texting kids to Do Something

(Washington, DC) Earlier today, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, I heard a presentation about Do Something‘s text-messaging campaign. Apparently, teenagers are about 55 times more likely to respond to a suggestion to volunteer or take another civic action if it comes in a text rather than an email.

To know whether the different medium is really the cause of the difference in outcomes, I would want to know a bit more about the data. It could be that the kids who receive texts are different to start with–after all, they are the ones who shared their phone numbers, instead of (or in addition to) their email addresses. But it rings true that texting is more effective than email at reaching teens, if only because email doesn’t work at all.

The next question is whether that is because of some intrinsic difference in the two media that makes texting better. For instance, maybe shorter is better, or maybe receiving a message on a phone catches your attention. The alternative explanation would go like this: We keep inventing new electronic modes of communication. Each one quickly gets overused by organizations, to the point that anyone who can tune it out, does so. Working adults can’t yet ignore their email because some of the messages they get are important. But teenagers can and do ignore their email. Because text messaging is not yet so heavily overused, it’s still worth reading every message. Soon that will change, at which point we’ll all have to talk about how to reach teens through the new mode.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.