April 27th, 2020

Texting Connects People During COVID-19 Lockdown

It’s easy to think of videoconferencing apps—Skype, Zoom, Slack, and so on—as the signature emblem of the COVID-19 era. After all, videoconferencing is the best and safest way to see another person’s face and talk to them for the time being. With that said, how do you go about setting up a conference call? You probably send a text.

The only reason why texting, as opposed to videoconferencing, isn’t more emblematic of the era is that texting was already ubiquitous before it. The present crisis just exposes the extent to which we rely upon it, as well as the extent to which it’s useful. It’s useful for friends contacting friends. It’s useful for businesses contacting customers and partners. It’s useful for governments contacting citizens. Whether you’re communicating with people one on one or en masse, SMS is the thread that binds us, now more so than ever.

What Makes Texting So Useful?

More than any other form of communications, texting seems to stick with us. You can send that email right to the bin, recycle a direct mailer, and let the phone call go to voicemail, but one way or another, you’re probably going to read that text.

Text messages have a 98-percent open rate, compared to just a 20-percent open rate for email. In part, this is due to the ubiquity of the smartphone—you’re not always near your laptop, and some people may not even own one. Meanwhile, 96 percent of Americans own a cell phone, compared to around 75 percent for laptops and desktops.

In addition, all phones are not smartphones. Trying to reach your customers via push notifications from apps assumes capabilities that not all phones have. If your customers use feature phones rather than smartphones, communications other than text messages will simply bounce—35 percent of phones are best reached via text messaging.

Lastly, consumers tend to trust SMS more than email or phone calls. While both voice and email have endemic problems with spam, spam text messages account for less than one percent of all SMS traffic. If a friend, brand, or government is sending you a text message, it’s likely to contain information that’s worth paying attention to. Information that’s short, personalized, and contains branded short links tends to score even higher on the trustworthiness scale.

How Are Organizations Using SMS During Lockdown?

Numerous organizations—governments, nonprofits, and brands—have begun using SMS to communicate critical information on a large scale. Because of the statistics above, text messages are an effective and trusted way to blanket a population with potentially lifesaving data.

In the UK, for example, the government enlisted telecoms to send emergency “stay at home” messages to citizens. This is the pattern that South Korea and the Netherlands have also followed, although in the UK’s case, the telecoms have dedicated emergency alert systems that the government can use to send SMS messages directly.

Meanwhile, health services providers are also using mass text messages to broadcast information to patients. This has taken the form of CDC information to stem the outbreak, specific communications to patients regarding canceled or rescheduled appointments, screening for COVID-19, and even providing telehealth for quarantined individuals. Importantly, this communication strategy has been effective even among older patients, who were previously assumed to be technology-averse. Research from Luma Health shows that most patients between 65 and 85 years old will gladly use SMS to communicate with their healthcare providers.

Meanwhile, some brands have opted to use SMS to communicate with customers during lockdown. This is a bit tricky to do, as brand communications must now avoid a number of pitfalls—it’s easy to be too snarky or too treacly. Still, it’s vital to post information about things like store closings and adjusted hours, and as we’ve said, it’s much more likely that customers will see this information if you send it via text message.

As more people have begun to need assistance during this trying time, ad hoc mutual aid groups have sprung up around the country. These groups have no formal system of organization, and they often use text message chains to forward messages about people in need of assistance. For many individuals, this had resulted in the timely delivery of meals, groceries, medical supplies, and other essentials.

Lastly, there’s one thing that we should warn about. While SMS spam is rare, a number of opportunistic individuals are taking advantage of the crisis to commit fraud. Text messages have spread rumors of a national lockdown, have been used to sell fake medical supplies, or have advertised nonexistent tests for COVID-19. If you believe that you have received one of these messages, the Better Business Bureau has examples of various schemes, what they look like, and how to avoid them.

Make Sure Your SMS Is Going in the Right Direction

Mass SMS is an important communication tool right now, which means that it’s important everyone gets the right message. You need to ensure that the right name is attached to the right phone number, for example. You need to make sure that texts intended for specific regions are tightly segmented—a text intended for people in Massachusetts shouldn’t hit anyone in Connecticut. This helps make sure that everyone keeps reading and paying attention to their texts.

With numbering services from Neustar, you can always make sure that text messages go where they need to go and nowhere else. You’ll be able to ensure that you’re reaching the right people, while at the same time saving money by routing your messages more efficiently. In an era when SMS has become more critical than ever, accurate SMS services help make sure that everyone is on the same page. For more information, contact Neustar today.

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