The value of SMS as a direct and effective marketing tool is well documented, but growing numbers of public sector organisations are beginning to embrace it for far more practical and pragmatic reasons.
The capacity to deliver important information – and urgent alerts – straight into the hands of stakeholders is immense. Social inclusion, transparency and accountability are high on the agenda of public sector bodies throughout the UK. To be able to deliver such measurable, auditable and effective communication represents a major coup for them.
Unlike many other forms of mass communication – particularly printed letters to constituents – SMS offers opportunities to personalise messages, making recipients feel that their attention and response really counts for something. It can also inspire far more responses and gather data in an extremely efficient way, increasing participation by the public.
Better still, in the face of local authority budget cuts, SMS systems represent a cost effective form of communication, especially when compared to printed materials.
Working with a text message provider can also help public organisations to disseminate emergency information more effectively than any other form of communication.
Let’s look at just some of the ways that the public sector is reaping maximum benefit from SMS, and the potential for it to develop into the perfect relationship.
SMS to build public sector communication
For some local authorities, SMS is “under consideration” to support the development of Crisis Management plans. For others, it is already becoming an integral part of regular, effective and highly responsive communications with local residents.
More and more public sector organisations and local councils are embracing the value of business text messaging to engage stakeholders, connecting people to their services and initiatives at a whole new level.
Scrupulous adherence to Data Protection is a given for Government funded bodies, but it’s a myth that SMS messaging is a system of cold calling.
Local authorities are securing the necessary opt-in by exposure on websites, but also by issuing shortcodes. These are 5-6 digit codes that mobile users can key in to agree to receive SMS text messages from public sector agencies and councils.
Integrating SMS into public sector systems
SMS services and platforms such as the one used by Fastsms can be easily and quickly integrated into existing CRM systems and software. It means that local authorities can communicate with residents in a structured and sustained way, but also in tandem with other timetabled events and developments. Everything from council tax reminders to invitations to events and local election information.
Messages can be tailored to specific target groups too, ensuring some of the ‘harder to reach’ sectors can be included. Participation and support could rise substantially if people have that instant and unavoidable reminder in their hand.
Some local authorities are even using SMS services to register votes. This could certainly bring greater involvement in local elections – particularly from residents previously unwilling or disinterested in voting in person.
SMS for public sector feedback and participation
What is sometimes overlooked is how powerful SMS is in stimulating two-way communication. It offers the public sector an excellent platform for measuring response rates, evidencing communications effectiveness and gathering feedback.
SMS services also unlock more immediate and responsive systems for the public to make enquiries and ask questions in a highly controllable and time-efficient manner.
For example, anti-social behaviour can be reported quickly, and if the facility exists for this to be anonymous then the likelihood of receiving valuable “tip offs” is greatly increased.
Automated SMS response systems mean that information and questions can be acknowledged 24-7. This leads to the public feeling a great deal more listened to, rather than having to wait for answer machines or email enquiries to receive a response.
Modern SMS services can also provide individual responses. The ability to update a local resident on their question, complaint or report ensures that local authorities appear far more responsive and approachable.
Click through rates to websites or surveys will quickly improve using SMS communications, as it will grow public participation.
Greater engagement between young people and the public sector
Using SMS to communicate could prove particularly potent amongst younger members of the local community. Engagement between local authorities and young people is notoriously flimsy. Using SMS text messages and response systems to make communication more palatable to them, as well as immediate, has to be a good thing.
SMS services for emergencies
In an era when terrorism comes in many forms – including assaults by vehicles – SMS alerts and communications offer a great way to coordinate and control crowds at events. Event staff, police and emergency services can share information instantly, making response times much quicker.
Descriptions of suspects, vehicles or identified risks can be transmitted to everyone involved in a heartbeat.
But the ability of business text messaging to evolve into responsive emergency communications looks set to affect everyday life too.
Staff within schools, colleges, hospitals and other vulnerable buildings can receive information about intruders or other threats simultaneously and thoroughly.
Another way in which SMS can be used effectively is by local Police Forces seeking to keep residents and businesses informed about suspicious behaviour in their neighbourhood, criminals on the run or serious traffic issues. If this seems far-fetched, keep in mind that many police forces in the UK are beginning to use Twitter and other social media for communication and engagement. SMS messaging is the next logical step.
The future for SMS and the public sector
The relationship between text systems and the public sector is in its infancy. However, the possibilities for emergency services, public sector agencies, Government bodies and local authorities are infinite.
The day is not far off when our mobile phones will be an even richer source of individualised communications, from emergency information to local event details, and council tax reminders to recycling tips. Plus, the public will be able to use their mobile phones to seek information, help and responses from local authorities, receiving immediate replies.
To explore how your public sector organisation could unleash the communications and engagement potential of up-to-the-minute text message provision, get in touch with Fastsms today.