SMS is no doubt the most effective tool by which government agencies at all levels can reach out to the public. This is because SMS is generally accessible by all phones (whether basic or feature rich); so, target recipients don’t need smartphones or Internet connections to stay informed. In addition, there is very high likelihood that text messages will be read, since most people have their mobile phones within reach and keep them on for most of the time.
Government agencies need to communicate with the public whenever necessary, such as during the introduction of new laws or government policies, natural disasters or epidemics, service outages, and terrorist attacks. Using SMS to inform the public during such events will help to provide people with critical information and even save lives.
Now, enough said about the effectiveness of SMS as a tool for disseminating public information. There’s the big question: How exactly can government agencies maximize the power of SMS for effective sensitization?
Here are the 3 steps involved.
- Building a mobile number database
As with any other SMS campaign, the first step towards the adoption of SMS as sensitization medium by government agencies is to build a database of mobile contacts of each agency’s target recipients. For example, a federal government agency will have to work towards collecting the mobile contacts of all mobile phone users in the country, while a state government agency will collect contacts within the state.
How each agency will collect mobile contacts of its target recipients is down to the agency’s discretion, as there is no method etched in stone. However common methods include online submission of mobile numbers by users, collection of mobile numbers within specific geographical zones from telecom service providers, and extraction of mobile numbers from documents submitted with the agency.
- Designation of a short code
Communication should be a two-way thing. There will be times when recipients will need to reply the text messages they receive or make enquiries about the information sent to them. For this reason, a short code should be designated for receiving such replies and enquiries. Short codes usually comprise a few numbers for easy recall and are customised for just one user (the agency in this context).
- Obtaining permission (or informing)
Communication should be permission-based. So, after collecting phone numbers of their target masses, government agencies need to seek permission from their target recipients to send them messages on occasions. The importance of such messages should be stated and the time interval between two successive messages, if applicable. Recipients should be give the option to either accept or decline to receive the messages by sending a “Yes” or “No” reply to the designated short code.
However, if the messages are to be sent for the purpose of information about matters of strong public interest, such as natural disasters and new laws, informing, rather than seeking consent, would suffice.
If these three steps are properly followed, agencies at all government levels will be able to carry out more effective sensitization of the public via SMS.