SMS or Short Message Service

Aug 21, 2012

SMS or Short Message Service (Texting) is a mobile device capability where users are able to send short (generally 160 characters maximum) text messages to another user via the use of the keypad or built-in keyboard. Seventy-three percent of cell phone owners use their device to text, according to an 8-15-2011 Pew Research Center report: Americans and Their Cell Phones Of those users, 31% prefer to be contacted via text message.

Why does it matter?

SMS is one of the most ubiquitous features of mobile phones. Whereas functionalities like GPS are generally available on smartphones, the majority of mobile phones have an SMS functionality. SMS can be a useful way for agencies to inform and even connect with their mission audience.

Government Agencies Using SMS

  • Break the Chain is FDA’s new campaign to educate retailers and raise awareness about tobacco product regulations designed to protect kids from the dangers of tobacco use and its negative health impacts.
  • CDC Health Alerts On-the-Go: In 2009 the CDC launched a text messaging campaign pilot. The initial focus was to provide H1N1 related information but has moved on to general health information. They have been actively collecting metrics and feedback about the project. Texting project now called Everyday Health Alerts.
  • FDA Medwatch Your FDA gateway for finding clinically important safety information and reporting serious problems with human medical products.
  • Text4Baby is a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health. An educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), text4baby provides pregnant women and new moms with information they need to take care of their health and give their babies the best possible start in life.
  • Text-4-Health HHS has also created a special Text4Health taskforce to determine how to best apply lessons learned from Text4Baby to smoking cessation, obesity and childhood health issues.
  • National Contact Center Text Message Program

SMS Cautions

  • Potential users will have different SMS billing plans with their mobile service providers. Some will have unlimited plans and some will be charged by the SMS message. It is important to consider this when designing an agency program. Agencies should explain to potential users how often the program will SMS them and remind them to consider their SMS billing rates.
  • It is important to know that mobile technologies should not be solely relied upon in emergency situations. Coverage may be spotty and/or mobile networks may be overloaded or down (either intentionally or unintentionally) during times of crisis. SMS can provide one means of emergency communication, but certainly not the only means.

Lessons Learned from a Text Messaging Pilot at CDC

The webinar below describes CDC’s text messaging pilot and how the agency delivers critical health messages and emergency alerts to mobile subscribers when and where they need it. In this webinar, CDC shares information about how they market their health campaigns, segment messages by subscribers’ needs, and ways to develop interactive quiz messages with great success. The session also describes the results of CDC’s text messaging evaluation and lessons learned for improving success.

Covered in the webinar:

  • Developing a sustainable text messaging program
  • Writing text messages that are actionable and relevant
  • Tailoring messages to the audience
  • Incorporating interactivity into your messages
  • Measuring and evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of your program through practical metrics
  • Guidelines and best practices
  • Length of message
  • Content of message
  • Call-to-action
  • Follow-up
  • Forwarding


Aug 21, 2012