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5 Ways Economic Development Officers Connect by Texting

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Economic development officers like you have to help businesses and organizations in your community thrive. You also have to keep them consistently updated and informed. That takes a lot of work, and effective communications are critical to your success.

But there’s a problem.

Your current communications aren’t cutting it. Only 15% of your emails are read, only 2% of your audience see your social media posts, and who has the time to individually call everyone?

Too much is falling through the cracks, and that’s why economic development officers are turning to text messaging for conversations and mass updates.

Why use text messaging for economic development?

You might say it’s more economical. Take a look at some of the stats:

  • 99% of all texts are read
  • 95% are read within three minutes of being sent
  • The average response time is 90 seconds
  • The average response rate is around 50%
  • Included links earn 35% to 50% click through rates, sometimes higher
  • 9 in 10 people want to text with organizations

Texting brings you more engagement. It helps you connect with your community more quickly and effectively, and it’s what people want.

Choosing to text with your community is a no-brainer, but there are a couple of challenges from here—getting everyone’s contact info, and implementing text messaging professionally in your organization. I’m going to show you how to do both (and more).

“If your economic development team can't quickly and comprehensively reach local business contacts when disasters or pandemics strike (like this one); That's a Fail. The Text Request technology allows you to fix this so you can help your local businesses. you can fix this now...right now.” - Tom Wengler, OctoUX

1. Share updates with your business community.

Great communications are quick, frequent, and consistently connect with the people you need to reach, even when you can’t see them. That’s why text messaging is so powerful.

COVID-19 provides several great examples (see below), but texting becomes your new superpower anytime you need to get an update out to your community.

Simply take your list of business contacts, add them to what we call a group message (which is a mass text that sends like a BCC email), type your message, and send it.

These messages take no time at all to send, and get your important updates into the hands of everyone in your community instantly.

For example:

“Hi Chattanooga, a new mask mandate is taking effect this Friday. Get the details and action steps at ecodevsite.com/july-mandate”

“Attention business owners, a new grant application is online. Apply for relief funds now! Grants are $5,000 per organization and we have $250,000 in the fund. econoffice.org/grants - EconOffice”

“Has your business been adversely affected by the recent tornado? Apply for assistance and relief here. This is time sensitive, funds and resources are limited. econoffice.org/disaster-relief.”

“Our annual Chattanooga EXPO is going virtual! Claim your booth and other sponsorships while they last at chattanoogachamber.com/expo”

These mass updates are incredible tools for keeping your community informed and getting them to take action. This helps them and you. It’s a win-win!

So how do you get everyone’s contact info to make sure you can update them properly?

2. Build your SMS subscriber (contact) list.

You should have a phone number for every organization in your community—at least everyone who’s completed a form or registration with you. Most of them are likely to be cell phone numbers instead of business numbers.

About nine in 10 people offer up a cell number instead of a business line, on average. Text Request can scan a list of contacts for you, and tell you which are cell phones vs. business lines (i.e. how many you can text). Contact us for details.

When someone gives you their phone number—through an online form, for example—you have consent to communicate with them through whatever details they gave you, including texting their cell phone.

Then there are three steps you need to take for building your contact list.

First, determine how many contacts you have cell numbers for. This will be your starting subscriber list.

Second, start filling in missing info (like cell phone numbers) for existing contacts. Email them, promote the question on social media, contact them through any other option, and ask for a cell number to text them updates and reminders.

This will take time, but is a low effort task that will continually show progress and a positive ROI. In other words, it’s worth the time.

Third, provide opportunities for all in your community to opt into updates. Keywords are perhaps the easiest way to do this.

[include Allison Collins TFP keyword image]

For instance, you might create a keyword that is “EDO” that subscribes people to updates from your economic development office. Then in your emails, on your website, across social media, and at your events, promote your keyword to your audience.

“Text EDO to 423-756-2121 for updates and special offers from your local Economic Development Office!”

Anyone who texts that keyword will be automatically segmented into a list that you can quickly text later. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement this simple tactic brings.

3. Bring in more prospects.

Businesses looking for a new town are searching the web and come across your website. You need to capture more of these potential prospects, and do it in a way that (a) makes it easy for you to follow up with them, and (b) tracks where these prospects came from (an ad, organic search, etc.).

Our SMS Chat does just that through text messaging.

SMS Chat acts like a live chat on your website, except messages come in through Chat as texts, and your replies go to that contact’s cell phone as texts, where they continue the conversation with you.

Text Request customers consistently report 30% to 100% increases in leads generated after adding SMS Chat, and we recommend doing two things to help your conversion rates.

First, use a call-to-action (CTA) on the chat that includes a picture of a real person (preferably whoever primarily handles inbound communications) and a probing question like “What can we help you find?”

Second, add an auto response to those inbound messages. This tells every contact that you’ve got their message and will follow up ASAP. It also immediately redirects the conversation to their phone’s text messaging app, setting the expectation for you to continue the conversation there.

SMS Chat is great for capturing viewers’ attention, but the follow-up process is just as impactful (if not more so).

4. Move deals through your pipeline faster.

Businesses consistently report 100%+ growth in deals closed after adding text messaging to their sales process (and at its root, bringing businesses and programs to town is one big sales deal).

Texting works because it’s so good at grabbing people’s attention. So text prospects to:

  • Start the discussion
  • Check in and ask for updates
  • Schedule time to talk on the phone
  • Even schedule reminders and prompts to be sent later

Then you just need a way to manage those conversations and get them into your CRM. Text Request helps here, too, because every text is permanently recorded and can be integrated or synced with your other software for easy record keeping.

5. Provide a central contact for economic questions and answers.

Everyone wants a go-to resource—one place that’s easy to access where they can get any questions answered or help they need. You can become that for your community with text messaging.

You just need to add texting to your main office phone number, and inform people they can text you. All landlines and VOIP numbers have texting abilities, but most aren’t used. Check your number below to confirm you can text with it.

You’ve been promoting the same office phone number for ages. Now you can say “Text or call us at [this number].” And with a tool like Text Request, multiple people in your office can handle conversations and updates while giving managers oversight.

Here’s an example of why this is valuable to your community (PPP loans).

Let’s say I’m a business owner or executive. I have a question. I go to your website and see “Text or call us at [this number].” I type in the number, shoot off my question, and a few moments later I get a response back from someone in your office.

“Thanks for your question! Here’s our resource to qualifying and getting your PPP loan. areachamber.com/ppp I’m happy to help you complete the application or answer questions. Let me know - Brittney.”

That provides personal engagement and fast help that’s convenient for everyone. Plus, one worker can handle 10x as many text conversations as phone calls, so directing common and simple communications through texts tends to help operational costs, too.

How can you start texting for economic development?

If you like what you see in this article, then you probably want to see Text Request firsthand and get a feel for what it’d be like to use a text system like ours. We’re happy to show you—just book a demo, or contact us to request a call.

From there, the steps to take are simple. You pick a plan that fits your needs (we can help you determine the right fit). We’ll help you set up your phone number for texting, train you and your team as much as you want, and help you get the ball rolling.

We’re looking forward to helping you help your city!