Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has no problem exciting the college crowd with his fiery rhetoric about political revolution.
An app called Hustle helped the campaign connect with these young supporters, and recruit volunteers, using text messages. Texting proved to be more effective at reaching supporters and prospective volunteers than, say, emails or phone calls. And it works well with everyone — not just millennials.
“We’re adapting to the times by sending out millions of personal text messages from volunteers to prospective voters,” said Kenneth Pennington, digital director for Sanders 2016. “Hustle allows us to reach new people over text messages and engage in meaningful one-on-one conversations about the important issues in this election.”
Hustle is the brainchild of Roddy Lindsay, a former Facebook software engineer who saw first-hand the power of technology to connect people; Perry Rosenstein, a digital veteran of the 2008 Obama campaign who later worked as a strategist for a number of Congressional campaigns and ballot initiatives; and Tyler Brock, a former software engineer at the database firm MongoDB.
Lindsay began volunteering at FWD.us, the tech-industry-backed organization advocating for immigration reform, when he left Facebook in 2013. He said he wanted to see how advocacy groups use tech to carry out their mission.
“The digital folks, those building an online presence around social media, had pretty sophisticated tools to reach people and get them to sign petitions and share content,” Lindsay said. But the field program — its efforts to organize people who care about immigration reform in 10 cities across the country — needed help getting people to show up for events, he said.
“I saw there was a need for better tooling around relationship-building,” Lindsay said. “The whole thing with organizing, there are no shortcuts. You have to go one by one, person by person, and build a relationship over time.”
Lindsay began experimenting with the idea of adapting texting, the same communications tool people use to keep in touch with friends and family, for organizing. In the fall of 2014, a handful of FWD.us organizers began using personal text messaging to contact supporters and invite them to events, he said.
“It turned out to be a really effective way to do that,” Lindsay said. “We got people who never opened their emails to respond to a text.'”
The challenge for Lindsay and the rest of the San Francisco-based Hustle team was to create an app that allowed organizers to send personalized messages to as many as 100 people. (The system queues each contact, one at a time, so every message can be tailored to the recipient.)
The conversation evolves naturally, with the organizer gradually sharing details about the upcoming event — waiting until a second text to provide information about the meeting location or to answer questions about parking or childcare. Such exchanges help build a personal connection.
“It takes a little more time,” said Lindsay. “But if you’re an organizer communicating with these people, these are important relationships. You don’t want to pollute it with the wrong thing.”
The Sanders campaign has been using Hustle since the Iowa caucus. Rosenstein said Hustle is at its best getting people to show up at a particular place and time. One Sanders field organizer — a campaign worker charged with finding, training and scheduling volunteers — touched down in Tulsa, Okla., and began reaching out to people who’d expressed interest in the Vermont senator’s campaign.
Within three days, some 340 people showed up at a campaign event. “It’s called Barnstorms,'” Rosenstein said. “They land in a city and use Hustle to reach out to every potential volunteer leader within a certain radius to get them to a huge organizing rally. Once there, they ask everyone in person to commit to hosting a volunteer contact meeting in their community, and train them on the spot.”
Co-founder Lindsay says he hopes Hustle will help reverse the decline in participation in such civic organizations as the League of Women Voters, the United Way or the Shriners that author Robert D. Putnam explored in his book “Bowling Alone.”
“Part of the long-term vision is can we take organizations that were or are relationship-driven and use these tools to help them build enduring relationships and make the organization stronger,” Lindsay said.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.