Integrating SMS Messaging into Your SBCC Campaign

smsSocial and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaigns with a mobile technology component have skyrocketed in popularity in the past few years, but not without some pitfalls and several lessons learned.

Questions around which platform to use, who will know how to implement these platforms, will the target population know how to use the technology, and quite simply, will it work are omnipresent.

On Tuesday, April 21st, Health Communication Capacity Collaborative partner NetHope hosted a webinar featuring presentations from engageSPARK and a case study from its partnering organization, MercyCorps.

engageSPARK provides a technological platform for developing, disseminating and evaluating messages via mobile phones. Used by organizations such as MercyCorps, United States Institute of Peace, and MedAir, engageSPARK collaborates with the implementing organization and supports the intervention from the development to evaluation stages.

Ravi Agarwal, CEO of engageSPARK, presented on the different features of the platform. He relayed how many non-profit organizations looking to integrate technology into their campaigns were dismayed that technology for disseminating messages seemed comprehensible only to technologists. engageSPARK aims to create a platform that is easily understood and used by all. In fact, engageSPARK claims anyone, regardless of technological competency, will be able to create and disseminate messages via mobile phones within minutes.

MercyCorps uses the engageSPARK platform as part of their TobangKO campaign in the Philippines. Translating to “my health,” TobangKO offers cash transfers for natural disaster survivors and encourages the end user to save their money and use it in ways that will ensure a sustainable income. TobangKO has disseminated 844,000 SMS texts and voice minutes over 12 weeks using engageSPARK and has created two separate soap opera series with 22 episodes that the end user can access through his or her mobile phone. The two soap operas follow two couples: Ben and Joy; and Ana and Juan. Through interesting plot twists and cliffhangers, the message of both emphasize the importance of fiscal responsibility and encourages its listeners to save money.

However, the dissemination of these messages is not enough. For MercyCorps, understanding the actual impact of the messages was of utmost importance. In order to assess whether or not people were actually listening to the messages, and whether or not they were actually gaining information or knowledge, engageSPARK helped MercyCorps implement a short SMS or voice-based quiz at the end of each soap opera episode. The users filled out the quiz, and if they got an answer incorrect, then they were able to try again. Beyond that, detailed information on user behavior after they received the messages or episodes is logged on the back end. For example, reports are created that track what time the user opened the message, how long the user took to respond/interact, and whether or not they responded accurately. By automatically developing these reports, MercyCorps found it easy to evaluate their campaigns and develop a better understanding of how behavior may be impacted by the messages being disseminated.

engageSPARK offers several different mechanisms to choose from when integrating technology into a SBCC campaign. For example, a simple SMS blast can be created and sent out at a scheduled time. In addition, engageSPARK offers polling and surveying services so that data can be collected through an interactive medium. Finally, an SMS auto-reply function can be set up, so that the end user can text in his or her questions and receive pre-set answers. Although integrating technology with SBCC campaigns can be daunting, engageSPARK has found a way to make the process a lot simpler and customizable to the project at hand.

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