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Contact Tracing and Text Messaging: Three Ways to Maximize Engagement

2 min readJuly 8, 2020

When it comes to engaging with potentially infected individuals to curb the spread of COVID-19, voice, email and text messaging are all critical communication channels. But of the three, text messaging has the potential to be the most effective. Response rates from text messages can commonly be as high as 90%, while email and call response rates rarely exceed 20%.

Text messaging can be just as effective for contact tracing, but context and regulations will play a large part. Here are three ways contact tracing teams can leverage text to their advantage.

Understand the Regulatory Landscape

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulates automated informational, transactional, and marketing calls and text messages. Fortunately, the FCC granted an exception in 2020 for certain calls and text messages related to the COVID pandemic. So long as contact tracing centers are acting “under the express direction” of a hospital, healthcare provider, state or local health official or other government official,” calls and text messages of an “emergency purpose” may be sent. More specifically, the call should be “solely informational, made necessary because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and directly related to the imminent health or safety risk arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

As such, tracing centers must make sure that they follow guidelines at all times. Because regulations can change, and can vary depending on locality, an attorney should provide updated guidelines prior to crafting and sending text messages.

Ask for Consent to Send Text Messages

While contact tracing centers may or may not be technically in the clear to send messages that qualify under the TCPA exception, agents should still gain consent. Sending texts without consent can affect deliverability by eroding trust and harming a communication providers’ reputation. If messages can’t be delivered, then the entire purpose of contact tracing will be defeated.

Here are the most common ways to ask for consent:

  • Ask for consent during phone calls.
  • Offer clickable options providing consent in email.
  • Provide a webpage where at-risk people can provide consent.

For maximum security and ease of use, we recommend that your opt-in database be hosted in Salesforce.

Use Short Codes to Maximize Deliverability Rates at Scale

When creating your texting strategy, you’ll need to decide whether to use long or short codes. Short codes are digit sequences, much shorter than telephone numbers, that are used to address messages in the Multimedia Messaging System (MMS) and short message service (SMS) systems of mobile network operators (here’s a detailed explanation of how short codes differ from long codes). For contact tracing teams with many reps seeking to notify, engage with or educate lots of people in a pandemic, short codes are a far better option. Short codes enable sending lots of messages simultaneously.