Digital & Technology
WHERE IC PROFESSIONALS COME TO TALK

GET THE MESSAGE: COULD SMS HAVE A PLACE IN YOUR IC CHANNEL MIX?

Text messages can deliver instant alerts into the pockets of your people, making them a handy addition to the internal communication mix.

WORDS: ISABEL OVERTON

9th March 2022

Thirty years since the world’s first text message was sent, people across the world receive and send text messages daily for all sorts of reasons. These days, many of the texts we receive are automated reminders, updates or requests from companies that need (or want) our attention. And while certain texts aren’t always welcome – like a dodgy looking message asking you to pay for a delivery you’re not expecting – most of the time they’re useful.

A recent study found that people are spending an average of 4.8 hours a day on their mobile phones. Some of this time undoubtedly takes place during working hours, but instead of trying to crack down on employees checking their phones during work, companies should see this as an opportunity to boost engagement.

Megan Parker, marketing executive at FireText – a leading SMS provider for the government, NHS and businesses across the UK, says: “Text messaging is an instant communication tool that allows you to avoid overloading employees’ email inboxes. And because the overwhelming majority of people are familiar with texting as a form of communication, it’s a friendlier and more personable approach.

 “There’s been a notable increase in businesses using this particular channel to communicate with employees, and people are quickly becoming used to it as a way to receive important information.”


Standing out for the right reasons
There are many benefits to using text messaging as an internal channel, from both a technical and an internal communication perspective.

Nina Metson, IC and engagement consultant for HR and recruitment consultancy Waddington Brown, says: “When it comes to technology, texting software is simple and doesn’t need to be updated often, unlike apps. Texts also work across all mobile phone devices, regardless of the model or make, so you can confidently introduce it as a channel without fear you’ll be alienating employees.

“The benefits of texting from an internal comms perspective are that it’s direct and puts messages straight into the hands of employees. We also get fewer texts than we may initially think, which actually makes them feel more purposeful against more popular forms of communication like WhatsApp and instant or direct messages.”

Texts are also a great way to reach particular types of workforces.

Tarecca Musabbir, internal communications manager at NHS Property Services, says: “Any employees that are on the go, remote or work shifts will benefit from text alerts. At NHS Property

Services we have around 5,000 colleagues across the country on the ground, so we give our people company phones. As part of that we’ve introduced text as a new channel, after hearing from colleagues that this was their preferred method of communication.

“Engagement since has been good. I think in part this is because texts use push notifications, meaning it’s not on employees to access it. This is particularly useful for people who are always busy.”


Proceeding with purpose
Companies use text internally for different reasons, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Lots of companies use it for crisis communications or for important reminders and deadlines,” says Nina. “It’s quick and likely to reach most people – although you can’t rely on it as a single channel. People should always have multiple ways to access essential information.”

If employees are receptive to text messages, then there are lots of other ways to take advantage of the channel.  

“It’s good for onboarding as a simple touchpoint or to receive a welcome from the CEO,” says Nina. “It’s also great for feedback. After events, for example, you can send a quick message to thank people and capture sentiment.

“Some companies also use it for recognition and congratulations, if it suits their culture. A brief, real-time message showing appreciation for your efforts can be a really nice thing to receive and look back on.”

As with all channels, your delivery matters. Establishing the purpose of your texts won’t be effective if you don’t know how to format them.

Tarecca says: “It’s important to know your audience. Our workforce is diverse, so we make our language as simple as possible and we avoid all texting slang. Decide things like whether or not to use ampersands, write out numbers and use abbreviations, and stick to your agreed style moving forward.

“Texts should also always be short, concise and have a hook. If your message requires further reading or action on employees’ parts, include a link that will take them where they need to go. If you use trackable links, you can also get a better idea of the type of content that works.”

Nina agrees: “Think about what value you are adding to employees’ working day. Consider how the information is going to help them do their job more effectively, and if you can’t give yourself a reason, you shouldn’t be sending that communication out – at least not through text.

“And also, there’s no nuance in text messages, so avoid humour and sarcasm in your writing. Texts shouldn’t require lots of additional knowledge to understand. Subtlety also isn’t a thing – always be clear.”


The safety aspect
Using text as an official channel internally brings with it security considerations that you wouldn’t need to bear in mind for some other channels.

“The National Cyber Security Centre recently produced a guide on SMS and telephone best practice for business comms,” says Megan. “It’s applicable to both external and internal recipients and gives great advice on how to send safe content.

“Helping your employees to distinguish legitimate comms from potential scam messages should be a priority. For example, sharing links is acceptable, but it’s best to avoid URL-shortening services unless clearly branded to the company. Best practice also ties back to the idea of sticking with your house style when it comes to messages.

This is because it will make them more recognisable, therefore making it easier to spot a fake.

“As with all data, choosing the right supplier is also important. A supplier that has security credentials in handling data is necessary. And you should also watch out for unethical practices – for example, Grey Routing [sending text messages through a cheaper, illegal route not intended for business traffic] is an unreliable practice used by companies to reduce SMS costs. It’s illegal and should be avoided.”


60%
More than 60% of people read texts within five minutes.
Source: Simple Texting

 

You also need to be considerate of how you manage data in-house.

Nina says: “If you want super clean employee data that you can rely on, you’ll likely need to work closely with IT and HR. The bigger the company, the more frequently people will be joining and leaving – not to mention people’s phone numbers can change. Staying on top of this will ensure your messages are reaching the people they need to.

“You also need to get consent to use employees’ numbers in this way in the first place. People should always have the option to opt out of receiving messages. If you’ve explained clearly the value of the channel and why IC will be using it, then hopefully you won’t have many people choose not to receive texts. Their biggest fear will probably be getting spammed by the organisation, so make it clear this won’t be the case – and mean it.”

You should always be respectful of employees’ time when communicating with them, but boundaries become especially important if you’re texting their personal phones, as opposed to company phones.

“Many people won’t want to be contacted outside of their working hours by the company on their personal device, so be mindful of when you send messages,” says Tarecca. “This can be especially tricky with shift workers, but it’s still something you need to consider.

“Also be mindful of data usage. Some people will have data caps, so don’t require people to use lots of data just to read your message or view accompanying links.”


An appetite for text
If you’re looking to introduce text as an internal channel, there are a number of things you’ll need to think about beforehand.

“First, be clear about why you need it,” says Nina. “What’s the gap you’re trying to fill? And could that purpose be achieved through an existing channel that’s not being utilised enough?

“IC may think the company needs it, but do your workforce want it? Engage with employees and find out their views on text as a company channel. You want to know how they use their mobile phones during the workday, what they think they’re missing from IC and what they think the benefit of text alerts would be.

“You also want to discuss people’s accessibility to their phones during the working day. This will vary hugely between companies – for some, text won’t give you an instant audience.”

Not every organisation needs text as a channel. It’s not free, so consider carefully the value before committing. If it is the right choice for your company, decide how you’ll use it – including how often – and whether you’ll limit it to certain teams or roll it out company-wide.

If you’re unsure of the best way to implement the channel, do some research online and speak to companies that specialise in this kind of service.

“Texts can commonly be sent from an application, like FireText, making it easy to send to a pre-configured list of employees,” says Megan. “Handy features like email-to-SMS mean companies can send an email that instantly converts into a text.

“You might benefit from the different support suppliers can offer, so explore what’s out there.”  


A learning opportunity
It can take a while for text to become a fully ingrained aspect of your channel mix, and there’s no shame in trial and error when it comes to figuring out what works best for your company and your people.  

“Introducing text taught us a lot about our people, and we’ve had a number of teaching moments along the way,” says Tarecca. “When we started, we were pumping lots of information through the channel, but we noticed that only a certain type of content was getting traction. Over time we identified and focused on the areas that got the best results, and it’s helped to improve our engagement rates.

“Colleagues are a lot more decisive about whether they’re going to engage or not through text, so you need to learn more about what they want from it. By protecting the channel and using your judgment and data to guide you, you’ll create the space for text to become a valued tool in your channel mix.”

Leave a comment

To leave a comment on this article, please complete the form below. Your comment will be posted once verified by our editorial team.

If you are not an IoIC member and would like to join to receive Voice and other membership benefits, visit our Membership page.

Room Booking

Thanks for staying with us! Please fill out the form below and our staff will be in contact with your shortly. The see all of our room options please visit the link below.
See All Rooms