Success Story

Define American

Engaged 700+ supporters and recruited 17% of watch party hosts with SMS.

Challenge: How can we use a documentary to engage new audiences and encourage them to participate in the national conversation on immigration reform?

Define American is a nonprofit dedicated to elevating the stories and experiences of undocumented American immigrants as a core approach to changing the immigration reform culture in the United States. In 2014, Define American founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas released Documented, a film that featured his personal story as an undocumented immigrant living in America.


After over 200 screenings in communities across the country and playing in 12 theatrical markets, Documented was set to air in primetime on CNN on June 29th, 2014. Define American wanted to use this opportunity as an entry point for people to get involved in the immigration reform cause and become supporters of the organization. In order to build that community, Define American needed a tool that would be able to reach a wide audience and make it easy for people to receive updates about the campaign and take action when needed.

Action: Use text messaging to recruit and engage volunteers to host and attend watch parties for the CNN premiere of the documentary.

In months leading up to the CNN premiere of Documented, Define American worked with Fission Strategy to create a ladder of engagement to reach and mobilize their target audience. They decided to use text messaging as a primary channel to help people learn more about Define American, receive updates about the documentary, invite their friends to take part in the cause, and ultimately, host live watch parties on June 29th.

documented screenshot

To build their mobile list, Define American advertised their call to action at live screenings of the documentary and on their website. At the end of every screening, Define American asked audience members to text PLEDGE to 97779 to join their mobile list. They also added an opt-in checkbox to their web form on their website to ask new users to sign up for text messages.

Define American web form

Together with Fission Strategy, Define American then created a message schedule to engage subscribers throughout May and June and ask them to sign up to host a watch party. They also sent a broadcast on June 28th to ask people who were not hosting a watch party to join one in their neighborhood, and sent a final reminder 30 minutes before the film was scheduled to air on June 29th.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 1.16.16 PM

Success: Define American engaged over 700 supporters and recruited 17% of watch party hosts over text messaging.

As a result of their promotional efforts, Define American recruited over 450 mobile subscribers by May, and engaged over 720 mobile subscribers by the time Documented premiered on CNN.

In June, Define American sent two broadcasts to their mobile list asking for volunteers to host watch parties for the premiere of Documented. In total, 39 people out of 721 subscribers responded to the text message, which accounted for almost 20% of all hosts! In comparison, an email asking supporters to host a watch party was sent to nearly 30,500 people, which recruited just over a hundred hosts. The remaining watch party hosts came in from organic sign-ups and Documented partners.

DA chart 1

When Define American sent a broadcast on June 28th to ask subscribers to join a watch party, 656 users clicked on the web link a total of 1,004 times to find more information online – resulting in over a 100% click-through rate!

DA chart 2

Define American was extremely happy with the results of the text messaging campaign. Compared to their email list, text message subscribers were much more likely to respond to messages and take action. By using text messaging to move supporters up their ladder of engagement, Define American was able to mobilize a significant percentage of their mobile list and engage in conversation about the culture surrounding immigrants in a changing America.

“Upland Mobile Messaging has been so helpful in providing another way for us to reach our intended audience. Over half of our followers connects with us through their mobile phone so it makes so much sense to utilize SMS.  Our supporters feel connected to the action, making them more engaged and better equipped to amplify our efforts.”  – Maria Cruz Lee, Director of Engagement at Define American

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