How well do your citizens know you? On any given day, how accurately can your constituents speak to the policy priorities of their elected officials, to a government initiative that they may find value in participating with, or to an upcoming election and the party platforms that may impact their decision to cast your name on the ballot? 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), only 51% of citizens across the world expressed trust for their governments in 2020. To contextualize this statistic further, in the United States, trust in the federal government was at only 20% in 2020. In the past 5 years, this trend has been consistent across state and local jurisdictions, despite these levels of government having historically demonstrated a higher level of public trust. 

It begs the question – why

Building trust with constituents

Governments have struggled to organically build trusting relationships with their constituents, and the perception of public institutions that should provide citizens with the most confidence are often the most cynical. The answer is as simple as it is complicated – citizens cannot be expected to trust someone that they don’t know, and they are seeking more authenticity from their governments. Trust is the foundation for the legitimacy of government institutions, and serves a fundamental role in maintaining political participation. With lower voter engagement statistics and increasing numbers of distrust by constituents towards their governments, there is a duty on government officials to display transparency and humanize their message.

With the digitization of virtually every aspect of our lives, it will be important to explore innovative and technologically relevant solutions to tackle the challenge and build citizen engagement through trust in a way that is long-lasting. At Ascendant, we believe the answer to this specific challenge and to build conversational governments is SMS texting. 

Text messaging has the unique ability to provide real-time, reciprocal dialogue that makes it second nature for individuals to interact. SMS texting allows governments to reach constituents in their highest priority inbox: their text messages. It gives them access to a channel previously reserved for an individual’s innermost circle of friends, family members, and acquaintances. With the benefit of digitization changing the perception of constituents and citizens at large, SMS is no longer viewed as an invasive way of communicating a vital message. We would argue that it is now the expectation. In fact, 64% of consumers believe businesses should now contact them via text messaging more often and 75% want to receive correspondence with calls to action via SMS. With this pivot in perspective, the use of SMS channels adds the authority and authenticity to messaging that has now become the expectation, and governments can’t afford to fall short of this new standard in communication.

Adopting the right tools

If consumers are pivoting with the digital trend of receiving marketing materials, consumer publications, merchant promotions and more via SMS, yet continue to feel isolated from their government due to a lack of available communication, governments run the biggest risk to citizen engagement: apathy. The fact is, if governments cannot actively seek out relevant channels to build trust and communicate essential messaging, it will come to a point where citizens will simply no longer look for this information. Citizens are now accustomed to using self-serve, mobile-friendly, digital tools for transactions of all kinds – both in their business and personal lives. Why do their government institutions offer only archaic and inaccessible forms of communication when every other aspect of their lives is at the tip of their fingers? 

The onus is on governments – federal, state and local – to address the problem by bridging the growing gap in trust between citizens and their governments, and by adopting solutions that their citizens already use and rely on.

With SMS, the possibilities are endless. If the goal is to build trust, the focus for governments has to be demonstrating their reliability through consistent and responsive communication, and reinforcing the transparency of their message. At Ascendant, we believe that texting constituents with a conversational approach to humanize government institutions can be the first step in building long term trust. In addition, Ascendant is a 2-way texting platform, allowing citizens to engage DIRECTLY with government officials or institutions with questions, concerns, reports or citizen requests. Establishing this path of communication will take the burden off of government officials by providing everyday citizens with a viable, trustworthy platform to comfortably approach their government from the palm of their hands. Once this path has been carved, governments can demonstrate the credibility of responsiveness, and almost immediately, trust can begin to be restored. 

Now, let’s talk numbers. The average person checks their phones up to 160 times a day, or once every 9 minutes. Around 39% of US citizens say they use smartphones too often, and 66% admit to waking up to using their phones. On average, the opening rate for SMS marketing is 98% and SMS response rates are up to 295% higher than phone call responses. 

Coupling these striking statistics with the harrowing reality of decreased citizen engagement, and the rise in government distrust, leveraging SMS to bridge this gap and cultivate a humanized relationship between governments and their constituents IS the answer. It can serve to break down the wall that often ostracizes citizens from their governments. It is the answer that governments may not have realized that they needed, and is an intuitive, highly effective form of communication that would address the root of the problem. SMS provides the avenue for governments to build relationships – having necessary information at the tip of their digital fingers has evolved to become an expectation that citizens and consumers cannot unlearn. By tapping into citizens’ highest priority inbox, and providing them with the agency of communication and the ability to respond, conversational government officials can streamline a path to dialogue with their citizens and can begin to build the trust and confidence needed to propel citizen engagement back up. 

Ask yourself – when was the last time you missed a text message? When was the last time you had to think twice about the convenience of sending a text message to a trusted contact? What if your constituents could say this trusted contact was their local government? At Ascendant, we want to bring this convenience and trust to restore the relationships between governments and their citizens. Get in touch to learn more about the platform!