Fostering Citizen Engagement Through Text Messaging Campaigns

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “Tips to Address 6 Common Pain Points in Service Delivery.”

A lot of government employees rely on high levels of citizen engagement and feedback in order to effectively do their job and improve services. This proves difficult, however, when citizens are not responding to traditional channels of engagement. As we move further into the 21st century, mobile engagement has been particularly effective, but with so many channels available, agencies have struggled to develop best practices and standard processes. One tool that is proving popular, however, is text messaging campaigns that reach a broader audience.

To better understand how agencies can optimize texting capabilities, GovLoop spoke with Alex Yule, Product Specialist at GovDelivery, a platform that offers end-to-end digital communications solutions for government.

Agency programs mainly have three phases that lead to success. First, agencies must disseminate information about the program to their target audience and establish a way people can enroll in the program. Second, there has to be a way for continued engagement with the program. Third, agencies have to develop a way to measure outcomes of the program. Despite this clear path to successful programs, agencies often struggle engaging their target audiences in their programs. Yule explained that historically, many agencies utilized postal mail or email to engage their audiences, but this was problematic because the audiences they were trying to reach were not using these channels.

In order to address this issue, GovDelivery introduced text messaging as an engagement channel. “Text messaging is the only technology that is really accessible to most people,” Yule said. “If you are trying to provide a government service and you are not doing it through text, you are leaving out a huge chunk of people.” As a result, text messaging is one of the most effective ways to successfully implement agency programs.

GovDelivery works with communications departments inside agencies in order to open up communications to a broader audience, gather public feedback and promote civic engagement. Additionally, GovDelivery’s interactive text messaging is supported in six languages, enabling agencies to reach diverse audiences. These text campaigns allow communications departments to meet these goals in a more efficient and effective manner.

The effectiveness of text messaging campaigns can be seen in Philadelphia’s Arise program. The program aims to help previously incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society. In this circumstance, program staff needed a more efficient way to coordinate services between caseworker and client. Yule explained that in order to do this, the agency sent out a weekly text survey to see how people were doing and based on the replies, caseworkers could more efficiently delegate their time.

Additionally, a recent construction project in San Francisco highlights the effectiveness of text messaging while incorporating a multi-channel approach into the overall campaign. “The initial campaign consisted of signs posted along the project corridor, prompting individuals to text a number for more information. From there, the text message initiates an interactive survey that offers the person the ability to receive project updates via text message or email in six different languages,” Yule said.

The flexibility between channels allows the campaign to proceed in a way that best fits the user, promoting satisfaction and further engagement. Crucial to the effectiveness of text messaging campaigns is ensuring citizen security. “We handle a lot of sensitive data, so when data reaches us, we lock it up and keep it secure,” Yule said.

On the other hand, if an agency sends a text message to someone, the message is only as secure as that person’s phone. In order to keep sensitive data secure once it reaches the end user, campaigns can take a more discrete approach. Yule explained that instead of text messaging sensitive medical test results, a campaign would send a text message saying the individual’s test results are in and to please call to receive them. “People text their friends and families, so they should also be able to text with agencies that are providing potentially lifesaving benefits,” Yule said.

However, agencies must respect the sanctity of text messaging and only use the channel to send pertinent information. “We work very closely with our government clients to make sure they understand that with the power of text comes a great responsibility,” Yule said.

Respecting the power of text messaging campaigns will only become more important moving forward as more and more state and local agencies take advantage of text messaging. “We are really working on increasing the scale of operations and being able to integrate other GovDelivery tools to solve agency problems,” Yule said.

Often, state and local government organizations are understaffed and lack resources, so they have to turn to innovative solutions to get their jobs done. “The problems agency employees are facing are hard to solve, but at GovDelivery we think we can make a difference with our technology and enable government employees to do their jobs better, more efficiently, and more effectively,” Yule said.



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