I suppose there are a jillion ways to communicate to students in your youth ministry these days – more than ever there are a plethora of choices through traditional channels (like handouts and announcements) and new media (YouTube, Facebook and SMS). Then there’s the stuff that was critically important a few years ago and is still hanging around (an actual website).
In the past few years, we’ve fully embraced SMS as our primary method of communicating with students. By the time they get to high school, most all have phones and a overwhelming percentage have texting plans. We recently made a significant shift in text message providers, and thought that if either one of these might fit your needs you should check them out:
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+Super easy to use
The interface is easy, you can literally go from nothing to sending out texts in minutes. The free trial lets you see it all and make sure you are technical enough to figure it out. Easy, easy.
+You can read replies
A new feature added as we used the system allowed you to see the “message stream” or the replies that come into your account. You can easily reply to individual texts.
The average youth ministry will be spending $10 a month on the system, which is pretty nominal considering what you’re getting. Quick, slick, cheap.
The system works well – you can literally push send and your phone will light up in 10 seconds with your mass message. In the backend, it actually is sending an email that comes through your phone as a text. It works in most cases, but if you have the carrier wrong it fails. For the most part, it works as advertised, as long as your data has integrity.
+/-Difficult to subscribe/unsubscribe
One of the downsides is that you have to a) manually add people, b) get them to manually add themselves on a website, and c) monitor the message stream for unsubscribe requests. UPDATE: The system has been upgraded over the past few months and it is now much easier to remove yourself from a list.
A few months back, we began to outgrow the Simply Text system and as texting became more and more primary (and eventually one of the only ways we communicate with students) we needed a tool that would grow with us and be highly reliable. After a ton of research, we went with Duffled.com. Here’s what they offer in a nutshell:
+Subscribe by texting
This is a HUGE game-changer. See the message on a poster, on a handout or on the screen and you can pull out your phone and immediately subscribe. We get new subscribers without doing a thing. Boom. Same thing – when a kid graduates – they remove themselves. If a parent wants in – simple.
+Students can send in keywords and get automatic replies
This is a big upgrade, too – when a student wants more information on something they text 39970 with “hsm baptism” or “hsm serve” and get specific instructions, dates, times or directions. We set up unlimited keywords, with whatever information we want to be sent out by SMS robot. Brilliant!
Duffled is actually sending an SMS text message – so arrival is pristine and quick. It costs more for the system to do this, but it is highly reliable and stable platform to communicate with confidence.
The actual user-interface with Duffled is completely functional, but doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. If they overhauled the face of it, it would be a huge improvement. Still though, it gets the job done but sure isn’t sexy.
-It costs for each text you send out
The big downside is that in this case you get what you pay for – which means a better system costs more money. We are biting the bullet and paying a significant amount more each month.
Either way it might be a good idea to think about all of the methods of communication available between you and students, and decide as a team which one(s) you’re going to get behind.
UPDATE: After a ton of feedback on this post (Tweets and RTs, too – thanks, all!) I thought a summary might be helpful:
For the bang for your buck, Simply TXT simply can’t be beat. Cheap, simple, straightforward and solid. For 99% of youth ministries, this is an essential tool to communicate with your students. It doesn’t have all the higher-end specs you might find from other platforms, but is consistently improving and is more than adequate for most uses. If you’re larger ministry and/or looking to really leverage texting, Duffled might be your answer. The ability to send automatic replies opens up a lot of possibilities, and the system while requiring a significant investment, is solid.
Either way, I hope this post helps you ask some good questions about communicating to your students and gives you some good options to consider as you head toward your student ministry’s fall kickoff weekend.