Webinar discusses post-COVID message fatigue and how governments can best reach citizens



After a year of constant COVID-19 updates and disruption from news outlets, health organizations and local governments, voters around the world are facing a modern problem: message fatigue.

“There has been a substantial increase (in messaging), not just nationally but around the world due to COVID, and it’s understood,” said Brian Toolan, director of government strategy at Everbridge, a software company that provides messaging systems for governments, in a webinar, “Rebounding from Message Fatigue: Emergency Alerting in a Post COVID World”, hosted by US city and county.

In 2019, Toolan said Everbridge processed around 3.5 billion messages through its platforms. In 2020, as the pandemic was fully realized across the world, 5 billion messages were sent, an increase of 1.5 billion.

But while an increase in messaging is generally understood by most people, given the rapidly changing pandemic conditions, “At what point does someone just go into their settings and say, ‘That? is enough ”, and turn it off? Toolan asked.

The implications of voters ignoring emergency notifications could be dire (for example, during fire season in the west, it’s important for people to know if there is a danger in their area). Given the potential consequences, Toolan stressed that it is important for city leaders to assess the effect a message might have before hitting the “send” button.

“The line between ‘important’ and ‘safety of people’ is a bit blurry,” Toolan continued. “We sometimes feel compelled to release information, even though we have nothing new to say.”

There are several reasons for this. If the city next door sends more alerts, it may appear that it responds better to situations that arise. And pressure from a few concerned people for minute-by-minute updates could prompt more communication than necessary. But this is a mistake. If government leaders send too much information, the community might stop listening.

“When your audience is listening to you, you’re really not helping anyone,” Toolan said. “We want to avoid this. We want to move forward in the right way. We want to make sure we’re all on the same page.

To that end, before a crisis hits, Toolan said it was good to consider the public’s expectations for messaging. A resident who starts following a Facebook page, for example, may have different communication expectations than someone who signs up to receive emergency SMS alerts.

“If someone stops following you on social media, is it going to be so devastating for you? Probably not, ”Toolan said. But if they unsubscribe from emergency SMS alerts, “that’s a problem.”

In general, Toolan said a good rule of thumb to consider is to use wireless emergency alerts (called WEA) for information presenting an “imminent threat to life.” Emergency messages arrive on cell phones with a loud, unpleasant alert sound, effective if the information is important; boring if not relevant.

“Use it if you need to. Don’t use it if you don’t need it. It will grab people’s attention, ”Toolan said.

Phone calls are another reliable way to communicate with the community about life safety information. In it, Toolan highlighted a recent survey that found phone calls to be the “number one preferred method” of notification, even above text messages and emergency alerts. Phone apps, which require users to download them first, can also provide fast communication.

Email should be used for less important communications as it takes longer to send and may not reach as large an audience. Likewise, websites can display updates but require users to log in on their own. Finally, Toolan said, social media platforms can be used to provide updates and, most importantly, to monitor responses.

When composing a post, Toolan said to keep communication simple and concise. Phone calls should be limited to 30 seconds (and if possible, delivered in a few languages ​​so everyone knows what’s going on) and delivered in a familiar voice. If an elected or appointed representative wishes to record the notice himself, keep the introduction brief and get straight to the point. Written alerts should be short, limited to approximately 30 words.

“Make sure the alert is clear; make sure it is workable; make sure it’s for the right audience, ”Toolan said. “Try not to talk too much (about) the future; Keep it up to what’s going on right now.

And when it comes to updates, “Less is more,” he continued. This means “don’t send messages every hour or 20 minutes”, and wait until there is a substantial update of the situation before sending anything else.

The full Toolan webinar can be accessed here.


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