local media insider

50% of county signs up for text alerts from country radio station

Why text-alerts are a valuable community service and how to get in the game

Alisa Cromer
KSOK On The Way (the banner ad mid-page) has ten opt-ins for text alerts.

Text alert programs build new audiences and revenue streams while providing a community service.  Some programs have opt-in audiences of more than 100,000 - or half the county, as is the case of Arkansas City, Kansas, population 12,000.

For local media execs who have not considered text alerts, here are the nine value propositions to consider, followed by a case study on how KSOK country radio  signed up 50% of the population in its DMA, and how to monetize text alerts:

1. Extends - or creates - an emergency news franchise
Text alerts excel at communicating emergency information and provide a valuable service – not just news – to the community, even to the point of saving lives. Text also drive readers back to the media for live coverage.

2. Push notifications work better for “you don’t know when you need to know” information. That is, not just emergency information like weather and amber alerts, but also school closings, power outage information, and softer, day-of reminders, for upcoming events and festivals. This is a key difference between an alert, and an app, which generates habitual use but is not equipped to notify.

3. Dramatically increases audience participation for a low cost

Text alerts are highly participatory – the double opt-in includes entering a code texted to the user. They want this information so even small numbers are valuable, and have the highest open and action-taking rates of all the digital media.

4. Integrates with other audiences
One of the difficulties of growing audiences  is the need to integrate all the sign-ups registrations on the site – and within the company if there are several markets. This is not an easy issue to address, but does have solutions. Text opt-in registrations can put numerous alerts on one page, and include both text and email - and vice versa.

This does not replace email building programs but enhances them. Similarily text-back campaigns for sports scores should include a link to a mobile app for coverage- rather than competing with the apps. .

5. Reaches all phones - including less expensive and sophisticated phones
While smart phones are  the majority of devices , they are still not universal. For emergencies and other  community wide notification - such as school closings - the extra reach provided by text alerts is important.

6. Monetizable via sponsorships and partnerships
Incremental revenues from text-alert sponsorships may not fix revenue declines of 5 to 7%. However, however these sponsorships are often a critical part of larger campaigns. The community service aspect makes alerts a great brand for institutions to sponsor, giving them the halo affect of helping their local community. As a differentiator for, say, banks or automotive, texts reach consumers in a personal way, where competitors are absent.

Another opportunity is to sell the opt-in opportunity on the registration page. Community partners (like chambers of commerce, electric companies, sports organizations, etc.) pay a monthly fee to the media company to “share” space on the registration page, in order to send non-commercial, informational content to subscribers who opt-in. These organizations are responsible for creating the content and are given limited access logins.

7. Supports live events - or commercial live remotes 
With a large enough opt-in list, text alerts can help drive more live event traffic – and serve as an extra reminder. Remember, people who have opted-in to recieve this information on their phone, really want it and are more likely to attend. The immediacy of text to taking and action is great for last minute audience reminders, or post-event activities as sponsoring restaurants.

8. The technology can be leveraged for short code campaigns to support advertisers
Some media are simply using short codes to power measuarable response for other kinds of advertising campaigns, or for high-touch merchants, building their own programs.  Some broadcast and directory sites have dozens of businesses using text opt-ins to market to their best customers. 

9. Appeals to younger demographic

Texting is more highly adopted than email by a younger demographic, which may be important to some brand sponsors, especially when building out alerts for live events that reach this group, such as VIP lists. If you have a media that caters to a younger demo, an opt-in VIP list can be part of promotions sold to clubs that are offering specials to bring in more people.

10. Combines with email for radio and weeklies to compete in the daily news space, or for daily newspapers to enhance traffic
Text pairs well with e-newsletters. For example, an AMBER Alert text message include the license plate and description of the car police is looking for as well as the primary law enforcement phone number. If a subscriber sees the vehicle, they can automatically call the phone number that was included in the text message. The email content for Amber alerts also includes pictures of the type of vehicle, person of interest or  the child and either the full story – or a link to the story on the media company’s website.

Similarily automated weather alerts  provide the time the warning is active, the type of warning, and name of the county impacted while the email (sent simultaneously) also gives safety instructions or other counties included in the warning. 

Current trends
Laura Lombard, EVP of Media Partners at TextCaster, which partners with hundreds of radio, television and newspaper markets, says media who were early adopters may have taken a week or ten days to gain 100 subscribers. Today, she said it is not unusual for more than 1000 subscribers to opt-in in a day if there is the threat of severe weather or eminent school closings.  One client gain over 8,000 subscribers in one day.

About 93% of people sign up for sever weather alerts, 50% sign up for daily weather alerts. Here's a break down of opt-in topics in order of importance:

Severe and Daily Weather
Breaking News
Local Sports Scores
School Closings
Community Alerts/Partnerships - These often include power company alerts for power outages, and Chamber of Commerce messages. 
Events and promotions

Sponsorship sales

About 80% of Textcaster’s clients sell alerts to one sponsor, typically institutions such as banks, hospitals insurance agencies or large advertisers such as auto dealers.

The benefit includes the halo affect from the community services aspect, ie “attached to the community you are part of. Saving someone’s life in an area that got hit by a tornado is pretty powerful.“

Case studies in the field
Here some examples of text alert successes  at local media sites around the country:

*In a Kansas county with a population of of 12000, more than 50% of the total population signed-up for text alerts from the areas’s country radio station

KSOKradio.com, a radio station in Arkansas City, Kansas and Winfield, Kansas; broadcasts hot country on its FM station and classic country on the AM dial.  To expand its footprint, the station originally used text-alert opt-ins for weather, but has expanded the program to include news, power outages, schools closings and Chamber alerts, calling the program, KSOK On The Way. The ten different alerts have a combined 6000 of 12,000 county residents signed up – and the number is still growing especially during a weather emergency. 

Brian Cunningham, KSOK operations manager says the text alerts are a major part of the stations strategy and that the outstanding market penetration comes from two factors, “We are so aggressive with it. And during massive severe weather, it is an invaluable tool. People can react to it.”  Text alerts also provide tangible impressions for radio advertisers. Here are all the alerts visitors can sign up for:

Note here that tie-ins include the Chamber and the Wellington Wheat Festival. If you scroll down, there are checklists to sign up for text and /or email for each of these programs. Then a text is sent to the phone with a promo code. Entering the promo code completes the opt-in.

Promotions include a banner ads on the front of the site (see image to the right). 

Live, on-air promotions – especially during weather emergencies - also result in big gains. A four day storm in April, 2012 gave an opportunity to talk about the text service – and the text drove people to turn on the station for live reports.

Live events are supported by text - and provide sign-up opportunities.  During women's fairs, the street team takes a computer and signs people up “right then and there,” since the text is sent to the cell phone for confirmation, they walk people through it.  A live remote for Good Guys used texts to drive traffic. 

The two sponsorships for KSOK On The Go are sold out and there is a  wait list. One sponsor, a local cell phone service and web developer - KanOkla, has renewed for several years. A new sponsor is Rusty Eck Ford acquired the second sponsorship as part of a larger ad campaign.

The next channel on the text alerts will be sports.  Cunningham sees text alerts as complimentary to apps, possibly even driving traffic to the app for more information “on the go.”

*A television site used the text-back opportunity to support seasonal 30 minute advertorial shows. The station creates half hour shows around seasonal themes, such as fathers day and mothers day or women’s week, with business profiles that are mini -commercials. Part of the segment is a key word, so viewers can text in to win something while the show is on-air.

*The Amarillo Globe-News enter to win an iPad or $500 gift card contest has been especially successful in signing up new text-alert subscribers

*The Taos News, which puts its text alert in the web site nav bar, has an arrangement with the police department to deliver crime alerts. By giving the savvy police chief a log –in, the department can send messages directly out of the app to alert the community if a criminal is on the loose, or other information (the system allows a variety of admin accesses, and can limit what an outside partner can access and send).

Here's a look at the simple nav bar integration:

The Taos News combines its email newsletter  and text program as the "Inbox edition."   Here's the page you get when clicking on the Text-alerts in the navigation bar:


A combination of daily email newsletters and text alerts is a great competitive strategy for weeklies as well as broadcast sites to build audiences that compete with daily newspaper sites (locally-owned Palo Alto Weekly which competes with the Digital First Media-owned Palo Alto Daily puts out a daily e-newsletter instead of a paper). 


In areas where weather is unpredictable, text alert systems have become invaluable to their communities. The low-tech nature of text makes it equally  valuable in low tech  agricultural communities and highly populated areas that have other dangers. Most universities are using this technology now to be able to inform the campus “right away” in the event of a shooting. We recommend using text alerts in combination with news to build closer relationships with subscribers in the community. For an example of a full registation, go to KSOKradio.com. 

There are a variety of text partners available. TextCaster, which supplied contacts for this report, has been in business for about ten years, starting out by supplying text services to police departments (some of whom still use the service). They include integration with a national weather service provider and supply a templated registration page that also collects emails. Contact is Laura Lombardi, Laura@texcaster.com.

Brian Cunningham, operations manager of KSOK, gives Texcaster five stars for technology and support. "We test anything new they are doing, and call them to bounce off new ideas. They've been a great partner and that is one of the reasons for our success."

What to look for in a text-alert partner:

*Contacts with all the carriers. TextCaster has 140 phone partners. Make sure you ask this question. 

*Pre-integration - and ability to integrate - with a variety of partners such as weather, Chambers of Commerce and new alliances
*Customer support
*What sponsor ads look like and if they are "clickable"
*Ability to allow remote users a variety of access points (for alliances, and also resell opportunities for some merchants who want this capabitity).
*How much is automated, including scheduling
*Cost structure

*Look and feel of the registration page provided

*Options to integrate with email

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.