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Top 10 tips for emergency messaging - HTK Horizon


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Over the last 10 years we’ve seen some landmark shifts in technology and public behaviours; the growth of the Internet, the evolution of “cloud” technology and the explosion of social media.

Here are our top 10 tips on how public safety organisations should be using these advances to deliver the best possible outcomes.

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Top 10 tips for emergency messaging - HTK Horizon

  1. 1. HTK Horizon Knowledge sharingTop 10 tips for emergencymessaging marketingI’ve been involved in the design and delivery of emergency messaging systemsfor over 10 years, and in that time we’ve seen some landmark shifts in technologyand public behaviours; the growth of the Internet, the evolution of “cloud”technology and the explosion of social media.In the run up to this year’s Emergency Services Show, here are my top 10 tips onhow public safety organisations should be using these advances to deliver thebest possible outcomes. Justin Bowser, HTK @jkbowserTip #1: Consider the cloudCloud software (or “Software as a Service”) is a great option for emergency messaging. It’s more cost-effective than hosting and managing your own systems, it scales to cope with contacting tens of thousandsor even millions of people, and because it’s off site it won’t be affected by local infrastructure problems.To give you an idea of just how cost-effective Software as a Service can be, a system that 5 years agowould have cost well over £100,000 can now be used as a shared service for a few hundred pounds permonth - and some of the social media tools that we’ll discuss below can be used completely free.Tip #2: Understand your audienceThink about who you’re trying to contact. Is it other Cat 1 and Cat 2 responders, businesses, or individualpeople? What technologies will they have available to them, and what types of messages are they mostlikely to see and respond to? Where are they, and are there any meaningful geographic boundaries (likeflood warning areas, COMAH information zones or ward areas) that you should take into account?The more you understand your various communities, the more successful you’re likely to be in sendingmessages that are relevant, useful and engaging to each individual recipient. email: telephone: +44 (0) 870 600 2311
  2. 2. HTK Horizon Knowledge sharingTip #3: Become a marketerThe days of “fire and forget” mass notification are numbered, if not gone already. People and businessesalike are suffering information overload through the sheer quantity of information that hits their inbox everyday. To make sure the intended recipients read and respond to your message, you need to think like amarketer and “segment” your audience.To be acted upon, your message needs to be timely, relevant and (vitally) engaging to the recipient.Generic messages are likely to be ignored, so make sure you target your content to each community (egdifferent messages for people, small businesses and large corporates), make it geographically relevant(local events, local response procedures etc) and personalise it to each recipient (even simple things likeadding each person’s name to the message can improve response rates).Tip #4: Communicate on the customer’s termsMobile phone penetration is running at well over 100%, home technology has overtaken workplacetechnology in many regards, and forward-looking businesses are now using social media monitoring toolsto proactively stay in touch with their followers. The one constant is that people will continue to havedifferent preferences that fit their lifestyle, and businesses will always find ways of inventing new anddifferent business processes.For emergency messaging, this means you need to let your recipients take control of the way in which theyreceive and consume information from you. Lower cost channels like email, website RSS feeds and socialmedia might form the backbone of your communications strategy, but you shouldn’t neglect businessesthat still rely on the fax machine in the corner, or the elderly resident who wants to hear a friendly,reassuring voice on her landline phone. And don’t abuse channels like email and SMS by sendingirrelevant messages or sending too frequently, or people will opt out and you’ve lost an opportunity toengage.Tip #5: Be social, but be integratedThere’s no denying that social media (especially Twitter) an be a valuable tool for emergency messaging –just take a look at the Twitter #SMEM hashtag if you need convincing. Play to the strengths of each socialmedia tool; for example consider using Twitter for two-way communication and rapid information sharingduring an incident, Facebook for pre- and post-incident education and awareness campaigns, andYouTube for educational videos, incident updates and sharing of on-the-ground sitreps from localcoordinators.But social media can be a fairly blunt instrument (it’s more difficult to segment and target your messages)so it’s important to use these tools alongside other communication channels rather than replacing themaltogether. And remember that once your message is out on social media (particularly Twitter andFacebook) it’s very difficult to remove it. Top 10 Tips for Emergency Messaging, page 2 of 4
  3. 3. HTK Horizon Knowledge sharingTip #6: Be prepared to join the conversationMost people have smartphones capable of using Twitter and Facebook, and these channels will be alive24x7 during an incident. Unlike traditional media or PR channels where you may have hours or even daysto prepare a formal news release, social conversations will carry on in real time with or without you, so youneed to have a spokesperson who is trained in “netiquette” (how to use these channels) and who has theauthority to do so on behalf of the organisation.The key with social media is to monitor and update the two-way flow of information, not try to control italtogether. There are some very useful free and paid-for tools to help with social media monitoring; take alook at Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Radian6.Tip #7: Send messages regularlyTo keep people engaged, you need to communicate with them regularly; ideally around once a week.Communicate too frequently and people may resent the assault on their inbox and opt-out; communicatetoo infrequently and people may ignore your content or forget to tell you when their email address or mobilenumber changes. Use some kind of content management system (CMS) to help you publish the contentfor each of your audience “segments”, and try to keep a good balance of good news, general information,education and incident updates. And don’t forget to send an “all clear” message when the situation hasbeen resolved!Manage peoples’ expectations (and your budget) regarding the ways that your regular messages will besent; for example limiting them to low-cost channels like email and the web rather than SMS – but considerpublishing updates to an automated phone number (IVR) as well to make your information as inclusive aspossible. Use Twitter and Facebook to help people share your content with their friends and colleagues.Tip #8: Consider inboundSending targeted “outbound” messages to individual recipients during an incident can be a very effectiveway to engage, especially where you need different communities to act in different ways. But also considerthe benefits of “inbound” messaging; for example publishing your content to a website, IVR phone line orYouTube channel where you have complete control of the content and can change it at a moment’s notice.A mix of outbound and inbound messaging will help you to stay in control of the content that people seeand hear, whilst letting you take advantage of the viral characteristics of Twitter and Facebook; whenpeople find a useful source of information about an incident they will quickly share it with others. Inboundchannels also help you to measure the effectiveness of your outbound activities. Top 10 Tips for Emergency Messaging, page 3 of 4
  4. 4. HTK Horizon Knowledge sharingTip #9: Be proactive - and save moneyPeople will start to search for information quickly when an incident arises, so time is very much of theessence. The ability to publish content within minutes, both outbound and inbound, can help to reduceyour overall costs by deflecting (or completely avoiding) costly phone calls into your contact centre.Once you have a proactive messaging capability, consider using it more widely across the organisation,using the same “segmentation” techniques to make sure that people only receive the kinds of informationthey’re interested in. For example, a local authority might use location-targeted outbound emails toproactively notify people of a late bin collection; not exactly an emergency message, but a use that canimprove customer satisfaction and save money by reducing inbound enquiry calls without the need for anyadditional systems or software.Tip #10: Measure your resultsTo understand your customers better and to help justify your budgets, you need to measure the outputsand outcomes of your messaging activities. It’s pointless sending emails that aren’t going to be opened,and it may be difficult to justify maintaining your corporate Twitter account unless you can quantify thenumber of unique visits it brings to your web pages (and hence the number of people you have informedand educated).If you’re using Twitter or Facebook to share updates, include a link back to the “inbound” content on yourwebsite, and use a link shortening tool like to give you data on where and when your link was clicked.If you’re using outbound email, SMS and voice messaging, use a system that can track your outboundmessages and any inbound responses – and can provide some meaningful management reports. Evenbetter, if you have some kind of customer relationship management (CRM) system, look at ways to linkyour emergency messaging back to the CRM so that you can maintain a “single version of the truth” interms of what information was sent to whom, when, why, how and with what outcome.Have your own top 10? I’d love to hear from you!If you’re interested in finding out more about my top 10 and how you can use these tips to improve youremergency messaging outcomes, drop me a line @jkbowser or For moreinformation about HTK Horizon, visit the following: Top 10 Tips for Emergency Messaging, page 4 of 4