Why Experts are Ditching Text Messaging for App-Based ESM: Find Out Here

Why Experts are Ditching Text Messaging for App-Based ESM: Find Out Here

Angelo Yanga
Line divider

Experience Sampling Method (ESM) has long been a staple in psychological research. It provides real-time data directly from participants as they go about their daily lives. Traditionally, researchers have relied on text messaging to collect this data, but a significant shift is underway. Experts are now turning to app-based ESM platforms. 

The article explores the reasons behind this transition, highlighting the limitations of text messaging and the benefits of using specialized apps.

The Limitations of Text Messaging for ESM

There are reasons experts are now turning to app-based ESM, such as the limitations of text messaging apps when implementing ESM in their research study. So, here's why researchers ditch text messaging for ESM: 

1) Constraints on Types of Data Collected

Text messaging offers limited capabilities, primarily restricting data collection to text responses. This limitation can affect the quality and depth of data, as it excludes other forms such as video, audio, or interactive responses. 

Moreover, text messages can suffer from delivery delays and lack the precision in timing for some studies, potentially skewing the data.

2) Limitations of Texting Survey Links

Some researchers use texting to send survey links for participants to complete, but there are limitations. Because of their offline nature, linking surveys for the same participant can also cause problems. 

Participants must have access to both cellular and Wi-Fi networks to complete surveys sent via text. An option to complete these surveys offline, which can exclude participants without consistent internet access, needs to be available.

3) Inability to Track Individual Response Rates

When surveys are distributed through text messages, tracking individual response rates in real time can be difficult. This limitation arises because survey systems and text messaging platforms are often separate, complicating monitoring responses and sending timely reminders or follow-ups. Additionally, it creates problems when sending reminders or following up with participants.

4) IRB Challenges with Data Privacy and Security

Texting for surveys involves obtaining participants' phone numbers, which compromises their anonymity. The secure storage of this sensitive information is crucial. Yet, unlike app-based ESM, many text messaging systems do not comply with HIPAA regulations, which adds further concerns regarding data privacy and security.

5) User Experience Challenges

Text-based ESM participants may also find it cumbersome to respond to multiple texts throughout the day because this is confounded with other text correspondences they have. This can lead to lower compliance rates over time, which is crucial for longitudinal studies. Due to its static and non-interactive nature, it can lead to lower participant engagement.

Advantages of App-Based ESM

Everyone asks the fundamental question: What are the benefits of app-based ecological momentary assessment over text messaging? Before starting your research study, learn about the advantages of an app-based ESM. 

How App-Based ESM Overcome the Limitations of Text Messaging

1) Enhanced Data Collection Capabilities

App-based ESM platforms can collect a wide range of data types seamlessly. These include physiological data through connected devices, GPS location, and richer survey responses through interactive interfaces. This breadth of data offers a more comprehensive view of the participant's state and behaviors.

Beyond wearable technology like Fitbit, apps can integrate with external devices like blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, and environmental sensors. This capability facilitates comprehensive health monitoring and environmental data collection, which is crucial for epidemiology and environmental health studies.

2) Improved User Engagement

With their sophisticated UI/UX designs, an ESM mobile app can significantly enhance user engagement. Features like gamification and real-time feedback motivate participants to remain involved throughout the study, improving data quality and compliance rates.

Apps can offer personalized experiences by adapting content and surveys based on individual responses or behavior patterns observed over time. This improves engagement and ensures that the data collected is highly relevant to each participant's unique circumstances.

3) Better Data Management and Security

Since you will be collecting personal data from your participants, remember that protecting their information and privacy is essential. Integrate.IO even shared that app-based platforms should focus on preserving individual autonomy to prevent the misuse of personal information. 

For this reason, app-based systems must provide robust data encryption and secure transmission protocols, ensuring participant data privacy and security. These platforms also facilitate more accessible and efficient data management and analysis, allowing researchers to access and analyze data in real time.

App-based ESM platforms can employ advanced security measures such as end-to-end encryption and secure cloud storage to protect sensitive data. They can also enforce strong authentication measures to ensure access to the app and data is strictly controlled.

4) Regulatory Compliance

App-based platforms can be designed to comply with data protection regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA, which is essential for research that involves sensitive health data.

Digital platforms can facilitate detailed, informed consent processes by providing participants with comprehensive information through multimedia formats and ensuring that consent is fully informed and documented in a compliant manner.

5) Multi-Language Support

Unlike text messaging, which may be limited by character count or lack support for multiple languages, apps can quickly provide surveys and instructions in various languages, expanding the potential participant base.

Multi-language support also allows for the cultural adaptation of content, making surveys for an ESM mobile app more relevant and accurately interpreted by participants from different backgrounds.

text messaging ESM vs app-based ESM graph difference

Possible Challenges for Transitioning to App-Based ESM

Indeed, using an app-based ESM platform is much more beneficial than text messaging. However, there are some possible challenges you may encounter when transitioning to a mobile app. To be more prepared, here are some challenges you need to consider: 

  • Technological Barriers:  Developing and maintaining an app requires technical expertise and financial investment, which can be a barrier for some research teams. Ensuring the app functions across various devices and operating systems also presents challenges.
  • Accessibility Concerns: While smartphone penetration is high, not all participants may have access to the necessary technology, potentially limiting the demographic range of the study.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of app-based ESM are still helpful for your study. So, look at one of the ExpiWell researchers who has experienced the advantages of mobile apps. 

Case Studies and Expert Opinion Experience

Let’s take a look at the study entitled: The Hazards of Daily Stressors: Comparing the Experiences of Sexual and Gender Minority Young Adults to Cisgender Heterosexual Young Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic by  Dr. Jessica Lougheed and colleagues.

The researchers used ExpiWell, an app-based ESM, to conduct daily diary surveys for their participants. With the help of the app, they discovered surprising findings  regarding the stressors in their daily lives than their cisgender heterosexual peers. Using an app is much more convenient to record daily thoughts and emotions for more accurate data results. 

Using an app-based ESM is indeed convenient for researchers. Dr Lougheed shared, “ ExpiWell (an app-based ESM) is easy to use in programming and scheduling surveys. Participants also find it easy to enroll in studies without needing too much time or intervention from researchers.

READ MORE: ExpiWell’s Researcher in Focus: Dr. Jessica Lougheed Explores COVID-19's Impact on Sexual and Gender Minority Identities

Switch to App-Based ESM  

The shift from text messaging to app-based ESM represents a significant advancement in research methodology. With enhanced data collection capabilities, improved participant engagement, and better data security, app-based ESM offers a powerful tool for researchers. As technology continues to evolve, so too will the methods we use to understand human behavior.

So, if you need help with your ESM research, visit expiwell.com to learn more about the platform or email sales@expiwell.com for a FREE consultation. You can also follow ExpiWell on their social media: Facebook, YouTubeLinkedin, and Twitter/X


  1. Lougheed, J. P., Keskin, G., & Morgan, S. (2023). The hazards of daily stressors: Comparing the experiences of sexual and gender minority young adults to cisgender heterosexual young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collabra. Psychology, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.73649
  1. Tobin, D. (2021, May 7). What is Data Privacy—and Why Is It Important? Integrate.io.https://www.integrate.io/blog/what-is-data-privacy-why-is-it-important/

Recent Blogs

Release notes: Newly enhanced features (to help improve the work you do)

October 26, 2021

Release notes: Newly enhanced features (to help improve the work you do)
Read More
How to Choose the Right Software for Your Daily Diary Study Projects

May 24, 2024

How to Choose the Right Software for Your Daily Diary Study Projects
Read More
Why Experts are Ditching Text Messaging for App-Based ESM: Find Out Here

May 16, 2024

Why Experts are Ditching Text Messaging for App-Based ESM: Find Out Here
Read More
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.