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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

What emergency planners can learn from text marketing

In the midst of a disaster, many residents are left in the dark -- literally and figuratively -- wondering where to go, what procedures to follow and if evacuation is necessary. Alerts sent during these periods of uncertainty often go unread or are never seen because of the lack of a direct line of communication from local officials to residents. With mass SMS texting, however, governments can quickly and efficiently communicate with residents. Our research shows short message services offer efficiency and a 98% open rate, with 90% of those messages being read within three minutes.

Municipalities that continue to rely on legacy media -- mail, television, radio and even email and phone calls -- could be seen as ineffective communicators and tech-resistant and contribute to negative citizen experiences. Citizens can be easily reached at any moment with an SMS message, and communities that embrace advances in technology, can better prepare and protect their citizens for their next emergency. 

Public-sector agencies can increase emergency alert reach, improve constituent satisfaction and build a smarter, more cohesive community by leveraging the adopting these three features of text marketing.

1. Instant mobile notifications 

During a disaster, it’s often difficult to reach citizens with actionable information because of the hectic nature of such an event. As a result, municipalities must communicate using technology that’s available to their residents. According to research done by the Pew Research Center and Morgan Stanley, respectively, 96% of the U.S. population owns a cellphone, and 91% of Americans keep their mobile devices within arm's length at all times. This makes texting the easiest, most reliable way to reach residents to quickly advise next steps, recovery efforts or procedures to follow. That means, compared to television and radio broadcasts, mobile message notifications are more likely to be seen and acted on by a large portion of the target audience. Residents will feel more secure knowing they’ll always have the most up-to-date instructions and information when the next disaster hits.  

2. Targeted communication

When municipalities use texting, they can personalize and segment communications so that specific audiences receive certain messages. Keyword opt-in campaigns allow citizens to sign up to receive messages tailored to their needs. For example, residents who regularly use public transportation can text “BUS” to the assigned number to receive transit advisories during disasters or storms. Having a segmented opt-in list of citizens who are primarily bus riders, for example, enables a municipality to efficiently communicate when bus routes are altered or canceled from flooding streets.

All district residents may not need the same alert -- even during an emergency -- making segmenting essential when sending text blasts to affected neighborhoods or an exact location. When implementing an evacuation plan during a flood, for example, those closest to the disaster may need a different type of alert and arrangement than those further away. Directions can be personalized to each segmented group, making the evacuation less chaotic and more organized.

3. Text-to-landline capabilities

Using a text-to-landline service permits governments to communicate with citizens one-on-one through a centralized channel that manages both voice and text messages sent to an agency's landline. The ability to have a streamlined form of two-way conversation is imperative during a disaster. With SMS messaging, there will be less confusion and shorter wait times than when a citizen attempts to call a landline or government hotline. Questions and concerns can be quickly answered, and, if a response is required, action can be taken sooner. Besides improving agency efficiency, a text-to-landline service can improve citizen satisfaction, as we've found 77% of users have a more positive perception of an organization that communicates via text.

With instant mobile notifications, personalization and text-to-landline services, SMS texting provides the modern solution that today's communities need when a disaster or emergency strikes. Technology offers many solutions to improve government communication, and with its effectiveness and efficiency, texting is the most reliable form of public outreach. Email messages may go unseen for days, and, in the event of a disaster, that’s often too late. Municipalities must protect their citizens and prepare them as best they can for when the next disaster strikes.

About the Author

Matt Reid is the chief marketing officer at EZ Texting.

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