Best Practices in Using Your Web-Registration Form for Emergency Alerts

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our emergency alert sign up form as easy-to-use and effective as it can be. That’s because it’s getting to the point where “sign ups” are going to be the only way to reach the public (unless you’re sending an IPAWS message, but that’s a future article.) 

We put “sign ups” in quotation marks because Hyper-Reach offers much more than a web form to get the public signed up. These days, we’re also using SMS, browser push notification, app downloads and smart speakers (Alexa) to reach the public, and each one of those has its own method for getting people “signed up.”  And we go beyond a web form, with interactive voice response, paper forms and more.  Today, let’s just focus on the web form. 

Every emergency notification provider offers their own form, but some of those forms need some serious work. A few don’t render well on a smartphone, which is tragic, since about 70% of internet access is on mobile devices. Some of them require creating a separate account – and sometimes before you even get their contact information. Most of them require a separate username and password and some won’t work unless the citizen verifies their registration with another step, like clicking a link in an email. And a few even require multiple forms (one vendor actually makes you go through four separate forms to complete the process.)

If your vendor makes the mistakes above, we suggest telling them to change. Your objective should be to make signing up as easy and error-free as possible and to treat other issues as secondary. (Why worry about bogus signups when you can barely get 5% of your residents to register?)

Here are some of the ways we simplify our form.  (1) keep it to one page; (2) minimize the questions; (3) adapt well on a smartphone; (4) no password required – either use Facebook, Twitter or Google to login or don’t even require an account; and (5) no confirmation required to finish the process.  

Regardless of which signup form your vendor uses, here are 5 ways to make it more effective:

  1. Put it on your community homepage. We know lots of folks who put the link to their form on their department webpage (e.g. EMA, sheriff or 911.)  While it’s great to have it there, your page doesn’t get nearly the traffic the county or city homepage does. 
  2. Get a URL shortener. Most of the links provided by alert system vendors are 30-40 characters long and just a string of unreadable letters and numbers. No one’s going to type that in. But with a service like bit.ly or tinyURL you can create a readable link – for free – that people might actually find. 
  3. Use a QR code. For flyers, postcards, or any other printed material, use a QR code – in addition to your shortened URL – to make it easy for citizens to get to your form. They can scan the code or type in the shortened URL and get onto your form in seconds. 
  4. Put it on social media. You should post your signup link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and – especially – Nextdoor. If you don’t have a Public Agencies account for Nextdoor, you should probably get one. With some social media (Facebook), you can pin the post with the signup form at the top of your newsfeed. With others, plan on posting it regularly. (With Hyper-Reach, you can create a recurring message to post once a week, month, etc.)  And if your community has multiple Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts, don’t leave any of them out. Don’t just use your department’s social media accounts if you can get help from others. 
  5. Send it as an email blast to city/county employees. See if your human resources or IT department is willing to send the link out to all of the community’s employees. If they are, here’s an email template you can use as the basis for the email you send. 

We’ve got lots of ways to help you get more people signed up and we’re finally putting those together in a marketing guide. Once that’s done, we’ll send it to you for free – even if you’re using a different system from Hyper-Reach.

Landlines Continue to Shrink: What’s Your Plan?

Landline phones keep losing their relevance in the United States. You know this, of course, but we like to keep track of the trend.  

The federal government does a massive study twice a year that includes this issue. The latest available data shows that in 2019 about 60% or 151 million people live in “wireless only” households.  There’s been a 12% drop in landline phones for the past five years (51.6% in 2014 vs. 39.7% in 2019). At that rate it will only take about 16 years for landline phones to be a technological relic. 

https://www.statista.com/chart/2072/landline-phones-in-the-united-states/

Younger people are especially likely to be “wireless only”. In 2019 four in five adults aged 25-34 were wireless-only while only about a third of those 65 and over were.

The trend away from landline phones makes 911 listings less and less relevant. And we’re sure the trend will only accelerate. Which is why it’s so important to get people to sign up for emergency alerts. Unfortunately, the average sign-up rate across the country is less than 10%. 

That’s why Hyper-Reach is continuously developing new ways of getting people signed up. And because younger people are more likely to use technology, we’ve focused on ways to enroll people while adapting to the preferences of different age groups. With Hyper-Reach, your citizens can sign up for alerts by:

  • Texting a message;
  • Making a phone call and speaking (works well for older people);
  • Clicking once on their browser. Just get folks to visit your website. Put the one-click process on any website you control, and offer citizens a method that is up to 700% more effective than a standard form;
  • Saying “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach”. More than 60 million households have Alexa units, more than have landlines.  So we’ve created a smart speaker “skill” to deliver alerts.  
  • Filling out a web form. And we’ve simplified and optimized our form to get the highest sign up rates. (see the article below for more detail.)

In addition, we’ll help you get your citizens signed up, with marketing assistance: press releases, email templates, social media ads, handouts, and more. Which is why we’ve got customers with up to 30% of their citizens signed up for alerts.  

To find out all the ways we can help you reach your community, request our demo now.

Using Your Emergency Alert System to Manage Vaccine Distribution

The vaccines are coming!

You already know this, of course, and chances are you’ve been involved with planning the first wave of distribution and how to get the word out on future vaccine distribution in your community.  And hopefully, you’ve used, or are planning to use your Hyper-Reach or other mass notification system to help keep the public and other key constituencies aware of expectations and plans in your area. 

There’s a lot of communicating to do. Mass notification can help you: (a) set folks’ expectations for when vaccines will be available to which groups, (b) point them to sources such as vaccinefinder and the CDC, (c) remind people to get their second dose, when applicable, (d) counter misinformation, (e) tell people where mobile vaccine centers are located on which days, and (f) remind them to report side effects.

Here are some ideas you may not have thought of:

  1. Use the vaccine situation to help build community sign ups.  

As the adage goes: “never let a crisis go to waste.” If you’re going to send alerts regarding ANY aspect of vaccine distribution, let your citizens know to sign up for the updates you can provide. We’ve drafted a press release you can adapt to your own situation here.  Feel free to change it and use it as you see fit. In addition to sending it to your local news media, you can post it to Facebook and other social media, use it as an email blast (even using the Hyper-Reach system), or put it in your blog, if you have one.  We’ve included variations on the press release to help you do that too. 

2. Create special interest groups and lists. 

One of the great features of Hyper-Reach is the ability to create special purpose lists and make it easy for people to sign up for them.  We actually do that in two ways:

a) Text messaging. By creating a special code, such as “CovidVaccine” and using it with a text number, you can let citizens sign up for a list just by texting the code to the number. To illustrate, we’ve created another press release and media post you can use to promote this service here.

b) Dynamic lists. Because Hyper-Reach supports dynamic lists with customizable attributes (also known as fields), you can create special purpose dynamic lists that give you the information you need to know who within the list to send messages to when the time is right. 

3. Let people know how it’s going.

One powerful way to get others to do what you want them to is to show them that others like them are doing the same thing. You can start by letting folks know how many people in your county or city have gotten immunized.  If you have specific populations you want to address (black or hispanic people, for example), make a point of highlighting others who belong to those populations who are getting shots. 

4. Make it sound a little challenging. 

As counterintuitive as it might seem, the perception of inconvenience can improve your results, because people perceive your demand as higher if they have to work harder to get what you’re offering. If you’ve ever seen an ad on TV that says “if operators are busy, please try again,” that’s the reason why. And with the vaccine in limited supply for many months, this won’t be hard to do. 

Got any other ideas? This is a team effort, and we’ll publish any great ideas we find to share them as broadly as possible. So if you’ve got suggestions about how your notification system can help in this important effort, we’d love to help get the word out. Just drop a line to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.