How local governments can better utilize text messages
For many people, text messaging is still thought of as a way to communicate with family and friends. But more and more, businesses are getting in on the short message service (SMS) action, using these quick messages to reach customers and prospects with meaningful marketing messages. There is no reason government agencies shouldn’t also be tapping into the benefits of texting.
Texting campaigns are largely extremely effective. Research from OpenMarket estimates 83 percent of millennials open SMS messages within 90 seconds of receiving them. Previous research from Gartner indicated 90 percent of all people read texts within three minutes of receiving them, and that SMS boasts a 98 percent open rate.
For government agencies, email is often the go-to method of communication. And its rates are decent, especially compared to other industries. According to a 2021 analysis by Campaign Monitor that broke down email open rates by industry, government agencies experienced a 26 percent open rate, notably higher than the cross-industry average of 18 percent. Nonetheless, that leaves almost three quarters of intended email recipients in the dark, not even opening the message they were meant to read.
Text messages are different. All a recipient must do is look at their phone to see and read the message in full (though links with more information can be included). With higher read rates and shorter, more digestible messages, text messages offer government agencies a quick, easy and efficient way to reach people in the communities they serve. But there are strategies and regulations agencies must follow in order to get the most out of this powerful tool.
- Texting for internal use: Nearly 20 million people work for state and local governments; there are certainly a lot of moving parts from an internal government perspective. Text messages are an excellent way to quickly inform employees of several things, like meetings, office closings, security issues and more.
- One send, multiple recipients: Bulk SMS software is different from sending a group text (we all know, group texts are the worst). It enables municipalities to send a single message and have it received by dozens, hundreds or even thousands. Sending via bulk is advantageous because it’s often more affordable, keeps the recipient list private and ensures that if one person responds, not everyone receives it.
- Opting-in for text: Text messages have their own set of rules when being used to reach the public—the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). While this is lengthy legislation, the most important aspect of it are the opt-in rules. For a government entity to send a text to someone outside of the agency, that person must have explicitly opted-in (internal employees need not opt-in). Additionally, opt-out options must be included in all messages. A simple addition to the core message like “Text STOP to opt out” will satisfy these rules.When it comes to opting people in, there are several options of how and when to do it. If someone calls a government agency, during the automated greeting, one of the options could be to opt-in for SMS. Alternatively, whomever answers the phone at an agency could be tasked with asking if the person would like to be opted in. Agencies can also host a text line and print that number on marketing materials. If constituents text that line for any reason, that would be an automatic opt-in to receive messages back.
- Sending the right messages: Messages can be blocked by phone carriers for a myriad of reasons, rightfully so. As a result, government entities must be sure their messages pose no risk of looking like a spam message. The most critical advice is to simply send messages that people want to receive (people can report a message as spam even if they opted in if they don’t find it relevant). Sending spam messages, perceived spam, or even just unwanted messages is the biggest texting mistake government agencies using texts can make.
In order to send messages that are truly relevant, government agencies should be strategic with their SMS sends. First, different entities will have their own opt-in lists, so that will naturally ensure the messages are relevant (for example: someone who signed up to receive parks and recreation updates would likely welcome a message about a new park opening, but wouldn’t necessarily find a trash pickup delay message helpful unless they separately signed up for the sanitation department list).
- Texting as a means to save resources: One of the benefits of text messages is their affordability. It’s easier and faster to send a text than make a call or send an email, so it will likely save cities and counties money while simultaneously keeping constituents informed of updates in close to real-time. Bulk messages can be sent quickly and affordably, and bulk lists can be updated as needed.
- Opening up a line of quick communication: Many people believe government agencies are difficult to connect with. Whether that is true or not, text messaging offers the public a voice. This easy, fast way to communicate with government agencies can spur more communication between agencies and constituents, building trust. Ideally, someone would personally respond to every text received by the public. If that’s not possible, automatic responses can be programmed and sent with ease.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the benefits of text messages for state and local government agencies, let’s explore ways texts can be used.
- Possible use cases for government agencies to send external messages: There are so many options for potential messages that government agencies could send; here are a few:
- Reminders and links to pay traffic fines
- Road closure information for people living near the closure
- Halloween trick-or-treating schedules for different cities
- City/county court hearing reminders
- Possible use cases for the public’s use of texting government agencies: Opening up a direct line of communication to constituents will bring simplicity and ease-of-use, as people already largely understand how to send a text (as opposed to understanding how to utilize a chat box, for example).
- Requesting updates for business ordinance requests
- Making reports to animal control
- Requesting an extension for a borrowed library book
Text messages offer many benefits. They are traceable, have backlist capabilities, can be managed via computer or phone, and can be sent in bulk or individually with just a few clicks. SMS is easy and efficient, and perfect for government agencies as long as everyone keeps in mind the stringent rules to ensure texts remain an effective means of communication and a benefit to both recipient and sender.
Tom Sheahan is the CEO of Red Oxygen, a leading business SMS solutions provider that is headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Red Oxygen provides texting services to government agencies across the globe. Contact Sheahan at [email protected]