COVID-19: Why society needs SMS more than ever

The clear-cut case for a democratic approach to mobile messaging

OpenMarket – April 1, 2020

After the UK government announced its COVID-19 lockdown on TV, another blanket broadcast followed – an SMS message to every mobile phone in the country.

Not just every smartphone. Every mobile phone.

The government needed a direct line to the nation, and they particularly needed the elderly and the most vulnerable to receive the message. They also needed to be there for individuals and families that couldn’t afford internet access or smart devices.

They couldn’t assume the audience would be surfing the web. They couldn’t assume they would have access to email. And they couldn’t assume they’d be listening to the news.

So they turned to SMS. Businesses and organizations around the world have been doing the same throughout the crisis. At OpenMarket, we’re transporting record volumes of traffic around the world.

For many, it’s taken this pandemic to double down on SMS and ensure they are reaching all of their customers in the most effective way.

Democratizing comms

It could be argued that mobile messaging is the most democratic and effective form of communication known to man. Almost every adult has a mobile phone, and almost every mobile phone accepts SMS messages. It’s the best way to reach an audience – irrespective of language spoken, age or country of residence.

How long would it take to roll out a new communications technology to nearly 5 billion users? Perhaps a decade at the very least – probably more.

Organizations’ duty to communicate

Crisis or no crisis, organizations owe it to customers to provide it as a communication option – alongside email, apps, websites and call centers.

The good news is that companies across industries such as finance, leisure and retail are already taking this democratic approach.

They recognize that the digital world can be hard to navigate for many reasons, so catering to a wider range of experiences and devices isn’t just the fair thing to do; it’s good business sense.

Communication flexibility is becoming a default setting.

Designing for all inboxes

Democratic messaging isn’t all about SMS. If your message can arrive as an image-rich, interactive RCS (Rich Communication Services) message, great. If it’s via Apple Business chat, that’s great too.

The key point is, when you press send on an important message it arrives safely in everyone’s messaging inbox.

At OpenMarket, we send richer messaging formats on behalf of clients. But we make sure that if someone doesn’t have a compatible phone, the message reverts to an SMS format.

Democratic messaging in a crisis is really about the messaging inbox rather than SMS.

Rich messaging (RCS and Apple Business Chat) is on the rise. But businesses and governments alike must remember who they’re designing their comms for. It’s not just the ‘digital natives.’ It’s people of all ages, with different needs when it comes to messaging interfaces, ease of use, and trust.

So for those that don’t have smartphones, a messaging provider should be in a position to ‘downgrade’ the message to whichever format their phone can handle best. Businesses need an easy, one-time send on the sender side; and format flexibility to ensure delivery on the recipient side.

Comms that work for everyone

COVID-19 highlights just how important it is to have a direct line to citizens. But the same lessons hold true for any kind of important message, public and commercial.

If we get all this right, we can set up a democratic communications system that works for everyone, whether or not they’ve got the latest smartphone.

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