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Cut-through the politics: how smart public sector organisations are using SMS to build engaged communities

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SMS 101 7 min read | wrote in blog on March 23, 2022

Let’s cut to the chase. SMS is a powerful communications tool. Of course we’d say that, it’s literally our job. But so does the data. 90% open rate in an average of 90 seconds. And our customers vouch for it too. 

So, it’s no surprise that many savvy public sector organisations are using SMS to reach their large, diverse and disparate audiences to achieve some serious results.  

But as Spiderman’s uncle famously said, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.  

Just as SMS has the power to engage, motivate and drive action when used in a smart and strategic way. It also has the power to turn off constituents just as instantly. 

While thankfully the examples of irresponsible SMS among public sector organisations are few and far between, given the understandable public scrutiny they garner, the impact can be significant. 

Having helped more than 65,000 customers send billions of messages, we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t here at MessageMedia. In particular, when it comes to building an engaged community there are a few recipes for success. In this article, we’ll share some of our top tips as well as the faux pas to avoid. 

What’s the best way for public sector organisations to use mobile messaging?

Great question. The simple answer, lots of ways. 

From government agencies communicating critical health information with at-risk groups, to local councils sharing local news about local issues or political parties rallying volunteers for an event, there’s a raft of reasons to deploy messaging to reach the people that matter. 

Engaging volunteers

Volunteers are the unsung heroes of many community initiatives. When mobilised, they can move mountains, shape elections, and fund critical aid. But by their very nature, volunteers aren’t employees. They have other jobs and other lives to lead. So communicating with volunteers in a timely, efficient and clear manner is crucial to driving action when you need it. 

For example, when Bellingen Shire Council set up a Pandemic Response group at the start of the COVID pandemic, they had hundreds of willing volunteers from dozens of organisations, but no simple way to activate them. Through MessageMedia, the Neighbourhood Care Network was able to engage more than 500 registered volunteers, quickly and efficiently, tripling their response rate compared to email.

A phone with an SMS on it. The message reads: Hey Sue It's Josh from Minister Smith's campaign team here. With the election strategy briefing coming up, I wanted to check if we can count on your support again? RSVP if you can make it to the Volunteer session at 6pm tomorrow night. Thanks for your support. Reply Y / N to confirm attendance.
Phone image 1

Keeping local constituents informed 

Imagine you’ve got a busy day ahead of you at work. You haven’t had a great start to the day. The toasts burnt. Kids are dawdling out the door to school and you’re running late for your 9am meeting. You take the turnoff towards the city and see the dreaded yellow sign: “Road closed”.  

Whether there are emergency works, a morning fun run or a major event, locals want to know the important things that are happening in their local community that could impact their daily lives. Letterbox drops get eaten by snails, emails end up in spam, but a timely SMS the day before can get the cut-through needed to help residents make that 9am meeting. 

Surveying the people 

People are the priority of any public sector organisation. Or at least they should be. So, understanding what really matters to the people you serve, must be the most valuable insight you can have.  

For political leaders, understanding what issues are front of mind for their local constituents can help drive funding and policy decisions with far-reaching impact. Simple SMS surveys are a great way to get that pulse check from the real world.  

But you can only manage it if you can measure it — which is why many government departments and agencies send SMS surveys as a reliable and effective method to measure their service quality. 

A phone with an SMS on it. The message reads: Hi Smithtown resident. John Smith, your local MP here and I'm keen to get your opinion on the issues that most matter to you. Take a minute to complete this short survey at the link below, thanks [URL]
An example SMS sent for a survey

Event invites and reminders  

For all the efficiencies technology and the virtual world provide, sometimes nothing can supplement the value of getting people together face-to-face. The success of your initiative, policy or campaign might come down to bums on seats or how many people you can get in the room.  

With SMS invites you can secure those elusive RSVPs with the click of a button and, partnered with a timely event reminder in the lead up to the event, you can get more people off the couch and into your rally, town hall meeting or gala fundraising dinner.

A phone with an SMS on it. It reads: Good morning Sue, reminder that our annual party fundraiser gala dinner is coming up next week. Don't miss the PM and Ministers discuss the major issues. Book your table here [URL]
Phone image 3

Building an engaged audience 

That’s all wonderful and great I hear you thinking, but how do I actually reach the people I need to reach and keep them interested enough to drive action? 


Well first things first, you need to build your database of contacts to communicate to through SMS. Most public sector organisations have a contact list of people who have opted in to receive information, but others will be starting from scratch.  

If you’re the latter, then we find the most effective way to build an engaged SMS savvy audience is by promoting a dedicated number that your community can text in to.  

This could be a public mobile number for a local member of parliament or an entire government department. Encouraging people to text to opt in to receive regular updates is a great way to build that database. That way they’ll be subscribed automatically — no paperwork and no forms. This makes for a concise call to action and encourages impulsive subscribers. 

At MessageMedia we don’t sell or distribute phone databases and, in line with ACMA guidance, we discourage the use of purchased contact lists. Building an engaged community is far more effective.


Personalised communications are key to building trust with your audience. And the best way to do that at scale is to make sure your contact database is segmented. Simple categorisations of audiences, like location, active or passive, volunteers vs constituents — will all mean you’re sending the right messages to the right people. 


An opted in database that’s clearly segmented lay the foundation for personalisation, enabling you to send more engaging messages that you know matter to the recipient and are likely to drive action. It’s the opposite of a broadcast, spray and pray approach that might deliver a portion of results but will also mean a lot of churn, reaching a large volume of people with messages they don’t care about, and damaging trust and sentiment. 

Access control 

We’re getting technical now, but it’s important for government organisations to make sure they’re using a messaging platform that is both secure and able to manage users and account structures in a customised way that suits your organisation. 

For example, a political party might want to have individual accounts for local MPs, but also have oversight at an organisational level. MessageMedia’s platform can support exactly that scenario, where a master account has visibility and control over sub accounts — creating a process for more consistent regulated communications.  

For communicators within government, political parties and public sector agencies looking to build engaged communities, these tips are just the tip of the iceberg.  

To learn more check out our guide to mastering SMS customer engagement, and contact our team of trained communication specialists, for more advice and to get started. 

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