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Ailea Sneller 4 min read

Becoming Upwardly Mobile

Imagine a catchy cell phone ring tone lauding your organization’s greatness, or heralding your favorite cause.  Now imagine that ring tone singing out from the pockets and purses of millions of cell phone users around the world.  Such is the mobile utopia described by Katrin Verclas of MobileActive.org.  Katrin shared some kernels of wisdom from her online mobile activism wonderland at this afternoon’s Internet Advocacy Roundtable.  The mobile expert and strategist explained how nonprofits can use cell phone technology to organize, mobilize, motivate and inspire through a delightful array of tech-savvy techniques.

The mobile movement involves using cell phones as a gateway to draw the attention of existing and potential donors, members, activists and supporters to your organization and your mission.  You can do so through sending out ads, collecting text messages, and even calling to chat.

Unlike telemarketing, mobile campaigns offer something a bit more fresh, fun and cutting-edge than old-fashioned cold calling.  A surprising percentage (35%) of adults are already willing to receive incentive-based advertisements on their cell phones, especially in text message format.  Katrin expects that number to grow as successful mobile campaigns become more common. With 212 million cell phone users in the US--about 75% of the population--the potential for using mobile phones (“mo-phos,” as the kids call them) as a tool to grow your organization’s visibility and spread your message is enormous.  This is especially true when, unlike a PC or a mailbox, people carry them around “like their keys and their wallet,” Katrin said—you can literally put your message into someone’s pocket.

Strategies mentioned today included ring tones with an ear-friendly message (and/or downloadable in exchange for an email address), interactive incentive programs, photo messaging and direct action campaigns.  Mobile campaigns might be great for building email lists, launching a new idea, or drawing viewers to your Web site.  But they must, Katrin emphasized, be integrated as part of a broader multimedia strategy; cell phones alone are not enough to get your operation off the ground.

As exciting as it sounds, the mobile wave has some substantial drawbacks as well.  First, it’s a brand new frontier in the marketing world, and anything done in the near future will be highly experimental.  Katrin called it “absolute virgin territory”—which means there are few reliable metrics and no predictable results.  Second, high fees of 40% or more make mobile fundraising unnatractive to nonprofits.

Katrin also walked us through the nuts and bolts of working with cell phone service providers, planning a campaign, and tailoring your message.  Mobile ads will have many of the same planning criteria as existing advertising methods—you’ll need to know your demographic, have something substantial to say, and make it relevant and timely, as with any other medium.  But at its best, mobile activism and advocacy offers the potential for great interaction, much more personal communication with supporters, and gobs of viral potential.

So check out MobileActive.org for more info and start warming up those thumbs.