Text messaging policy

1. Background

The increasing and almost universal use of mobile phones has opened up a new avenue of opportunity for communication between the University and its staff and students.

This policy sets out the way in which the University will use Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging appropriately to pass on important information to staff and students. The use of SMS messaging is intended to sit alongside other existing forms of communication such as letters, email, social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter) and the University’s website. The immediate delivery of SMS messages gives it an advantage over other forms of communication: most students have their phones with them all the time and the message is likely to be received much sooner.

Text messaging has wide accessibility. People who are blind or visually impaired can use mobile phones, and some mobile phones have text-to-speech capability, meaning that individuals can listen to text messages.

Data Protection and privacy issues have been taken into account in preparing this policy. In some cases, people will be asked if they wish to 'opt-in' to receive particular types of messages. In others, for example where messages are sent for administrative purposes, people will be asked if they wish to ‘opt-out’. However, there may be emergency circumstances in which the University will need to contact as many staff and students as possible, ignoring personal preferences (which is permissible if it is in the 'vital interests of the data subject' – Data Protection Act Schedule 2(4)). Phone numbers may be stored by third parties for the purpose of sending messages, but names will not be stored. There may, very rarely, be the need to send a message for test purposes.

There are a number of scenarios in which an SMS message could be very useful, e.g.

However, the usefulness of text messaging depends on having reliable data. The mobile numbers will be taken from the University's central staff and student databases (PIMS and SITS) so it is important that these are kept up to date. This will be achieved by means of email reminders or Portal announcements to staff and students to keep their details up to date and directions for how to do so.

2. Emergencies

2.1 Scope

Messages whose content is deemed to be essential or urgent.

2.2 When is it appropriate?

Incident and crisis management is handled by a team of senior managers. The team may decide a text message is appropriate whenever it is considered important to contact a group of people urgently for reasons of health or safety.

It should be noted that there is no guarantee that text messages will be delivered promptly or at all by the mobile phone companies. In some types of emergency, e.g. a terrorist incident, the emergency services may commandeer the mobile phone network, so no messages will get through.

Simultaneous, multiple approaches are essential. Text messages must be supplemented by other means of communication, such as emails, messages issued via Facebook or Twitter or information posted on the University website, to ensure that as many of the target audience as possible receive the message.

2.3 Approvers

A request to send a message to one of the University-wide lists must be approved by one of the senior crisis team (this team includes the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Deputy Registrar (Education & Students), Director of Communications, Assistant Director of Communications (Head of Public Relations), Bursar & Director of Estates, Head of Planning, Senior Planning & Projects Officer, Human Resources Director and Deputy Human Resources Director). The Head of Security Services also has approver rights.

Authorisation will be given for a message only if:

2.4 Target Groups

It is possible to send messages to the following groups:

Further groupings (e.g. by faculty, by hall of residence) may be added in the future.

2.5 Format of message

Messages should be no longer than 160 characters and should address the student or staff member directly, i.e. as 'you'. They should include essential points, and should avoid 'text speak', e.g. write 'you', not 'u'; and 'for', not '4'. Non-Latin alphabet characters should be avoided, as they may decrease the maximum message size to 140 or even 70 characters.

2.5.1 Sender

All messages must start with the words 'UoB Alert:' so that the recipients of the text can see that it is an official message from the University requiring their attention.

2.5.2 Subject

The message must clearly indicate what it concerns.

2.5.3 Where to get more information

The message should indicate where more information can be sought, e.g. 'see www.bris.ac.uk' if the University website is operational, or 'check email for details'.

3. Work-related Incidents

3.1 Scope

Messages that are sent to one or more staff members relating to incidents at work. These could include, for example, alerts or work instructions relating to maintenance or equipment failures.

3.2 When is it appropriate?

A text message may be appropriate to communicate with a member of staff about matters relating to his or her job, where that person is likely to be moving around the campus, or 'on call'. It is impossible to give a definitive list of possible applications; the deciding factor has to be whether it is an effective means of communication.

3.3 Approvers

The Head of a Department is responsible for deciding on suitable usages of text messaging within a department, and for delegating approval rights.

Authorisation should be given for a particular message only if:

3.4 Recipients

Departments should endeavour to ensure that lists of numbers are kept up to date and reviewed at least every six months. People issued with mobile phones by the University for work purposes may not opt-out of receiving text messages.

3.5 Format of message

4. Other uses (e.g. departmental)

4.1 Scope

There are many other possible uses of text messaging. For example:

4.2 Opting in and opting out

For administrative or coursework messages, message providers may choose to offer students the right to ‘opt-out’. Students could be notified at the start of an academic year.

For other types of message, it makes sense to ask people whether they wish to opt-in to different classes of message, as asking them whether they wish to opt-in to 'all or none' is likely to result in a low take-up rate. Hence, it is recommended that message providers define the types of message that they will be sending and ask their target audience whether they wish to opt-in to each type.

4.3 Guidelines

The following guidelines should be followed by message providers:

4.3.1 Administration

4.3.2 Maintaining the list

4.3.3 Sending messages

5. Choosing a provider

5.1 Internal

5.2 External

6. Further Advice

Message senders need to be aware of:

Further advice on text messaging can be obtained from telephone-services@bristol.ac.uk. Training and/or notes of guidance can be provided for new users, where appropriate.

Policy approved by University Council in 2009 and updated in May 2012. Next review date: May 2014. Policy owner: Kevin Thomas.