Texting is the number one communication method for teenagers. Joshua Griffin recently posted about the fact that they have fully embraced SMS as the primary communication method for the group. That makes sense, students always have their phones and are almost guaranteed to check them the moment you ping them.

There are many services out there that aim to streamline the process of sending mass texts. Simply Youth Ministry has SimplyTXT. It’s really just a repackaged version of TXTsignal. There’s also Tatango. All fine services, and fairly reasonably prices. SimplyTXT starts at just $10 a month. But that starts to add up, and for a group my size, I still can’t find an extra $240 in my budget to start using one of these services. Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Earlier this week Twitter announced a new feature called Fast Follow. It allows people to sign up for SMS alerts for any @username on Twitter, without needing an account, for free! All a person has to do is send “follow [username]” to 40404 and it’s all set. Anytime someone tweets from that account, it will show up as a text message on their phone!

That’s the basic gist, here is the detailed play-by-play of how to set it up.

How To Set It Up

1) Sign up for a new account

Head on over to twitter.com/signup to start a new account. You may already have a Twitter account for your youth group, but you will probably benefit from having a separate account just for sending SMS updates. Our youth group uses the acronym NSL, so I just set up a new account as NSLtxt.

Optional: Once your account is set up you may want to visit Settings>Mobile and go through the process of setting up your own mobile phone. Once completed, you will be able to “Tweet” (thereby sending out a group SMS) from your own phone. Very helpful when you’re behind schedule on the way back from a retreat!

2) Tell people to follow

Using all your soon-to-be-outdated methods of communication, encourage everyone to sign up for text updates. All they have to do is text “follow [username]” to the number 40404. So, for my group it would be “follow NSLtxt” and they are all set.

They should get a message with the most recent tweet you’ve sent. They will also get one confirming their text along with instructions on how to un-follow.

3) Start texting your group

Now you’re ready to go. Every text will start with whatever username you selected. For instance, mine would say, “NSLtxt: Thanks for signing up for txt updates from NSL. You are now awesome.” There’s many different creative ways to use SMS with your group: meeting reminders, schedule changes, prayer prompts, motivational quotes, Bible verses… the list goes on. Try not to overdo it, you don’t want to train them to ignore any message you send their way.

The Downsides

As with many things, you get what you pay for. There are a few downsides to opting for this free method over one of the excellent pay services mentioned above.

Not Interactive
Students & Parents will receive text messages, but they will not be able to reply directly to the messages they receive. It’s a one-way street.

No individual messages
Each pay service offers a way to text a single person in your address book, that can be handy.

No groups
Messages will be all-or-nothing. The pay services let you set up different groups so you could send a text to just Parents, or just Leaders, etc. Conceivably, you could set up multiple Twitter accounts, but that would get cumbersome pretty fast.

As SMS becomes a more central part of your communication strategy you may opt for a more full-featured service. But for the average youth worker with no money to spare, this is a simple and elegant solution for setting up group text messages.

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23 comments

  1. JG

    GREAT post – awesome adaptation of the new tools from Twitter. Cool!

    JG

    • Luke

      Thanks! I read your post about using SMS to put the message in action and 2 days later Twitter announced this. Perfect timing! Thanks for stopping by the site.

    • Luke

      Thanks for stopping by Brandon. That’s a neat method, I might have to look into that. What shows up in the “from” field when students get the text?

      • Subject looks like this [subject] and I think the email shows up. Send and email to your phone number and check it out.

  2. brandon

    is there a way to track users when doing anonymous group texting through twitter?

    • Luke

      I’m not quite sure I’m following your question, but I’m guessing you are asking about keeping track of the number of followers. I haven’t been able to find a way yet, which is one of the downsides of doing it this way.

      • brandon

        yes, that’s what i was referring to. it’d be ashamed to send out all of this important info and not have 25% of the youth following.

  3. Rob Spahr

    Great post! I was setting up one for my youth group and began to wonder – what do you think would be the benefit of doing this versus have students subscribe to the SMS updates on our Facebook page? The only benefit to the Twitter solution I can think of is that students can subscribe via their phones right away (easier opt-in) instead of waiting to get home and do it on Facebook (which they might forget to do). Any other benefits you can think of? Thanks!

    • Luke

      Hey Rob,

      Thanks for stopping by the site! I toyed with the Facebook SMS, but I saw two big benefits to this method. The first is what you mentioned with the easy opt-in right away.

      The second is the ability to select what is a SMS blast. Some of the status updates on Facebook are just silly or trivial. That’s perfect on Facebook, but doesn’t translate well to text messages. For instance, I had a parent mistakenly sign up for our main Twitter feed and not the SMS specific one… and then she was complaining about us sending too many texts that weren’t important.

      This way, we can send a blast for the more important things, but still be extra active on our Facebook page.

      Great question! Hope that helps!

  4. Speaking to one of the downsides about groups. Can’t you just set up different twitter accounts for different groups? Like a worship team account, middle school account etc?

    • Luke

      Hmm. That’s a neat idea, I hadn’t thought of that. Might have to give it a shot. You’re a clever one, Tim!

  5. Joseph

    Wow, this is great! I didn’t know you could do this with Twitter. Thank you! I tried Tatango and it’s just way too expensive. There is a very cool web site that does groups, replies and sms commands called Telefio. It’s actually pretty good for youth groups and it doesn’t cost that much. There is actually a free plan I believe. http://telefio.com/how_it_works shows how it works.

    I will check out Twitter. It would be amazing if they had a way to do groups. Man, that would be just sweet.

    – Joseph

  6. Chris Day

    Hey I found a great free mass texting option for youth groups. Telefio.com. you can have the youth sign up for free by texting a number then you can assign them into groups to text. I use it for my youth and parents. You as the administrator can text them through your phone or the website. Its awesome! Check it out!

  7. Jimmy

    Thanks for writing this post. I have been doing this with my group for a while. I get asked about it a lot. It’s always hard to explain. Now I have a link to share!

    • Luke

      Hey Jimmy, glad to help out! Thanks for checking out the site!

  8. Brian Spender

    Thanks Luke, I can always count on my nerdy buddy to make things a little simpler.

  9. Joe

    We started using it, but the amount of “Twitter Promo” texts was crazy. Any way around that?

    • Luke

      Sorry Joe, we haven’t experienced that. Is that only for folks who have an actual Twitter account, or are text-only subscribers getting the promos too?

  10. Im sure you have already heard of it, but Remind101 is an amazing tools my church uses as a form of contact and its super simple. It was created for teachers to notify their student/parents about homework, etc.. But it converts to youth ministry really well.

    • Luke

      Thanks for swinging by the site!
      I’ve signed up for Remind101 a few times, but haven’t fully implemented it. I think there’s just a mental hurdle that keep me from diving in. I should really give it another try. Have you been using it?

      • We switched to Remind about a year ago and haven’t looked back. The app, scheduled text, etc make it great. The best part is the students are already using it for school so they are used to how it all works. And the ‘free’ part works out nicely as well 🙂