6 Reasons Why Texting Is Essential for Local Governments
List-servs, community canvassing, social media messaging, and official websites all seem like good ways to get messaging across to constituents. But if your local municipality isn’t using text messaging as a means of communication, you may be missing out on some of the most vulnerable members of your population.
While low-income families may have unreliable or sporadic access to computers, statistics show that up to 96% of low-income families have cell phones and 81% have unlimited text plans. Texting can be a great way to share local resources, provide answers, and connect people to the department that serves their needs. This streamlines administration processes and mitigates frustration. Here, some of the benefits of texting for municipalities and constituents alike.
Texting Preserves Privacy and Safety
The miles-long lines of cars to get Covid-19 tested this past spring has proven that it’s not enough simply to provide a service. People need to be able to quickly and safely access services. They also need to know they are eligible to be able to do so. Texting can provide a pre-screening process as an essential first step to ensuring that a person is eligible for services. For example, in Anchorage, Alaska, individuals first interact with a textbot to determine their eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Once they’ve texted answers to the text bot, a case manager can reach out for further information.
Texting Acts as Your Virtual Bulletin Board
In New York City, residents can opt-in to receive texts on a range of issues, from beach closures to HIV testing sites to farmer’s market locations and hours. Opt-in allows people to receive information on the topics they’re interested in, and minimizes time spent on the phone answering questions or regularly updating web pages. Texting can also introduce your constituents to the breadth of departments, information, and services your city provides, and can be a great first line of contact for people who may be unsure where to turn for essential information.
Texting Reaches a Transient Population — Essential in Emergencies
A 2017 study focusing on Medicaid patients found that regular text interaction provided an anchor for people who may have irregularities in employment and housing. But it can be the same for people across demographics and populations. As local populations may be transient with an influx of renters and visitors, an alert program allows everyone who needs it to get official municipal news quickly. This can be essential when it comes to municipalities, like ones grappling with the devastation of California wildfires, who may need to issue critical emergency information.
Texting Knits Together Municipalities and Nonprofits
Local government can’t do everything for all citizens. The most effective governments have strong ties to local organizations and nonprofits. Texting allows those connections to grow even stronger by easily providing referrals to other services. Texting can also help local nonprofits connect citizens to your services. For example, in New Jersey, the Community FoodBank of NJ not only has a text line for people to access food bank locations, it also texts people information on how to contact their local board of services. These partnerships can help ensure vulnerable citizens don’t fall through the cracks, and create a strong network of support.
Texting Frees Up Government Staff and Officials for the Most Pressing Concerns
Many questions — when does this office open, where is this office located, what day is recycling day for my address — can be easily and definitively answered by a text bot. This allows more complicated and in-depth questions to be handled by employees. Two-way texting is also a way to connect with more constituents — they can have conversations over text with employees over business hours. Having a record of the conversation is a simple and effective way to keep records and see what concerns people may have.
People Want Text Communication
Municipalities are finding that the benefits of text go both ways. Citizens are more than happy to opt-in to communication, especially when they know it will make their lives safer and more convenient. Recently, Gilbert, AZ, the sixth-largest municipality in the state, created an opt-in text list for citizens to sign up for health and safety messages. Within two weeks, nearly 10,000 residents signed up, many of whom expressed enthusiasm for ongoing communication during the Covid pandemic. Text alerts reassure citizens you have their best interests in mind, and that you are proactively providing an avenue for communication and connection.