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Using all your soon-to-be-outdated methods of communication, encourage everyone to sign up for text updates.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.
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.
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.
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.