2020 has been a particularly tough year. Between fires, economic downturns, and COVID-19, the need for accurate and timely crisis communications has never been greater.
This year has taught us how important crisis management is, but unfortunately, the reason that this has been highlighted is because communications have often been found wanting.
The crisis communication issues highlighted in 2020
Two major issues with crisis communication have been laid bare in 2020.
First, for some, there is the issue of getting too little information. In a world where people increasingly self-select their information from non-traditional sources and often rely solely on what they can discover on social media, that information is sometimes presented out of context or without a reputable source, and that can introduce confusion, lack of public coordination and even possibly new dangers.
Second, for others, there is the issue of information overload. Because of the abundance of information coming from a seemingly endless array of sources, critical communications often get drowned out by the noise. With so much information at our fingertips, we can become desensitized from paying attention to the most important information, and we may also feel unnecessary stress and fear due to knowing so much about the worst-case scenarios.
Governments are equipped to provide useful, actionable information but most still take a traditional approach: crisis communications are delivered via the media, press conferences and releases, and sometimes posted on a website. The hope is that they will be received by the right audiences at the right time, but our changing media habits and an increasing number of media sources mean that they often aren’t.
The question then is simple: how can we be better?
The basics of crisis communications
During crises, governments must communicate any information that will protect citizens, whether from fire, virus or any other threat as well as any changes to laws, regulations and standard government operations. To be effective, information should always be delivered by officials or experts, and must be fact-based and free of politics.
Press conferences and press releases are fine, but they don’t ensure that a message is delivered to all citizens. Sending communications directly to citizens is a far more efficient and effective model. With the ubiquity of smartphones, the most effective method is through text messages that can be sent easily and instantly. This type of direct contact also allows the information to be more tightly controlled.
But this communication can’t be all one way. Governments also need to make it easy for citizens to interact with them, and an integrated CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) facilitates just that.
The potential of communication services for governments
A CPaaS grants a government entity the ability to send messages directly to citizens in the channels they prefer and the ones that generate the most engagement. Text is popular as it has a 5x higher open rate than email, but the best mode of communication is highly dependent on the audience: engaging younger citizens might be best through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, for example.
Governments can also use CPaaS to set up inbound communications, utilising it in ways that extend far beyond crisis communication. An example: let’s say you, a citizen, want to access the government’s Employment Security Division to follow up an unemployment claim. That agency could set up a six-digit short-code through their CPaaS, so when someone texts the word ‘JOBS’ to that number, they receive a direct link that grants them access to the relevant agency or service.
How organizations and agencies are using communication services to improve engagement
There are already a number of practical examples of governments improving their communication practices through CPaaS.
In the US, the pandemic is likely to mean many changes to help make voting safer for the public, including changing, opening or closing poll locations, offering vote-by-mail, and expanding voting times to help reduce long lines or large crowds. To eliminate confusion and help citizens understand exactly how, when and where to vote, at least one state is planning to send text messages directly to voters to keep them updated on relevant voting information.
Another example is a mid-sized city that added text capabilities to pre-existing toll-free numbers. Previously all critical alerts were posted on their website, but now they send information directly to citizens using the toll-free number.
These examples represent just the tip of the iceberg. As CPaaS technologies develop, the ability of governments to communicate with their citizens will only become greater. Information will become clearer, individuals will be more engaged, and 2020-style crises will be managed more effecively.
At Soprano we’re on the leading edge of CPaaS innovation, with our solutions utilised by both the private and public sectors to enhance the delivery of critical information.