Using SMS and Google Sheets to gather last minute replies for events

This is a story of how we got T-shirts into the hands of eager Trainhack participants despite forgetting to ask for T-shirt size in the registration form. It’s a nice showcase of how easy it is to automatically collect feedback using SMS. Of course, you can ask for feedback about other things than T-shirt sizes… we just really like T-shirts.

Size distribution was surprisingly uniform at Trainhack.

Setup

The setup for this hack is pretty simple. You’ll need the following:

  • A Google account
    You probably have one of these already.
  • A 46elks account
    Sign up here if you haven’t already.
  • A Virtual Phone Number (preferrably in your home country)
    You can purchase a Virtual Phone Number in the 46elks dashboard after creating an account. Prices vary but are typically 30 SEK / 3 EUR / 4 USD per month.

The basic idea is to use your virtual number to send an SMS to a list of contacts. When the recipient replies to your SMS, they’ll reply directly to your virtual number and you’ll be able to programatically forward the contents of the message anywhere you like — in this case, into Google Sheets. Simple, right?

Forward incoming SMS to Google Sheets

It’s probably a good idea to sort out the receving part of this hack before sending out any SMS. You know, in case someone replies before you get everything set up. Luckily, we’ve already written a pretty in depth tutorial and made a video on forwarding incoming SMS to Google Sheets. It’s called Forwarding Incoming SMS to Google Sheets.

It’s a tutorial about forwarding incoming SMS to Google Sheets

You can follow that tutorial all the way through without changes. Of course, if you’ve already purchased a Virtual Phone Number you can skip the part where you purchase another one. Or don’t. Just remember to report back here once you’re done!

Send multiple SMS messages with Just Send!

At this point you should be able to send an SMS from your phone to a Virtual Phone Number and see it pop up in a spreadsheet. If not, go back and make sure you haven’t missed a step.

All that’s left now is to actually request feedback by sending an SMS from your virtual number to a list of recipients. There are lots of ways to do this, of course, but to keep it simple we’re going to use Just Send! which is a graphical interface on top of the 46elks API. It’s pretty self explanatory; visit justsend.46elks.com, upload your contacts and click send.

Like we said, it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Sit back and relax

Once you’ve clicked “send” there’s really not much more to do except wait for responses to start rolling in.

Take a moment to enjoy the fact that you are now a master of automatic feedback — now that you’ve done it once it’s pretty easy to adapt this to other purposes. You can be the master of customer feedback. Or party invitations. Or car pools.

Us? We’re quite happy being the master of T-shirts.

Have questions? Feedback? Want to show off what you’ve built? Leave a comment below!

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