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There is no red poverty. Nor blue poverty. Campaigns can engage more people by addressing the issues that really matter to them, and collect information about them in the process.

Campaigns find texting works to raise fund raise and mobilize voters, but often struggle to find a good lists of phone numbers to use. Mass texting a list of phone numbers is neither legal nor effective. How can targeted opt-in lists be collected quickly and affordably?

Large campaigns have banners at rallies encouraging attendees to text to a number in order to opt-in to future messages. This approach doesn’t work well when there isn’t time to hold rallies or supporters are spread too far apart to attend a rally. Organizers know that addressing people’s concern is a good way to build rapport and to collect details about potential supporters. Chatbots extend this approach to build a targeted list of phone numbers for texting campaigns.

Do well by doing good
Every year 103 million Americans leave $80 billion in benefits unclaimed - food stamps, cash assistance, Headstart and child care assistance and other benefits. People will text in to find resources to help their families - regardless of their political persuasion. This bulletin explains how to build opt-in lists using the Benefit Finder chatbot as an example.

1. What do they care about?
The first step is to identify an issue or concern that resonates with potential supporters. This could be about practically anything - applying for food stamps, finding a clinic or getting a voter ID. You can either prepare answers to possible questions yourself, or use a website which already has the answers.

2. Let me help you
Think of a chatbot as your personal assistant that you instruct how to respond to questions. They are set up with a local phone number and can handle requests made by phone calls or text messages. Chatbots listen to the question, find the right answer and provide a customized response in the language of the user’s preference. They work 24 hours a day and can handle any number of requests.

Even small campaigns can afford chatbots, thanks to technology from Twilio which is widely used in business. Uber and Lyft have long used it to tell you when your driver is close. DemLabs is applying their platform to campaigns, activism and advocacy.

3. Spread the word
The next step is to publicize the phone number to the helpline you’ve created. This could be done through flyers, banners at a rally, on social media and on web sites. One of the most innovative approaches we’ve seen is to have the helpline phone number printed on customized bible bookmarks that pastors share with their parishioners!

4. Follow the rules
Chatbots can also collect contact details from users, with their permission. It’s vital to only use the contact information collected legally. The TCPA or Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires that consent is received before any messages  sent. This could be a message such as : “Please reply YES to receive updates from us. Standard message & data rates apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel”. This bulletin describes best practices and should not be taken as legal advice.

Benefit Finder chatbot
This chatbot helps users find out about benefits that they might be entitled to. Answers are retrieved from Benefit Kitchen, a wonderful resource that provides information on eighteen Federal benefits depending on where a person lives and their condition.

Opt In Text Lists Img how to


Chatbots can be adapted to reach different audiences depending on their:
1. Concerns
2. Preferred mode of communication - phone, text or social media
3. Their language of choice
Chatbots don't think like humans. They simply respond with answers that they have been set up with. These three examples illustrate the range of use cases chatbots can handle.

VoteRiders Bot IMG

What Voter ID do I need?                                                        ( Text VOTE to 415-688-2920 )
This bilingual text chatbot was developed for VoteRiders to help voters find out about acceptable forms of IDs to vote in their state. The chatbot finds the answer from a spreadsheet and replies by text in either English and Spanish. The text also includes a link to a small card with more details which users can print or save to their phone. Details.


Where is the nearest clinic?                                               Text "FIND" to 1-202-883-4620 )

This text chatbot with proximity search was designed for ACN to help users find the closest reproductive health care clinic. The solution was first designed in the form of a searchable map. A chatbot was designed to make the information more accessible and easier to search by phone. The same chatbot technology can also be easily adapted to find nearby events such as rallies, town hall meetings and polling locations. Details.


I need a ride to go vote.                                                                     Call 1-559-206-0210 )

This voice chatbot with transcription was designed for People Demanding Action. A voice interface was chosen as many rural voters in Virginia do not have internet access. People call the hotline where the chatbot asks them a series of questions in order to arrange for a ride. The chatbot transcribes what was said and the summary as an email to the ride coordinator. The chatbot allows rides to be organized more efficiently with less effort. In addition to serving residents without internet access, the chatbot has also proved popular with seniors with limited dexterity to handle keyboards and the disabled who prefer to obtain information by speaking. Details.


Take away

Texting campaigns work better with detailed, opt-in contact lists. Find the issue(s) that matter to your audience, and provide them answers to build your list. Learn more here on how to put chatbots to work for you.

Co-Founder, DemLabs
Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive groups at the national, state, and local levels. Donate here to support our work.

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.