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How to set up a text-to-join service to collect more contacts

A text-to-join service with an SMS keyword is an easy and effective way to grow your contact lists. Learn how it works and how to set it up.

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When a filmmaker creates their movie, they’re getting an audience to watch it is as important as production. After all, they make a film to tell a story to them.

The same principle applies to your texts. The most important step in the SMS marketing process is getting people to read your messages in the first place.

Just as the filmmaker might invite people to see their first screening, you can encourage others to join your SMS list with a text-to-subscribe service. Let me walk you through this technique.

What is text-to-subscribe?

Text-to-subscribe, sometimes called text-to-join or text-to-sign-up, is an easy way for your audience to opt in to your SMS messages or emails. They send a text to your number to automatically join your SMS or email list.

In a few simple steps, you’ll effectively increase your mass texting and email marketing lists and set yourself up for future success in communicating with those contacts.

Check out this example of what it looks like when someone joins a text-to-subscribe program:

RUN
You are now signed up for text updates about the 5th Annual Mobile Marathon. Reply with your email to get updates there, too.

How does text-to-join work?

Text-to-join programs are simple to set up and convenient for your audience to use.

Here’s what a typical text-to-subscribe campaign looks like:

  1. You create your text-to-subscribe keyword.
  2. You promote your keyword.
  3. Your customer texts the keyword to your number.
  4. They receive an auto-confirmation message that includes compliance information.
  5. You send your first SMS campaign to your subscribers.

1. You create your text-to-subscribe keyword

A keyword is a word or phrase that customers text to your phone number to sign up for your SMS messages. It can consist of multiple words, but it’ll be written as one word (e.g., “join us” becomes “JOINUS”). Make it easy to spell and remember so your audience can easily message it to you.

For example, Holiday Stationstores uses the keyword HOLIDAY in its gas pump ads, making it a cinch to join its list:

An ad posted on a gas pump line promoting Holiday Stationstores’ texting list that you can join by texting HOLIDAY to 33992.
Holiday Stationstores’ gas pump promotion for its customer texting list.

2. You promote your text-to-join program

After creating the SMS keyword for your text-to-subscribe program, you’ll want to encourage customers to subscribe. 

Invite them via social media, email, and other marketing channels to text your keyword to your number, and watch your text-to-join mailing list grow before your eyes! This is also a great opportunity to use physical media, like Holiday’s gas pump ad above.

3. Your customer texts your keyword to your number

Now, the ball is in your customer’s court. They’ll send a message to your number that includes your keyword, which will trigger the signup. I wanted to see how Holiday Stationstores’ program works, so I sent “HOLIDAY” to the provided number.

The start of a text message conversation with the number 33992 with the message “HOLIDAY”
Let’s see what happens when we text the keyword to the listed number.

4. They receive an auto-reply confirmation and compliance information

As part of your text-to-subscribe program, you’ll set up an automatic reply to confirm that someone has joined. In Holiday Stationstores’ case, they have an extra step for confirmation.

A text conversation where the recipient, Holiday Stationstores, asks the sender to send the message Y to confirm. The sender sends the message “Y,” and Holiday Stationstores responds with a welcome message including a discount.
Holiday Stationstores welcomes new list members with a discount, too.

Here, you should also share information about what your customers should expect from your SMS program to comply with mass texting regulations. Mention who you are, what text content the recipient is signing up for, and opt-out instructions.

5. You send your first text marketing campaign

Once people sign up for your texts, you’re ready to send your first SMS marketing campaign: A single message or series of messages with a marketing goal behind them.

These campaigns can contain anything important or valuable to your contacts, so feel free to get creative! For instance, Holiday Stationstores’ main text campaign involves weekly deals.

Two promotional text messages from Holiday Stationstores, with one promoting a weekly gas coupon, and another promoting a $1 discount on a cinnamon roll breakfast sandwich.
Holiday Stationstores’ weekly coupons cover gas and food.

Need inspiration? Bookmark these 16 SMS campaign ideas for later.

How to set up text-to-join

Now that you know how a text-to-join service works, how do you set one up in the first place? 

First, you’ll need an SMS marketing platform. If you don’t have one, you can sign up for SimpleTexting free for 14 days to test drive our text-to-subscribe service.

To set up a text-to-subscribe program:

1. Create your SMS keyword

Begin by creating your keyword using the text-to-join service of your choice. We’ll use SimpleTexting in this walkthrough.

Hover over the Keywords option in the left-hand menu of your SimpleTexting dashboard and click the + icon that appears. It’ll take you to the New Keyword page.

Let’s pretend that we’re creating a text-to-subscribe program for a pet grooming service called Fluff Stuff Grooming. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll make the keyword FLUFFSTUFF. So, we’ll enter FLUFFSTUFF into the Keyword name field, where you name your keyword.

Then, we’ll decide what list a person will join when they text that keyword. In this example, we’ll create a new list by choosing Add to new list and entering Fluff Stuff Grooming into the New list name field. But, you can also add to an existing list if you want to create separate text-to-join campaigns for the same list.

The top of the New keyword menu in SimpleTexting, with FLUFFSTUFF entered as the keyword name and Fluff Stuff Grooming entered as the list name.
An example of a keyword and list name in SimpleTexting.

2. Write an auto-confirmation message

In SimpleTexting, you create your auto-confirmation message at the same time as your keyword, so you don’t have to move windows for this next step. Go down to the Auto-confirmation message and Free compliance message fields to continue the process.

In the Auto-confirmation message field, you can write up to 160 characters of text and include emoji, shortened links, and media. Use as much of this space as you can to share compliance-related information like the content of your upcoming texts and opt-out instructions.

Under Free compliance message, you’ll see the free compliance message that comes with your auto-confirmation text. We already set it up for you, so you just have to determine how many messages you’ll send per month. This message will cover opt-out instructions and a data rate disclaimer, so you’ll only need to mention your identity and what kinds of texts to expect in your auto-confirmation message for full compliance.

Another section of SimpleTexting’s New keyword menu, featuring the auto-confirmation message, free compliance message, and frequency fields.
Here’s what auto-confirmation and compliance messages look like in the SimpleTexting backend.

Recommended reading: Welcome text messages tips for new customers

If you’d like, you can set up a series of autoresponders to create an onboarding drip SMS campaign. Go to Autoresponders in your left-hand menu and click the + to make a new one. You’ll have similar options to the New Keyword menu plus the time you want to send it relative to when the recipient joined your list.

The Autoresponder menu in SimpleTexting, featuring fields for the autoresponder name, the list to target, SMS or MMS formatting, AI writing assistance, the content of your text message, and scheduling options, plus a preview of the autoresponder in a text conversation.
This is the full Autoresponder menu in SimpleTexting.

One best practice to follow when you set up your text-to-subscribe welcome experience is to share a contact card. Your recipient will get a text they can click on to automatically add you to their contacts so they know it’s you messaging them.

Set up a contact card in SimpleTexting by clicking the Settings option in the left-hand menu of your dashboard, then Numbers underneath. Click on Edit to the right of the number involved in your text-to-subscribe program, then select Edit in the upper-right corner of the Number settings box. Scroll down to the Contact card section to fill out your name, email, number, and other contact info.

SimpleTexting’s contact card menu, featuring fields for a photo upload, your contact name, your email, your number, and additional contact information.
SimpleTexting’s contact card options let you share all of your most important contact information.

3. Share your keyword with your audience.

Promote your keyword anywhere your customers will see it so they can easily sign up for your texts.

This article on ten places to advertise your keyword should give you some ideas, but for starters, consider placing your keyword on:

  • Your website
  • Your social media
  • Your storefront
  • Any paperwork you hand out to your customers
  • Your business cards
  • Direct mail
  • Physical ads like billboards

Here’s what a flyer with the FLUFFSTUFF keyword could look like.

A pink flyer titled “Make Them Look Picture-Purrfect by Joining the Fluff Stuff Text Club” encouraging the viewer to text FLUFFSTUFF to 5555 and sharing information about text content and other compliance information.
I’m a sucker for creating references to pets in my examples.

Note the compliance disclaimer at the bottom of the flyer. Any place you share your keyword should include the following details:

  • The keyword and number to text it to
  • A statement that the recipient agrees to receive text messages when they text the keyword
  • The types of content you will include in your texts
  • How often the recipient will receive texts
  • A disclaimer that message and data rates apply
  • Your terms and conditions and privacy policy (or links to them, as you can see in the flyer)

4. Analyze your success

After you run your new text list sign-up program for a little while, check your text-to-join service’s analytics to see how effective your marketing efforts are. SimpleTexting links analytics directly to keywords, so it’s a snap to see the connection between your keyword and results.

Click Analytics in SimpleTexting’s left-hand menu to find your SMS messages’ stats. You’ll see tabs for analytics on messaging and subscribers at the top.

SimpleTexting’s main analytics page, which features a performance summary for campaign, autoresponder, API, and inbox messages.
This is the first page you’ll see when you open SimpleTexting’s analytics.

Go to the Detailed breakdown section of your preferred tab and click Keywords to analyze performance by keywords.

SimpleTexting’s Detailed breakdown window from its analytics featuring a performance graph with different lines for each keyword.
Choose the Keyword tab in any analytic section to see the metrics for your keyword.

5. Send marketing campaigns to your new subscribers

Now that you have a list full of subscribers, start sending texts to your new and improved text list. They should fit the description you gave in your compliance messages, but otherwise, your creativity’s the limit.

Send a new campaign in SimpleTexting by hovering over Campaigns in the left-hand menu, then clicking the + that appears. After you name your campaign in the Campaign name field and choose whether you want to send an SMS or MMS message, write the content of your message in the Text message field. Choose the list linked to your keyword and schedule the time you want to send it.

SimpleTexting’s Compose campaign window, featuring a campaign for a new year discount for a hypothetical grooming service.
I went for a simple word-of-mouth discount here, but you can also include a link or code if you’d like.

Recommended reading: 11 SMS marketing use cases

Collect email addresses with text-to-subscribe

Now that you know how text-to-join works, let’s look at how you would gather your contacts’ email addresses as well. You have two options in SimpleTexting: The data collection app and email integrations.

How to collect emails with data collection in SimpleTexting

SimpleTexting’s data collection app adds another message to your auto-confirmation sequence that asks the subscriber for information. Set your requested info as an email address, and SimpleTexting will store it in the contact’s information. Read our Help Center guide to get the full rundown. 

💡 Tip: You can get more than just phone numbers or email addresses from new contacts who sign up using your text-to-join program. You can also collect customer details like first names, last names, zip codes, or even specific product preferences through the data collection app.

How to collect emails through SimpleTexting’s email integrations

SimpleTexting’s Zapier integration allows you to add new text message contacts to your favorite email marketing platform, like Constant Contact and Drip. We also have a native Mailchimp SMS integration

Here’s how a text-to-join email integration works:

  1. Your customer texts your keyword to your number.
  2. They receive a confirmation message requesting their email address.
  3. Zapier or Mailchimp automatically adds their address to your email marketing platform

What to prepare before implementing text-to-subscribe

Before you start your text-to-join program, check these tasks off of your list:

3 text-to-join examples from real business owners

Need some inspiration for your text-to-join program? Here are three real-world examples of successful text-to-join campaigns:

1. Artist Couture

The team at Artist Couture noticed that though they received a substantial amount of website traffic, most didn’t follow them on social or subscribe to their email list They needed a convenient way to keep in touch with potential customers.After setting up a text-to-subscribe keyword, the team added a mobile sign-up widget to collect sign-ups.

GLOWGETTER
Hey sis! Welcome to the #GlowGang! I’ll keep you updated on everything Artist Couture! Now that we’re text bff’s, you’ll be the first to know all the tea! XOXO

A day after a contact subscribes, they receive an automated message with a 10% off coupon. The result? Artist Couture’s SMS subscriber list grew by 670% and generated $4,000 in sales.

2. Mendocino Farms

Mendocino Farms searched for an easy way to announce the launch of online ordering across its 27 restaurant locations. 

Their biggest question, though, was how to let all of their customers know when online ordering was available at their favorite location.

The team created text-to-join keywords for each location and invited customers to subscribe. Then, new subscribers received an automated message asking for their email address. The whole set-up process only took the Mendocino Farms team a day to complete.

Mendo1
To find out when we launch online ordering for our California Plaza location, please reply to this text with your email address.

3. Blu Moon Design

After moving her children’s clothing business from eBay to a dedicated website, Kristi Brady of Blu Moon Design wanted her marketing to stand out from other online stores.

Kristi knew that her primary customer base — busy moms — almost always have their phones close by, so she turned to SMS marketing. 

To build her list, she created the keyword “blumoon” and invited people to text it to her number to learn about upcoming sales and promotions. She offers new subscribers a 10% off coupon to boost sales, and she’s seen a 15% redemption rate.

An Instagram post by blumoondesign featuring a picture of a little girl in a pink and cream dress with patterns and florals. The caption encourages the reader to text “blumoon” to 555888 to get a reminder of the dress’s release.
An Instagram post promoting the “blumoon” keyword.

7 real examples of text-to-subscribe programs

Since you can share a keyword, a number, and compliance information over any medium you can think of, SMS marketers can get creative with their promotions. Here are seven real-life examples of text-to-subscribe program promotions to inspire yours.

1. Holiday Stationstores window cleaning station ad

Your storefront covers wherever you do business. For Holiday Stationstores, that makes its gas pumping area fair game. It posts this ad for its truck fleet fuel card above its window cleaning station:

A paper towel dispenser in a gas pumping area with an ad on it promoting Holiday Stationstores’ texting list for truck fleet fuel cards.
Why not use your paper towel dispenser as a promotional space?

2. Holiday Stationstores bathroom mirror notice

Your indoor spaces work well for advertising your text-to-join keyword, too. Holiday Stationstores posts this text-to-subscribe notice in its bathrooms to give human trafficking survivors discretion when they ask for help:

A sign on a bathroom mirror titled “Are you safe? Need freedom?” featuring a hotline number and text keyword for human trafficking survivors.
A text-to-join sign offers help to human trafficking survivors

3. Fargodome display

As you learned in the previous example, not all text-to-subscribe programs need to be promotional. Fargodome has a text-to-join function for people who need to report an incident at its stadium, which it promotes in its hallways:

A digital display in a hallway in Fargodome advertising the stadium’s keyword for reporting issues and incidents.
Fargodome shares its keyword on the big screen.

4. Bob Bentz’s book presentations

Bob Bentz, the CEO of the mobile-first marketing agency Purplegator, regularly performs public speaking to promote his books on mobile marketing. When he talks about his newest book, he asks the audience to text “Relevance” to the number he provides for a chance to win his book.

“This not only gets the audience engaged in my presentation, but it also gives me a database that I can market to later. Moreover, it promotes the book signing that I will be doing after the presentation,” Bob says.

5. Smartify’s social media promotions

At the smart tech company Smartify, the marketing team promotes their text-to-join keyword everywhere their customers interact with the brand. On top of packaging and receipts, Smartify also promotes its keyword on social media. Here’s a carousel image sharing its text-to-subscribe list for customers interested in a home visit:

A social media graphic titled “Schedule a FREE visit at your home” that shares a keyword to text to schedule a home visit for smart tech.
Mix up your keyword promotions by including them in carousels and slideshows.

6. Blume’s Instagram post

Sharing your keyword on social media presents a conundrum: How will you split the information you need to share between your image and caption? Blume strikes a good balance in this Instagram post promoting its giveaway. This skincare brand gets a gold star for highlighting the most important info in its image and listing all of the necessary compliance details in its caption:

An Instagram post by Blume with an image of a Starbucks drink with text announcing a giveaway. The caption text shares details about that giveaway and includes compliance-related information.
Blume uses an animated image uploaded as a video to add visual interest.

7. DC Batman’s tweet

A touch of meta humor never hurts. DC’s Batman parodies the text-to-join signup process in this Tweet promoting the keyword for the DC Community:

A tweet from the official Batman Twitter page sharing the keyword and number for the DC Community texting list that includes a picture of a text conversation between DC Comics and Batman.
Have fun with your text-to-subscribe promotions!

Start your text-to-join program in minutes

Not ready to commit to a text-to-join service just yet? We get it. That’s why we offer a risk-free trial of SimpleTexting.

It’s completely free for 14 days — no credit card or contract needed, so you can try out a text-to-join campaign for yourself.

Melissa King
Melissa King

Melissa writes thoughtful content about marketing and productivity for B2B SaaS companies like CoSchedule, Zapier, and Databox. She has six years of professional writing experience. Outside of the content marketing world, she sometimes writes about video games.

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