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Using Mobile Messaging to Connect in Times of Crisis

From flu season to hurricane season, natural disasters to industrial accidents, emergency situations require swift action and effective communication with the public. That’s why a good mobile messaging strategy is critical.

For example, during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, the California Department of Public Health needed an efficient way to inform people where they could access the H1N1 flu vaccine. With Upland Mobile Messaging, they created an SMS flu vaccine locator program allowing users to text in their location and immediately receive information on the nearest pharmacy or clinic with the vaccine. The campaign was a success: a follow-up survey found that 33% of respondents received the vaccine at the provided location, while 40% planned to get the flu shot in the coming days.

Your subscribers value mobile messages that are timely, relevant, customized, and simple. For health organizations, there’s no better time for such messaging than in a health crisis or emergency.

Why Mobile Messaging is Important for Health and Emergency Communications

Mobile messaging provides many benefits that make it an ideal channel of communication in an emergency.

  • Reach. The majority of your audience won’t download an app, and some people may not even have the capability to download it. SMS provides a low barrier of entry to sign up, ensuring that you can reach the most people in your audience.
  • Speed. When time is of the essence, you can’t afford to let emails sit in the inbox or phone calls go unanswered. 90% of all text messages are read within the first 90 seconds of receiving them, making mobile messaging the best way to reach your audience quickly.
  • Authoritative information. In an emergency, wrong information can unfortunately spread more quickly than the truth. SMS allows your subscribers to get updates straight from the source.
  • Two-way communication. In an emergency, you may need to converse with subscribers to provide more relevant information. Mobile messaging allows you to connect directly with your users to provide additional information and ongoing updates according to additional data.
  • Location-based targeting. Perhaps an emergency affects only a small area of your audience. Maybe the right emergency resources varies by location. Either way, the ability to target your audience allows you to provide accurate information when it matters most.

Mobile Messaging: Before, During, and After an Emergency

With mobile messaging, you can help your mobile list take preventative actions before an upcoming event, keep them informed as the emergency unfolds, and provide targeted resources after an emergency occurs.

Before: Encourage Preventative Measures with Mobile Messaging

If you know an emergency situation is likely, such as during hurricane season, you can use SMS campaigns to help subscribers stay safe.

  • Weather preparedness. In the days leading up to a potential hurricane, you can send links to helpful information, such as evacuation checklists and tips to protect your home. Creating a quiz could also be a fun way to engage subscribers informatively.
  • Resource locations. Before flu season starts, help your subscribers stay one step ahead by delivering information about nearby clinics or pharmacies that offer vaccinations.
  • Safety tips. Many emergencies are unpredictable, but providing regular safety tips may help your subscribers better manage situations when they do occur. This can be particularly helpful for universities, which have large populations of young people not used to handling these situations on their own.

During: Provide Real-Time Updates as the Situation Changes

In an emergency situation, information is likely to change. Mobile messaging allows you to reach subscribers quickly with the most up-to-date information.

  • School closings. People once watched the morning news ticker slowly crawl by to see whether their school was open. With mobile messaging, these alerts can be immediate.
  • Weather alerts. SMS allows you to send regular weather updates even when it’s 70 degrees and sunny, but when inclement weather arises, you can send additional updates about tornado watches, storm warnings, or blizzards – like the city of Chattanooga did.
  • Shelters-in-place. Industrial accidents or other dangerous situations may require people to temporarily take cover. SMS allows you to quickly convey when shelters-in-place occur and when it is safe for people to leave.
  • Health precautions. A flu outbreak or low air quality may not warrant a shelter-in-place, but residents may still need to be careful. Keep residents in the know with geotargeted mobile messages.

If your employees are affected by the unfolding situation, you can use text messaging internally to update them on office closings, schedule changes, and any support measures that will be available to them and their families.

After: Connect Users with Location-Based Emergency Resources

In the aftermath of an emergency, your subscribers may need help. Mobile messaging allows you to connect them with resources immediately.

  • Recovery resources. After a natural disaster, send messages to subscribers in the affected area to inquire if they’re in need of assistance. Subscribers who respond can be sent a link to a form with more information.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Your subscribers may be seeking ways to help. If a subscriber confirms that they don’t need help themselves, segment them into a list that provides them with information about blood drives, food banks, or other ways to volunteer.

Best Practices for Emergency Communication

In a health crisis or other emergency situation, it’s important to convey information quickly, consistently, and clearly. Following SMS best practices is one of the best ways to ensure you get your message across effectively. We’ve compiled a list of best practices for health care text messages here. A few highlights include:

  • Be clear and concise. Use easy-to-understand language, provide the most important information first, and use abbreviations sparingly.
  • Be action-oriented. Have a clear call to action, explain why the action is important, and use strong verbs such as “learn,” “watch,” or “join.”
  • Be useful and relevant. Provide concrete knowledge and additional resources.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Promote your CTA. Before or during an emergency, people may turn to your site for information, but there may be a point during the emergency at which people no longer have internet access. Ask visitors to opt into your messaging so they always have the latest information.
  • Ensure information is accurate. Don’t let your rush to inform subscribers stand in the way of providing them with the right information. SMS allows you to provide information quickly, which means you’ll have time to fact-check first, then spread the word.
  • Don’t oversend to your list during non-emergencies. Studies have found that people, particularly younger people, may be less receptive to emergency information if they receive too many alerts about minor issues. Know your audience, know the situation, and send accordingly.

Managing Crises with Mobile Messaging

Mobile messaging is an important component of health management communication, but in an emergency or health crisis, it becomes critical. By anticipating the situation, creating engaging communication, and following best practices, you can deliver truly valuable communication to your subscribers when it matters most.

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