When the Government Sends You a Text Message, Take Note

Olga Lebedeva/Shutterstock.com

Local governments make better use of SMS.

For years, it’s been difficult to tell if text messaging was on its way in or out, but if government use is any indicator, the technology is at the very least here for now.

House lawmakers last week decided after some debate to include text messages among the electronic communications federal employees could be fired for improperly destroying.

And some agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are expanding their use of Short Message Service, or SMS, technology to provide better services.

Mary Yang, senior marketing strategist for GovDelivery, a messaging platform used by more than half of federal agencies, thinks the technology will follow the path of email.

“A lot of folks think email is dead, but everyone still uses it,” she said in an interview with Nextgov.

“I can’t imagine there’s a time when an agency chooses to use, say, Snapchat instead of a text,” she said, referring to one of the numerous messaging applications that some predicted would kill SMS.

State and local governments use GovDelivery to send out texts to residents more often than federal agencies, Yang said.

For instance, the Bay Area Rapid Transit -- the San Francisco-area subway system -- uses a two-way text service to alert travelers to train arrivals, she said. Yang also suggested zoos could use such a service to alert visitors when, for instance, popular animals like pandas are awake and viewable.

Yang suggested there is room for government text messages to expand into other areas. Because the technology is most popular with young people, it could be a way for the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get out anti-smoking messages.

“But there’s a unique challenge because they don’t necessarily have everybody’s cellphone numbers,” Yang said. “Getting those numbers is really a challenge.”

People can voluntarily provide Citizenship and Immigration Services their cellphone number to receive text messages about the status of applications or petitions at the My Case Status website.  

The agency plans to use the GovDelivery SMS to deliver other time-sensitive messages to customers as well, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, John Larson, chief marketing officer at Zipwhip, is trying to convince agencies -- and everyone -- to enable their landlines to receive text messages, as well.

“What we’re finding is consumers are already sending lots of messages to these landlines today,” Larson recently told Nextgov. “Voicemail is dead. People can’t stand voicemail.”

He envisions agency phone lines receiving text comments and requests that staff can address either in real time or at their convenience.

(Image via Olga Lebedeva/Shutterstock.com)