Monday, 25 January 2010

GUEST BLOG: How America went text mad to donate to Haiti

By Bob Bentz, president of Advanced Telecom Services
When it comes to disaster relief for earthquake victims in Haiti, Americans are phoning it in at a record pace. As of Tuesday, January 19, more than $27 million had been donated to the Red Cross thanks to a simple text message that Americans have embraced like none other that has come before it—Text HAITI to 90999.  When a consumer sends a text message for Haiti, his cell phone bill incurs a $10 charge.  This is certainly much easier and more spontaneous than putting a check in the mail.
And, it hasn’t stopped there.  The Red Cross is still accepting text message donations for Haiti so it’s impossible to know where it will all end.  The Red Cross has acknowledged just how important the text message donation program has been; 20% of its entire donations for Haiti have been received via text message in the United States.
The Haiti earthquake relief program operated by the Red Cross has far surpassed any previous use of premium SMS technology for making text message donations.  Thanks to a bevy of announcements by celebrities and first lady Michelle Obama in popular shows like 24 and the National Football League playoff games, the text for Haiti program has been a smashing success.  In fact, Red Cross officials confirmed that it was receiving a half million dollars worth of donations via text message per hour during the NFL playoffs.
President and Mrs Obama visited Red Cross headquarters in Washington earlier this week and discussed the premium SMS program. It was actually the Obama administration that first recommended text message donations as a fundraising tool for the Red Cross.  The Obama administration should know a thing or two about the power of mobile marketing—text message marketing played a vital role in Obama’s march to the White House in the 2008 election.
While President Obama’s use of mobile marketing was unprecedented in terms of the political arena, the amount earned by the Red Cross is beyond unprecedented.  “I need a better word than ‘unprecedented’ to describe what’s happened with the text message program,” said Roger Lowe, of the Red Cross.
The amount raised by the Haiti earthquake premium SMS campaign shows just how far text messages and premium SMS has come in America.  Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, a similar text message donation program raised just $250,000.
Premium SMS, however, is more than just a convenient way to make a non-profit donation.  You are most likely familiar with premium SMS from television shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’ which allows viewers to participate in the television program from home.  Perhaps, you have also seen some late night advertisements that enable you to purchase cell phone ringtones or receive horoscopes by paying via a premium SMS program.
There are the typical applications like horoscopes, TV newscast voting, and sports handicapping picks that can be used by premium SMS.  Many of these applications were the early money makers twenty years ago when 900 numbers provided an equally convenient billing mechanism to the landline phone.  There are also newer applications like internet access and computer technical support.
If you have information that you want to sell to the 270 million cell phone users in the United States, here’s how premium SMS works.
First, you need to contact a mobile marketing service bureau to provide you with the premium SMS short code.  The short code is the abbreviated phone number that is used for mobile marketing programs.  You will also need to secure a keyword with that short code.  In the case of the earthquake relief program, “HAITI” is the keyword and “90999” is the short code.
You can choose a price from as low as .10 per text message to $10.00.  In general, the carriers take 45% of the price of the text message.  Most service bureaus will remit 50-70% of the net proceeds after the carrier’s share to the sponsor of the program.   Expect to pay a fee to start the service and a monthly fee too.  You will obtain your share of the transactions in 90 - 120 days after the end of the month.
While the costs, especially those attributable to the cell phone carriers, may appear to be high, it should be noted that most of the carriers and the service bureau have agreed to forego its share of the profits for the Haiti program.  When it comes to a disaster in a poor nearby country that most of us know very little about, cell phone carriers and the American public have shown that they can be extremely generous.
Phone it in America. 
Text HAITI to 90999.

Bob Bentz is president of Advanced Telecom Services—a company that provides mobile marketing services to advertising agencies, advertisers, and media.  As part of its commitment to the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, Advanced Telecom Services will donate 20% of its revenue received from premium SMS donation programs in February.

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