When Hurricane Dorian approached Florida last summer, Booz Allen Hamilton texted employees near Cape Canaveral, providing a hotline number and asking them to check in daily.
Days later the company texted, “Now that Hurricane Dorian has passed, leadership would like to account for the safety of you and your family.”
As new innovations have remade internal messaging over the past decade, pings to a mobile phone are hardly cutting-edge comms. Yet organizations are rediscovering the value of texting both in supporting other channels and providing an emergency bullhorn during hurricanes, blizzards, workplace shootings and other crises.
Booz Allen Hamilton isn’t alone. NetApp, hybrid cloud and data services company, uses targeted texting to reach its workforce during major events, says Dana Masuda, head of employee corporate and crisis communications and a member of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council.
Its workforce is scattered from its Sunnyvale, California, headquarters to global locations such as Japan and Singapore. Masuda’s team can notify them about bad weather, office closings and other urgent matters of limited interest elsewhere.
“People may not necessarily have access to their email. Systems may be down. Somebody has usually got their phone with them,” Masuda says. “And usually if you’re away from your computer or you’re not accessing email via your personal mobile phone, then text is the best way to reach them.”
Booz Allen can segment information at a macro level for affected institutions, says Grant McLaughlin, vice president of corporate affairs. The strategy, technology and engineering company can splinter its messaging into specific geographies and direct people to further information.
“So if we want to make sure that we’re counting heads and getting an understanding of, ‘Are people OK? Do they need assistance?’ we’re able to get a response back from them in the system and track it in real time,” McLaughlin says.
Always staring at the screen
People nowadays are on their mobile devices all the time, and texting is the most convenient way to communicate, says Michael Sebastian, chief marketing officer of Skyscraperseo.com.
“Texting in internal communications is an effective way for my employees to be updated, whether it is an announcement event or reminder of a meeting,” Sebastian says. “Informing them in that way would let them be alert and aware of what is happening in their work.”
In addition to crisis messaging, Booz Allen sends texts to drive employees to its Dynamic Signal internal social platform, branded as Engage. Whether it’s a link to a speech by the CEO or an announcement about open enrollment, the company can push messages to its entire 26,000-employee workforce or targeted subgroups.
“Our employees are then able to take it off that system and share it onto their own social platform,” McLaughlin says.
The texting fits into a broader communications strategy of uniting employees over wide geographic areas and workplace functions.
“The majority of our employee base does not sit in a Booz Allen facility,” McLaughlin says. “They’re out with clients every day. And to be able to get messaging to them, we do deploy a variety of texting and email and social components that are all integrated.”
Some organizations are also using texts to connect members within individual teams. While working in the mental health field, Robyn Flint supervised a team of 11 counselors stationed in public schools, she says. She worked both in a corporate office and the schools, so her only line of communication was texting, says Flint, now an insurance specialist at ExpertInsuranceReviews.com.
She texted to remind clinicians about deadlines for required documentation, or to schedule their weekly supervisory check-in with Flint. Other texts informed the entire team about internal meetings. She also let her direct reports know when she would be off and to contact another supervisor.
Texting can even work for employees of an app company for team chat. At Chanty, an AI-powered team chat application, Chief Marketing Officer Olga Mykhoparkina says the firm relies on its own app—except in emergencies.
“We actually only use text messages if things get really bad,” Mykhoparkina says. “In other words, if we’re using text, that means that the app is down and that nobody can access it. I would say that getting an SMS from a team member for us means code red and that we should all hop online to see what the issue is and how to resolve it as soon as possible.”
Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine also uses texting for urgent communications to its staff, says Joe Swedorski, a marketing specialist.
“An example of that would be, say the emergency department is closed or there’s a tornado heading over to [Northwest Medicine’s] Central DuPage Hospital or something,” Swedorski says. “We want to let people know to keep our patients and our workforce safe.”