Right now, there are many ways that technology can help to combat the global challenges we face. From the development of vaccines to supply chain management of resources and building propensity models for behavioral science, all industries are pitching in and trying to help. One area you might not have immediately considered is communications.
When considering the channels that organizations have to broadcast messages to their audiences, each has unique values and works well side-by-side within an ever-evolving ecosystem. I’ve worked within the mobile industry for most of my career, and the COVID-19 outbreak became “real” for me when it was announced that Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona had been canceled to secure the safety of attendees after the virus outbreak.
When considering the best channels for interacting with the population about COVID-19, I believe that it is not the exciting, more embryonic messaging channels which would have been evangelised at MWC that can have the greatest impact, but the less exciting, yet very effective medium to communicate over, which is SMS.
I believe that there are three strong values that make SMS stand out as an incredibly impactful channel resonating during the current unique environment.
An objective for organizations in the current climate is to ensure maximum reach with messages that may be critical in nature. The great majority of mobile penetration rates across the countries that have been worst-impacted to date are above 100% and SMS is a native feature within each of these devices. SMS removes barriers to engagement such as smartphone ownership, data connectivity, or the need to download an app and opt-in for notifications.
When considering how to drive the best engagement across different channels, it is important to take into account all demographics and ensure as close to a frictionless path to engage as possible. Within digital communications, SMS is one of the few options that seniors and the most vulnerable have experience using, therefore it removes any technical adoption barriers.
Immediacy and deliverability
A large proportion of the communications relating to COVID-19 are time-critical in their nature and need to ensure high delivery rates and to be read on receipt rather than sitting in an inbox. With an average 98% delivery rate and 90% of messages read within three minutes, this is the channel that offers the highest level of confidence to the sender of instantaneous engagement with the recipients.
How can SMS be used?
The first challenge is to drive awareness of the value a service is offering and to provide a gateway for consent that is accessible to everyone. Be creative and challenge traditional methods during isolation periods by using TV and radio advertising — Netflix has recently reduced their transmission from 4K to manage the current peak in demand which further highlights where audiences are spending their time. Many organizations will already have customers that have opted in, but if the service is truly driving value and support during this time, then focus must be made on growing audiences to ensure it reaches as many people as possible to maximize the extent of the benefits. It is also possible to go viral in a good way and provide text messages that can be forwarded on to help enroll loved ones who may not have gained direct awareness of beneficial communication programs.
With audiences in place, below are a few thoughts on areas where I encourage organizations to become active over SMS in their efforts to best engage with the population.
At present where I reside in the U.K., there are daily television broadcasts from our Prime Minister providing updates as to how we can best tackle COVID-19. These broadcasts instruct on the rules for businesses and the population that are being enforced to best moderate the current risks. This needs to be understood by all and the reach of SMS could be a great medium for governments to share a link to the policies put in place aiding awareness and clarity.
Where we are being encouraged to reduce exposure in public places, people are turning to online delivery services for food/prescriptions. This is a common use case for SMS due to the delivery rates and immediacy and should continue to be used for delivery information. This will reduce anxiety for those that are dependent on these services by feeling connected to the process and not being at risk of missing their slot when full lockdown has not been deployed.
SMS historically has been used in customer service to proactively share information during times of disruption resulting in improved customer experience and a reduction in associated call center costs. In the current situation, it is a great way of ensuring customers know whether stores are open or closed, when elderly shopping hours are, and if daycare or schools will be running. It can help to remove uncertainty for customers by enabling them to better operate with clarity.
The amount of goodwill that has surfaced during this challenging time has been a silver lining to a very dark cloud. Within the road I live on, residents have split the houses into sections requesting volunteers to share their availability and numbers to support the more vulnerable. With this we have given our phone numbers to enable these residents to text for any support with shopping, getting prescriptions, and dog walking to name a few items.
There has been a great drive to raise awareness and support for mental health issues in recent years. The isolation and lockdown environment in which many countries are operating within may have repercussions of loneliness and depression. I encourage charities to provide a gateway for those susceptible in this time to offer a text option for interaction and support.
It is important for trusted health organizations to ensure that people understand the symptoms of COVID-19, how they get tested, what is a safe distance to operate around others, how to minimize your risks of becoming infected and general updates as research progresses. Once again the use of SMS as part of these communications programs can help ensure that the message gets the best coverage possible to drive awareness to all.
Consider SMS as an accessible channel for communication
This is not a pitch for Cheetah Digital where of course we will be supporting all customers during this period. It's a request for organizations that can facilitate these use cases to consider using whatever technology provider they have to use SMS as an effective way to deliver their message. It is a time of great ambiguity that is driving deep disruption, concern, and anxiety across the globe. Organizations can help to soften the impact of this by better-facilitating SMS to ensure that critical broadcasts are hitting as many people as possible to have as great a positive impact as possible.
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Approaching 15 years of experience across the mobile messaging market, Andy Gladwin is a thought leader in mobile channel communications. He has been an active participant within industry bodies and worked at different levels of the mobile value chain most recently as a VP within Vodafone’s global messaging division. Today he resides in the UK, where he is the go-to-market leader for Cheetah Digital’s Global Mobile service offering.