An Example of What Not to Do
More organizations are realizing the benefits of mass communications and have implemented at least some type of solution to enable instant notifications with their employees. With so many people using mobile phones, it’s obvious that these notifications must involve mobile communication. Text alerts are gaining in popularity but not all text notifications are helpful. In fact, some can be detrimental to public safety.
Take, for instance, the New York City and New Jersey bombings that occurred earlier this year. Kudos to the states for having an emergency alert system in place to notify its residents of such threats, but instead of celebrating its success, it has become a case study in how NOT to send out mass notifications.
The FCC’s Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system was used to send short text messages to cell phone users in the NYC area alerting them to watch out for a bombing suspect named Ahmad Khan Rahami. Can you spot why this text was completely ineffective and even dangerous?
While the text was brief, included the suspect’s name, and was sent quickly after the explosion, it omitted any photo of the suspect, no links to additional information, and no embedded media to give recipients any data they could actually use to identify the suspect. Instead of pacifying residents and inspiring them to assist in this man’s capture, the city’s text notification created pandemonium.
While this instance is based on a government entity, organizations and businesses across our nation are faced with the same issue if they don’t use the right mass communication system in the right way. Experts agree that the best, most effective communication system includes a multi-modal capability that spans across channels and devices. This is the only approach that ensures the intended audience receives the message.
The Better Way to Communicate
Second to the delivery method is the communication type. Text messages, email, social media posts, app push notifications, voice phone calls, website updates, and in-office alarms and broadcasts all need to do three things:
- Briefly communicate the key message
- Provide resources for additional information
- Provide immediate or guidance towards two-way communication
In an emergency, the message matters. The notification can be tailored to the channel, such as sending a text message with only a certain number of characters or a voice phone call with a 30-second message. In any case, the message should be detailed enough to give the recipient the required information they need to stay safe or modify their behavior based on the situation. On the other hand, it should also be concise enough to not overwhelm or slow the audience with details they could find from an alternate resource once they are out of harm’s way.
An organization must have, as part of their comprehensive emergency response plan, a protocol in place to rapidly implement these alternate resources. Whether it is an ancillary intranet site they can link to in a text, email, push notification, or social media post, and/or a phone number to a call center, most mass notifications, particularly in an emergency situation, should be accompanied by a supporting resource.
Finally, the notification should either give its audience a way to respond or guide them to the supporting resource mentioned above where they can engage. This is often the most missed aspect of a communications plan, yet it is perhaps one of the most critical. Here’s why.
Our culture has significantly changed in the past decade. How we communicate has evolved and shaped our expectations. Social media and instant messaging are perfect examples, as are crowd-sourcing and review apps. All of these have at least one thing in common – they invite the audience to engage, to share their stories and perspectives, to be part of the conversation. In fact, they are the story. Through their accounts, photos, and videos, they tell a story. Blasting out an emergency notification without also providing a way for the audience to become part of the dialogue is not only archaic but a wasted opportunity to gain valuable intel.
“Crowdsourcing promises to be a game-changing technology for crisis response. Real-time engagement of citizens through social media and communications technology can focus crisis response efforts where they are most needed, transforming the nature of emergency response.” – Kathryn Laskey, George Mason University
People are often eyewitnesses to the actual emergency event, the rescue, the sheltering, and the aftermath. People are more than happy to video and take photos of an event as it unfolds, and post comments about what is happening as it is happening. This type of information assists first responders, as well as the organization that is trying to keep its employees safe. Encouraging employees to share their experiences is a great way to help them feel part of the solution and bring them peace of mind knowing their whereabouts are being monitored.
In the case of the NYC bombing, the city has learned from its mistakes, vowing to improve its communications to include more detail and greater capabilities. It now understands how vital photos would have been in capturing this criminal faster. Instead of instigating panic from a lack of information, the city could have empowered its residents to become part of the solution. It could have used the alert to engage them and spread the information farther and wider.
An Example of What to Do
Organizations can take heed. Panic is the last thing any organization wants to insight, yet sending the wrong one-way message can do just that. Imagine a fire in an office building. An alarm may sound with a broadcast of “FIRE!” What do you think will happen? Of course, everyone will panic and if the fire doesn’t injure them, the stampede of employees racing to the exits just might.
A better communication strategy would be to accompany the broadcast with similar language in a text message, an email message, and a phone call saying, “A fire has been reported in the basement of our office building located at 123 Main St. You are not in immediate danger but need to quickly proceed to the nearest exit to ensure safety. Please congregate at least 100 feet from the building until first responders give us the all-clear. For more information, please visit the company intranet message board [insert link] where we will provide ongoing status updates.”
Instead of panic, the employees know exactly what to do, where to find information, and where they can post their comments or media. The organization has successfully informed, protected, and engaged its employees.
If you are trying to determine which type of mass communication solution is best for your company, be sure you consider the following:
- Is it easy to use?
- Is it capable of sending out instant communication?
- Does it offer multi-modal communications in real time?
- Does it provide templates as well as custom-configured messages?
- Will employees be able to respond to the notifications with two-way communication?
- Will it provide analytics to monitor effectiveness (such as open rates) of each notification?
- Will it secure our data with full encryption?
- Does it provide a 24/7 monitoring service?
No communication strategy is bulletproof. The goal is not to aim for perfection but to leverage available technology to reach the most people the fastest with the most helpful information – and to give them a voice.