Writing in 160 Characters or Less for SMS Surveys and Notices

Writing in 160 Characters or Less for SMS Surveys and Notices

This is a short guide on writing effective text messages (SMS) to introduce and close an SMS survey and phrase different types of questions and notices.

Getting Started
Before you begin, consider your Customer Journey.

Customer Journey is the complete summary of experiences that your customers will go through when interacting with your company and brand. We highly encourage having this laid out even before logging into the platform. Walk-through how their experience would be from the time they receive the first message until the last message.

With your customer journey, consider the technical and style format that will contain your efforts.

A. Character Limit
The greatest challenge to communicating via SMS is its character limit. With a maximum of 160 characters, you must carefully craft your message. Make your point in as few words as possible without leaving out any important information.

One Message: Two Texts
Although the SMS technology limits the number of characters in a single SMS to 160, it is possible to have one message be more than 160 characters thus delivered as multiple SMS. You could deliver a 320-character message (at the cost of 2 SMS), which would simply arrive as two SMS. We don’t, however, advise sending a message in this way as this may result in the contact dropping off due to them having to take much of their time reading long pieces of text especially for users of small-screen devices.

B. Audience and Tone

Your audience shapes the tone of your messages. Who is the message addressed to? A survey sent to staff will likely have a professional tone that requires a mandatory response, while messages to prospective or existing clients may be warm and encouraging. Write your messages with a mind to the responses you hope to receive.

C. Language

You can write your messages in whichever language you choose. Select the language you believe your audience will best understand and also communicate your chosen tone. For example, Swahili can communicate a more familiar tone, whereas English can sound more officious.

D. Survey Length

SMS surveys with five or fewer questions are usually the most effective. Depending on your relationship with the audience, however, an organization can expect healthy response rates on surveys with ten or more questions.
If you are first introducing SMS Surveys in your organization, try to begin with shorter surveys and build your respondents’ user experience before sending surveys with more than five questions.

Writing Messages: Surveys

Most surveys include an introductory message that invites the respondent to participate, followed by a number of questions, and then a Thank You message to end the survey.

A. Introduction Message
The introductory message is optional. If a survey is expected or sent as an auto-response, you can easily exclude an introduction. If you do include an introduction, you may want to include some of the following details.
As you will see from the list below, an ideal introduction will include far more information than you can possibly include in 160 characters. It’s essential to choose the most critical information and be creative about your wording.

Note, however, that you must, include instructions on how to begin the survey
1. Noting Source of the Survey: If it is not clear, explain who is sending the survey. List the organization or, if it will help improve the accuracy or number of responses, a specific known person.
2. Noting the Survey Topic: Explain to the respondent what the survey is about. What is the primary focus of the questions?
3. Noting Free Responses: Explain to the respondent that all their responses are free. This information usually radically increases the number of responses you receive.
4. Noting Number of Questions and Expected Time to Complete: Explaining to respondents how many questions are included or how long it will take them to complete the survey (such as “a 5-minute survey”) gives them clear expectations and may improve your response rate.
5. Noting an Incentive: If you are sending respondents an airtime incentive after they complete the survey, be sure to note that. Be sure to also clarify the amount and that it is airtime and not a money transfer.
6. Including a Respondent Name or ID: You can personalize your message by including a placeholder in your introduction that will insert the unique respondent name (first name or full name) or internal ID in the text. This can serve to personalize an introduction but in some situations can seem overly familiar. Don’t Run Over: If you use a placeholder, be sure to leave room for the longest possible name or ID so that the message does not run into two text messages.
7. Instructions to Reply Once: Respondents sometimes become impatient and respond to a question more than once. A duplicate response will skew your results. To prevent this, explain to respondents that they should only reply once to each message.
8. REQUIRED: Instructions on How to Respond: The only required text in your introduction is to instruct respondents on how to respond to trigger the first question. Respondents can reply with any word but it’s simplest to list a specific word, such as OK, Ndio, or 1.

[Company name] inakualika kwa mahojiano ili tupate kuelewana vizuri. Kuanza mahojiano, tuma jibu "ndio" kwa SMS. Tutakupea 30 KSH kuyajibu maswali yote.

The [company director] requests that you to complete the MANDATORY SMS survey TODAY. Type OK and press SEND to start. Please reply ONCE to each question.

B. Questions
Keep in mind that you can’t control how respondents answer via SMS. Be sure to give as much instruction as space allows. And regardless of the type of question, be sure to include a question mark [?] at the end.

Numbering Questions: If you have space in your SMS, consider preceding each question with a number. This gives your audience clear expectations of the survey and their progress. For example: “Question 1 of 10: [Question text]?” or “1/10: [Question text]?”

1. Open-Ended Questions
Respondents are often most comfortable with open-ended questions, which most resemble our normal use of SMS. It is still best to make your question as direct and simple as possible.

What is your greatest business challenge?
What other products or services would you like from [company]?s

2. Multiple-Choice Questions
The results of a multiple-choice question can provide easily quantifiable results and a pie chart. Try to provide clear instructions.
Yes-or-No Questions: We recommend asking a Yes or No question in multiple-choice format. This will allow you to chart responses easily.

Are you able to attend the training session? (Please respond with A or B.) A) Yes B) No
Which location is closest to your home? (Please respond with A, B, C, or D.) A) Kilimani B)Upper Hill C) Hurlingham D) Lavington

3. Numeric Questions
Answers to a numeric question when listed as a number result in a bar chart (histogram). Respondents may, however, answer with a word or an entire explanation (“2 liters in the morning after tea”). Instructing your respondent to answer with a number will improve the results.

 How many liters did you sell today? (Please answer with a number. For example, 19.)
 How many Shillings do you spend on paraffin each month? (Please answer with a number. For example, 500.)

C. Thank You Message
A Thank You Message is optional but provides your audience with both a clear indication that the survey is complete and an opportunity to communicate a final message—including appreciation.

Default Message
Echo lists a default message of “Thank You!” You can either remove this text or compose a different message.

Alternate Examples:
Asante Sana! Tunaweza wasiliana kama kutakuwa na swali lolote.
Thank you! Report concerns to this number by free SMS at any time. Your staff champion will be alerted and contact you as soon as possible.

Writing Messages: Notices
In addition to surveys, Echo allows you to send a single SMS message without the expectation of a response. These messages are only confined by the overall character limit.

Join us this Friday at the Nandi Hills Community Centre for free training on dairy marketing. All are welcome!
Reminder: Be sure to complete your survey by 5:00 p.m. today by order of the Director of Data Collection.

Writing Messages: Auto-Responses
By default, Echo sends a message to each message received through self-registration into a Group or to the  Group Inbox. Be sure to personalize these messages to suit your audience—or respond with a full survey.

Default Successful Self-Registration Response
Welcome [Echo account name]!

Default Inbox Auto-Response Reply message
Thank you for using [Echo account name] SMS. We've received your message.

Testing and Refining Messages
Our best advice for successfully communicating via SMS is: Test, test, test!

If you have a large enough list of respondents, test different messages with a small subset (or even colleagues in your office) and compare responses to see which messages are more effective. Echo allows you to continue to refine the text of your messages as you go. Edit your message and send more.