re sending a reminder text on the morning of Election Day, so we’ve scheduled the text to be broadcast on Election Day morning shortly before the polls open.

When prompted to schedule the broadcast, a user has selected a future start date and time

You can send your broadcast immediately or schedule it whenever you like

Step 4. What is your text message?

Enter your message into the box at the left side of the screen. The right side offers a preview of what your message will look like. By default, your keyword appears in the message, but you can easily delete it if you like. You’ll see that your message is limited to 160 characters, so make sure to be concise. When your message is ready, click the orange Next button in the bottom right.

A user has entered a message on the left, and the website displays a preview of the message on the right

Here’s where you enter your message

Step 5. Review and submit

This is your opportunity to look back at your message, check the recipients, and check the date and time before you submit. In this stage, Call-Em-All also shows you the number of credits that your broadcast will use.

  • If you want to change anything, you can easily scroll up and click one of the edit links beside the four steps above and make adjustments.
  • If you’re happy with how things look, click the orange Submit button. You’ll be taken back to your MySummary page.

Once you’ve completed these steps, your text message is ready to go! Your text will go to the users you selected on the timeline you indicated.

A phone screen displays a new message about polling place hours

Here’s an example of how your users will see your text broadcast

Reviewing and analyzing your text broadcast

Reviewing a submitted broadcast

Once you’re back to the MySummary page, if you look to the left, you’ll see your credit balance has changed. Either the balance has already gone down or, if you’re sending in advance, Call-Em-All will post the amount of credits that are pending.

If you chose to send your message immediately, it’ll appear in the Completed Broadcasts tab.

If you scheduled it in advance, you’ll see it in the Active Texts Broadcasts list. You can make changes to the message at any time by clicking the name of the broadcast and, on the Broadcast Details page that you’re directed to, going to the top left and clicking the Edit button.

Analyzing a sent broadcast

Once a text is sent, the broadcast will move from Active Text Broadcasts to Completed Broadcasts. If you go to the Completed Broadcasts page and click the Broadcast name, you’ll see helpful analytics information about your text campaign.

The example below shows that 100% of the texts were correctly delivered without any problems.

Call-Em-All's analytics page shows a pie chart that indicates that 100% of messages were delivered successfully

Call-Em-All’s analytics show how your broadcast performed

When your text is sent, you’ll also get an email with the same information.

An email from Call-Em-All shows that all texts were delivered successfully

Call-Em-All also sends email reports

Next steps

These instructions provide an overview of using Call-Em-All to broadcast a text message, but Call-Em-All has a number of other helpful features that you may want to explore.

  • Voice broadcasts: in addition to broadcasting texts, you can record an audio message to broadcast to a group of people using Call-Em-All. The process is very similar, but instead of typing a text message, you record an audio message. Voice broadcasts do use more of your credits than texts do, and they also may be more intrusive than texts. To get started, go to your MySummary page, scroll up to click Create A Broadcast, and follow the instructions.
  • Text broadcasting from your phone: These instructions focus on broadcasting with a computer, but you can also use your phone to reach your contacts with a text. You just need to enable Phone Launch, and then you can text 292929 with your keyword, the group you want to text, and your message. In your MySummary page, go to the top right, hover over your name, and click My Account. Then, go to the bottom left and click the Get Started Now! link under Phone Launch. Then, follow the instructions.

To check out additional information about the platform’s features and the different ways that you can use text messaging in your work, visit the Call-Em-All Blog.