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As campaigns strive to connect directly with voters, they’re turning to a time-honored method: texting. But with this outreach comes a new set of challenges, one of which is figuring out the right language to match the informal medium.
For a long time, SMS campaigns were archaic, relying on automation to deliver content. But with new technology and innovations, creating a peer-to-peer text messaging campaign became possible, allowing campaigns to have genuine one-on-one conversations with hundreds of thousands of voters. This enabled campaigns to use text messages as a vehicle for full-cycle efforts, including fundraising, polling, GOTV, and persuasion, as opposed to just a quick call to action (CTA).
But as texting has become a staple of campaign strategy, even top strategists are still trying to understand how to best utilize the channel. How informal can you go? For instance, the addition of emojis to a text is a standard that many people accept, and failure to use them runs the risk of making the message feel dated.
After helping consultants reach some 4 million voters last cycle, we learned some fun lessons about emojis and grammar. Here are our top-eight emojis in political text messages last election cycle:
The top-four emojis make sense. They’re encouraging and show appreciation for the voters that the message is targeting.
It’s worth noting here that we’ve found text messages sent directly from the candidate perform best (30 percent response rate).
As for the rest of the emojis campaigns made the most use of last cycle—the woman waving her hand was often used by campaigns that sent messages from a female volunteer. The solidarity fist is an excellent emoji, placing solidly at the sixth position. The education hat is an emoji that saw a lot of solid use by candidates whose platforms included education related positions. Lastly, the ghost emoji is an interesting one, typically used to evoke emotion. It may seem frivolous, but it was very successful with high response rates.
Emojis provide connection
Some campaign strategists have a distaste of emojis, feeling that they may bring an unwanted level of frivolity to an otherwise serious message. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Emoji provide a much needed emotional connection with the voter.
Studies have shown that emoji elicit a visceral connection to the text message. For example, when a person sees a smiley face emoji, emotional pathways in the brain light up as if they’ve seen a real smiling person. Emoji then can also affect a viewer’s mood in subtle, but very real, ways.
Another key facet of emoji use is that the emojis are viewed and processed as nonverbal cues and communication, further eliciting subconscious emotional responses. Consider emoji in a text the equivalent of using hand gestures and body language in a conversation. When you’re asking your voters to do something specific, it’s prudent to make that call stand out.
One way to separate the desired call to action is with emoji. Highlight the request with a specific emoji that points out the emotional connection desired. If help is desired, one of the top hand related emoji can emphasize that need.
Make sure it doesn’t look like an ad
Just like nobody likes that person who invades their personal space during a conversation, an overabundance of emoji in a text can elicit a negative response. Emoji should be used to enhance a conversation, not dominate it. If too many emoji are used, they make the message look false or intentionally like advertising. Using too many emoji isn’t something that a normal person would do.
Don’t forget grammar
The most commonly done mistake in political texting is the use of all capitalized words. The use of all capital letters to emphasize words instead of using normal lower-case drops reply rates by over 5 percent. The most capitalized words are “TODAY” and “VOTE.” If a word needs to be highlighted, using emojis is a much better way to draw attention to it.
The second most common issue is the use of smart quotes. Text messages often have a 160-character limit, and using a special or formatted character can shorten the message limit to 80 characters. The use of apostrophes in wording such as, “Hi it’s George from [campaign name],” or “there’s a polling place” can break up a message into multiple parts, which can be visually unappealing and can cost extra text message segments. Try using alternatives like “Hi George here from [campaign name]” or “there is a polling place.”
With text messages, the instinct is to be brief and concise. But in reality, longer form messages work better. We’ve seen that voters are puzzled by text messages that don’t explain themselves clearly in a personable way. Although shorter, one-part messages cost less, they’re not as effective as a genuine two-or-three part message. Moreover, short messages are a lot more likely to have been cut to a point where it sounds robotic.
Don’t shy away from taking the space to say hello, thanking the voter, or apologizing for taking a moment of the voters’s time.
Jessica Lee is the CEO of HandStack. Have additional questions about emojis and grammar for political texting?