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

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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.

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