While the ultimate goal of any critical communication system is to reach as many people through as many avenues as possible, most organizations still put emphasis on direct communication methods. Reaching your audience how they want to be contacted — by email, text message, and voice phone call — is often perceived as the most effective communication endpoints available. The biggest barrier to effective direct communication is the collection and maintenance of personal contact information.
When it comes to setting up communication preferences, organizations typically fall into one of two buckets. Either an organization uses:
- Opt-in - Where the end-user maintains their own information within the platform; or
- Opt-out - Where the organization is responsible for collecting, uploading, and maintaining that data.
Opt-in and opt-out are really words of art, and they represent philosophies, not a specific set of rules.
Before we begin, there are some basic rules to follow regarding opt-out implementation within your emergency notification system:
- 1. Make data collection easy
- 2. Get permission to use that data
- 3. Check your data for quality
One thing that needs to be addressed right up front is that opt-out is not about convenience; it is about creating a reliable system for the collection, inclusion, and maintenance of subscriber data. An opt-out solution requires much more work up front than an opt-in methodology, but this pays off by lessening the load, in the long run, by automating most maintenance tasks.
I've seen many organizations just take whatever is in their HR database, or student information system, and push that info directly into their ENS platform. This usually leads to an initial test with an abysmal success rate for delivery. One thing that needs to be considered is that this data is to be used for critical communications, so it’s important to review the organization’s contact information, and update it before utilizing it in a live system. You'll find the old saying still applies - garbage in, garbage out. Simply grabbing an emergency contact number and tacking it on for messaging rarely works out. It’s a best practice to use fresh data and to allow subscribers the ability to update that data either in the source system (directly in the SIS, HR Database, etc...) or in the ENS platform itself.
In fact, how your audiences update their communication preferences will help to define the type of opt-out implementation that is needed. In practice, there are several types of opt-out implementation, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Incremental Addition of Data. Almost every ENS platform, like Omnilert, has the ability to incrementally add data, either by a manual or automatic process. When you have new subscriber information to add, you format and upload that information. This can be done on a regular schedule, at the beginning of the year or semester, or whenever situations change. Systems usually have the ability to modify or delete information in bulk, as well. You should be able to automate some, if not all, of these tasks by having your data exported in the format accepted by your ENS system. With an incremental addition; however, there usually is some manual maintenance of subscriber data that's necessary. This can be done by your administrative staff, or by the subscribers themselves. This sort of opt-out system usually pairs very well with a single sign-on solution, so that subscribers can maintain changes themselves.
API Implementation. Many emergency notification providers have an application programming interface (API) available for your use to maintain subscriber information. An API is usually the most seamless integration, as you can program your contact source systems to interface directly with the data used by your ENS. It is; however, the most labor-intensive solution.
Complete Data Sync. Last is the idea of doing a complete data synchronization to your ENS. With this sort of opt-out implementation, your data source becomes the system of record for a regularly scheduled exchange of data with your emergency notification system. The drawback here is that subscribers must update their information in your system, and you’ll need to have a mechanism in place for them to do so. In this “sort of” opt-out setup, the subscriber interface is often shut down completely so that your population manages their data at a single source - your data source.
By using an opt-out approach, you can often get a larger percentage of your population’s contact information without waiting for users to self-subscribe. This usually means more coverage from day one. However, an opt-out system can require more work on your part, whether that’s work up front to put good data collection practices in place or regular administrative maintenance of your data. In order to properly manage an opt-out system, regular tests of your data are important, as is following up on those test results.
When done right, your opt-out system can almost maintain itself, with little administration needed. Your ENS vendor can help guide you through this whole process. They should be well-versed in working with organizations on these changes. Use that experience to your benefit!
To take a deeper dive into the differences and individual benefits of opt-in and opt-out user management, please download the white paper User Management: Opt-in vs. Opt-out.