The Role of Automated SMS Text Messaging in Survey Research

Nina DePena Hoe, Heidi E Grunwald


Speaking to a need for innovative methods in data collection, this study demonstrates the utilization of web-based, automated SMS text messages in survey research in an attempt to cost-effectively reach more diverse samples of citizens, through their cell phones. The Textizen™ web-based SMS text message platform allows for the large-scale administration of short, text-based surveys. Of particular interest to survey researchers, some traditionally harder-to-reach populations, such as low-income and minority populations, have been quick to adopt mobile phone technologies, and use text-messaging services a higher rate than others. This study describes a recent test of SMS text messages as a “primary” mode of data collection – both in recruiting participants, and administering a survey in a regional context.  A sample of 1,000 mobile subscribers was contacted via a “cold text” asking them to participate in a 5-question survey regarding their opinion on a local park; a raffle of 10 iPads was offered as incentive. Non-respondents received follow-up phone calls to determine their reason(s) for not responding, such as a non-working number, the inability to receive text messages, non-interest in text-message survey participation, or invasion of privacy. Significant empirical results include the rate of text message non-receipt, rate of text message receipt, frequency of reported barriers to responding (reasons for not responding), and demographics of respondents. Findings provide rich insight into the use for automated text messages in survey research in general, and have implications for particular local and global markets where the number of mobile subscribers and text message usage is high. This study can inform future experiments aimed to increase both response rates and cost effectiveness, as well as access traditionally harder to reach populations.


Mobile Phone Surveys; Text Messaging;Short Text Messaging (SMS), Cell Phone Panel

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