3 April 2020
Tips for sending SMS communications during COVID-19
On the 18 March, MessageMedia Group’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Rachael Hooper-Sand moderated the first in a series of 20-minute COVID-19 themed webinars on communicating during a crisis. These webinars aim to help organisations prepare for the rapid changes brought on by the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). She was joined by Customer Experience Manager Ronny Howard, Senior Product Manager Luke Grimstrup, and MessageMedia Group CEO, Paul Perrett.
We wanted to answer the many questions we have received from customers over the past week about what needs to be prepared when sending urgent communications. There is a widespread use of SMS services for businesses to reach stakeholders rapidly. We want to help employers, education faculties, government bodies and health providers understand how they can effectively utilise sending messages online.
You can read the recap and key takeaways of our full webinar below or watch its recording here:
1. Prepare to send SMS messages
Collate your data
Make sure you have the correct and accurate contact data for all intended recipients, whoever they may be: patients, employees, school parents, etc.
Use correct formatting
Make sure that mobile phone numbers are stored in the correct format. We recommend using international formats, including dial codes, for all numbers.
Test your broadcast
If you want to make sure that all the current data you have is correct, we suggest sending out a test broadcast. Here’s the one we sent out to our staff at MessageMedia Group.
Testing out our emergency alert system early assured us we wouldn’t be making any mistakes once we did need to employ it. It also helped us make sure that we were able to follow up employees who didn’t respond to check for up-to-date phone numbers.
KEY TAKEAWAY: If you haven’t already taken measures to audit and update your current contact lists, make sure you do this.
2. Organise your contact list
Think about your audience
We advise senders to really think about who you need to send texts to in terms of their grouping or segment. In each of these cases, different tailored messages are required if either grouping, or both sub-groupings, are chosen.
Segmentation in action
For example, let’s choose location. If you need to group your contacts by the state they work in, those recipients may require links to local legislation, nearby health bodies, as well as contact details for state-based offices.
If it’s by division, recipients may then need a manager from their division or an ELT leader they know and recognise whom they can pursue with questions.
Use contact groups
Your main aim is to make sure you organise your contacts so that the right message gets to the right audience. We advise learning how to use MessageMedia’s Contact Groups feature. This helps organisations categorise and segment their contacts into chosen clusters.
TAKEAWAY: Plan your communication segments for different scenarios so that you can have your groups set up accordingly.
3. Understand your audience needs
Check your information accuracy
Repeat what we did in step one. Do your due diligence and confirm what you’ve sourced is correct, especially given the rise in misinformation and scams around COVID-19.
Consider opt-outs and compliance
The SMS landscape is regulated to allow customers and other stakeholders the decision to opt-out of communications via SMS. That’s why it’s important for you to understand the local regulations and compliance obligations for states and countries of your recipients.
Consider local languages, regional dialects and translation issues.
You can use free tools, such as Google Translate, to help you deal with this issue. MessageMedia has Google Translate integrated as part of our message content creator platform should translation be a necessity.
TAKEAWAY: Understand, research and use the tools available to you to make sure you are servicing your specific audience needs.
4. Optimise your text messages
Use short links
Due to the short nature of SMS messages (160 characters), most COVID-19 (Coronavirus) communications come with links to point recipients towards a document or website where more information is hosted. If you are including links with your message, make sure to learn how to use URL shorteners or have access to Short Trackable Links on our platform. This will help ensure your 160 characters communicate a message, not a long URL.
Send dynamic messages
Consider whether SMS is right for you, as there are many more messaging options. For example, MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) allows organisations to add a gif, image or branding, which has shown to be useful across many sectors.
Senders may also want to gather information, check-in or assess a situation with recipients. For example, a primary school may be seeking information about which parents and students have recently travelled overseas.
Use the automation feature in our web portal to create a ‘conversation’ between you and your recipient. This will help direct stakeholders to a certain outcome during a potential shutdown period.
TAKEAWAY: Make sure you have the features you need enabled in your platform before the need to send out emergency information.
5. Prepare your team
Nominate team members
While this may sit with one person, you may want to open this up to more members in case of illness, outages or an emergency. Ask yourself:
- Who needs access to the platform now and in the future?
- Who needs to know about our communication strategy?
- Who within the team needs to get trained up on using the SMS platform?
For example, a healthcare provider might want to open up broadcast access so doctors are able to send out urgent, personalised communications to their own patients. They may not want to rely on their practice manager.
Consider email to SMS
There is a solution for organisations who still want to restrict entry to the platform, but want specific individuals to be able to send SMS broadcasts. You can set up Email to SMS, which is a unique feature of MessageMedia’s platform. It allows remote operators anywhere in the world to send SMS online, out of their email addresses.
TAKEAWAY: Give consideration to not only your external audience, but to those inside your team or organisation.
6. Write engaging messages
Include your identifier
Ensure your message clearly identifies who you are. This will help cut through and gain immediate trust with the recipient. This is especially important during COVID-19 (Coronavirus), where trust is being eroded due to the rise in SMS scams.
MessageMedia’s platform, like many, will allow you to set a consistent signature for all messages.
Build on message templates as much as you can. If more people gain access to use of the platform, you may want them to rely on ready-made templates. As this crisis changes day-to-day, so too does the need for efficiency in our responses.
Not to worry, MessageMedia has drafted easy-to-use COVID-19 messaging templates that are ready-to-go for many different kinds of businesses (including education, healthcare, NFP etc) and circumstances. They are free to use through us or with whichever messaging provider you choose.
By building your content early, you are also planning ahead for message personalisation. For example, do you want to refer to them more casually (by Anne) or more formally (like Ms Smith)?
Consider length and links
Finally, consider message length and links. Try to be concise and within the 160-character length by rationing your words and using short trackable links. On MessageMedia’s platform, it’s easy to see and adjust for the character count in the message composer window.
TAKEAWAY: Work out what you want your messages to do, and who should be handling them. We suggest mapping them out and talking through them with your team, so they understand the campaign’s point and objectives.
7. Check your account
Raise your credit limit
Due to increased audience sizes, make sure you contact your SMS provider or MessageMedia so that your credit limits account for the new sizing or are suitably topped up before you need to send.
You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute for the credit card or tech support when an urgent SMS campaign needs to go out.
TAKEAWAY: Consider the wider number of recipients you need to reach in an emergency against your current credit balance. Is it topped up or do you have access to top it up in urgent circumstances? If not, consider changing your plan or talking to your provider so you don’t run into trouble later.
8. Test your broadcast
Conduct a test run
Gather a small user group from your organisation with whom you can send a test broadcast to. You can do this easily with MessageMedia’s send test function in our online SMS portal.
This will make sure that your end-to-end journey works as you intended. You do not want to go out to over 100,000 people in your database without testing first.
TAKEAWAY: Test, test and test again before you have to send out your live broadcast.
9. Use SMS etiquette
Stagger your send
If you’re inviting recipients to respond, make sure you don’t overload your team with responses by sending out a mass notification to your entire database all at once.
Instead, stagger the send-out in batches; this will give your team the time and resources to respond.
Consider time zones
You may also want to cater for different time zones before sending out your SMS broadcast. While you may need to adjust this for yourself manually with other providers, MessageMedia’s service has a Socially Aware Sending feature. This allows users to base their message send-out on the location and time zone of the recipient, not on the sender.
TAKEAWAY: Have some consideration about when you’re sending and what you’re expecting back.
10. Track engagement
Check delivery status reports
It’s important that you give yourself enough time to go through your chosen provider’s portal to understand what functions are available to help measure the cut-through and impact of your broadcast.
Make sure you know how to track engagement, what delivery status reports mean, as well as what reporting is available to you.
TAKEAWAY: It’s important especially for end-to-end journeys to track your broadcasts. This will only help you better understand how to make your next one even better.
Make sure you check out our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Resources Hub with additional messaging templates for you customise to your needs as well as other resources.
You can also use our text-in support line by texting in the word SUPPORT to +61436278682. You will receive updates, links to new templates and advice as well.
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