WORKSHOP: Case Study - Coalition uses SMS to rally protestors

DAN WILLIAMSON

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Background: The Trade Justice Movement (TJM), a coalition supported by Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and 53 other voluntary groups, wanted to organise a mass lobby at Westminster in a bid to bring the issue of international fair trade to the front of MPs' minds.

Taking place in the run up to the Johannesburg Earth Summit, around 12,000 people descended upon Westminster. Anticipating large crowds, the TJM decided that SMS mobile text messaging would be the most efficient method of communicating with participants and providing them with updates and messages of support. TJM commissioned mobile services company Brand2Hand to develop the service.

Aims: Supporting a number of stewards at the event, the campaign aimed to keep crowds updated with SMS messages including ongoing commentary and pointers of where to congregate around Westminster.

Tim Peat, assistant co-ordinator at TJM, said: "We wanted to be able to pass on information to people in the queues, which was difficult considering the distance we were going to cover. We weren't allowed to use loud-hailers outside Parliament, so we couldn't co-ordinate them centrally."

How did it work: As well as promoting the SMS service on the TJM web site (www.tjm.org.uk) and in registration packs for the event, stewards on each of the coaches travelling to London asked participants to sign up.

Users could sign up by texting the phrase "TJ" to a bespoke phone number, which would then add their mobile number to a database. Users could also download a TJM logo for their mobile by texting the same number. Once registered, users were sent around 12 messages throughout the day.

Texts sent out included goodwill messages from President Mbeki of South Africa and a rolling total of the number of MPs lobbied, along with details of practical instructions, such as calls to action or warning messages of overcrowding.

All messages distributed to signed-up users were paid for by the TJM and not the user, at normal SMS texting rates. A text-based competition was introduced, as an incentive to use the service, asking people to send in poems about the event.

Results: Around 10,000 participants were expected to attend the event but 12,000 turned up, of whom 1,038 signed up for the text-messaging service. The event was covered by the national press including The Sun, which ran an article on the idea that the daily $2 subsidy for each cow in the European Union would be enough to send each one on holiday every year.

The coalition plans to use all numbers captured on the day for future events, after texting each user for permission.

"We'll be looking to use this in the future,' said Peat. "It proved more successful than the temporary radio station we also set up. It was a very good way of making people feel part of something big."

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