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Are you ready?

Your guide to technical readiness.

About this Guide

Since 2007, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has been exploring new ways to provide services via digital channels – first through our live chat on loveisrespect.org, and later through text messaging and other platforms. Our ultimate goal is to provide safe, meaningful advocacy for victims, survivors, friends and family through the channels they are most comfortable utilizing.

Over the years, we’ve been asked to share information about our experiences in meeting this goal. This guide was developed to function as a basic primer to our efforts and ultimately to support state, local, and grassroots service providers as they explore digital advocacy solutions appropriate for their organizations. While fairly comprehensive, this guide is by no means complete, as these strategies evolve with rapidly changing technology and platforms. As we and our partners in the field continue to learn more, the online guide will be updated and expanded.

The guide is divided into three sections: Assessment of the Organization, Assessment of People, and Channels & Services. There is no correct order to proceed, as each section aims to provide organizations with the benefit of our experiences and help anticipate the inevitable unexpected implications of digital services.

Privacy Statements

A critical initial step to engaging in digital services is creating and maintaining a Privacy Statement around your particular model of interaction. The goals of a Privacy Statement are to explicitly define what identifiable information (if any) is exchanged when you provide services, what info is kept (if any), how long it’s maintained, and what a user’s expectation of privacy should be when they are engaging with your organization’s services.

Additionally, as privacy considerations may change over time, it is important to consider a methodology for making updates, and ways to alert users of changes made in information exchange and collection practices. The hotline reviews its privacy statements every six months and uses our social media platforms to announce any changes to the policies.

The hotline also publishes its privacy statements under a Creative Commons license, which means we not only allow but encourage other organizations to adapt it for their own uses.

Assessment of the Organization

An organization’s ability to provide digital services is only as good as the technology infrastructure supporting it. A critical element to providing digital advocacy is a comprehensive audit of an organization’s technology, including both hardware and software, as well as services both in the traditional sense (internet service providers) and newer cloud-based offerings.

While many human services organizations set a low priority on technology acquisition and upkeep in favor of programmatic work, this strategy can cause systemic problems in service provision when entering the digital services realm. Technology audits are an excellent initial step toward assessing readiness.

Audit: Hardware, Software, Skills

Hardware

If one does not exist, have your technology team conduct an inventory of all hardware, both at the user and server level. Take note of manufacturer, model number and service tags (these can be used to determine warranty status). Additionally, note each user’s desktop configuration – does the user have two screens? Do the peripherals appear to be in good working order? In a digital advocacy situation, a working mouse can be the difference between a quality interaction or a missed contact and subsequently frustrated client.

Software

In addition to hardware, review your organization’s software. Review not only the desktop software packages deployed to users, but also the software that has been added and requested (this can be discovered in an interview process). Additionally, review all enterprise level software (servers, etc.) for shortcomings. During our audit process at the Hotline, for example, it was revealed that our spam filter services were close to expiring and that our version of Microsoft Exchange would not support an upgrade. Priorities had to be shifted and new solutions found in order to avoid becoming inundated with spam emails (which are not only an annoyance but also a source of several system crippling viruses).

Staff Interviews

Develop an interview protocol and select key staff members across multiple departments. Consider asking how comfortable they are utilizing their current technology, what tools they use on a regular basis and what tools they wish they had. At the Hotline, for example, we discovered a critical need for projectors and other presentation tools. This was a source of great frustration for staff, but a relatively inexpensive fix was discovered and remedied during this process. This interview can also serve as a method to create buy-in for from your staff. What are they excited about? What would they not want to do?

Audit: Process

Inventory Reviews

An ideal hardware life cycle is three years in a typical business environment, or sometimes five years with the purchase of optional warranties. For organizations that must prioritize funding for programs over capital expenditures, following such a purchase schedule is rarely feasible, but can be used to prioritize replacements. In your inventory, make a note of hardware that is older than three years and/or out of warranty. Also review software for which manufacturer support may be ending. As of the writing of this guide, the Hotline operates in a primarily Windows XP environment – an operating system that is no longer supported by Microsoft in April 2014 – and we are currently exploring new solutions. 

Advocacy Critical Evaluation

If your organization is fortunate enough to be able to conform to a private-sector type technology plan of three-year life cycles and regular upgrades, it is likely that your digital advocacy efforts will be unburdened by infrastructure shortcomings. The reality, however, is that most organizations in the human services field are strapped for resources and must make difficult decisions in regard to the allocation of resources.

The Hotline has chosen to focus most of its upgrade and maintenance efforts on purchases that directly benefit advocacy efforts. Prioritizing double monitor purchases for digital services advocates, for example, was a relatively inexpensive way (when compared to rebuilding our database applications) for the organization to increase efficiency (digital services often utilize multiple platforms, requiring excessive toggling between windows).

Additionally, the Hotline is increasingly considering off-premise solutions, often modeled on a Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-demand software service. These models spread out expenditures into lease options, have little or no maintenance costs and operate at high levels of availability. Before purchasing another server, consider the administrative costs associated with this, and whether it could better benefit your advocacy efforts to lease a service or host it elsewhere.

Audit: Follow-Up

Write-up and Presentation

An organization’s leadership team must be on board and supportive of the prioritizing of technology upgrades. The Hotline’s technology assessment was presented to a full meeting of the organization’s leadership. A formal summary was prepared to encourage adoption from all sections of the organization. While not all recommendations were approved, several action items were immediately approved as a result of the meeting.

Review

If possible, seek the review of an unbiased third party to consult on both process and the technical aspects of your assessment. For the Hotline’s technology assessment, we utilized contacts at the University of Texas School of Social Work, but other options could include technology consulting firms who are often willing to donate a small number of hours for these types of projects.

Audit: Recommendations
  • Before undertaking assessments of this type, consider forming a technology response team. Our technology response team is an internal group of employees with various levels of formal and informal knowledge of the organization’s technology, that shares duties for tech maintenance, assessment and awareness
  • Review all hardware and software, focusing on critical elements required for your purpose
  • Review contracts with your service providers (such as your internet service provider), as providers regularly change offerings and terms, in order to ensure their offerings are in line with your planned advocacy efforts
  • Use interviews as a valuable tool in detecting important needs in your technology. There will always be complaints around IT, but a quantitative analysis of staff responses can help your organization make decisions that will benefit your front-line service providers
  • Focus on small upgrades or changes that will benefit advocacy or direct services as opposed to massive enterprise upgrades

If the “organization” is just you, an inventory is still useful. What do you own? What can you ask donors or friends for? You want to make sure that you know up front if you’ll need thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

Ask for help from other people who are doing what you’d like to do. How did they get started? What were their technology and logistical challenges? What do they wish they had known? Are there tools that they utilize that you could share costs with them to use?

Assessment of People

IT Oversight

IT and Staffing

Technology staffing can be a complex endeavor influenced by a perceived need for legacy practices and hardware, coupled with a reluctance to change to a new solution (ex: “We’ve done this forever and this is just how we do it.”) It’s important to evaluate your staffing needs based on where your organization is trying to go, not where it’s been. Moving IT staffing to a dedicated internal employee has advantages – he or she can gain first-hand knowledge of policies and procedures and guide technology strategy with overall familiarity with the organization.

In a stable technology environment however, it may be better to consider contracted IT services, as they can provide ongoing maintenance and their services can be evaluated on an annual basis. You can also look into different options annually to achieve more competitive rates. With contracted, external IT, it’s important to encourage staff to play a supporting role, particularly in a 24-hour advocacy scenario.

At the Hotline, several staff members are designated as IT leads, with limited access to administering systems and troubleshooting low-level issues. This helps keep support costs down on overnight hours (when hourly rates can double) and helps establish an organic on-call system.

Ultimately, staffing decisions in a resource-constrained environment must be individually evaluated by each organization. However, it is important to realize that offering digital advocacy (online chat, text messaging) will place an increased emphasis on technological infrastructure and the need for reliability. Your ability to offer reliable access to clients directly impacts the trust your clients place in your advocacy services.

Vendors

Securing a Vendor

Each organization will likely approach efforts to secure vendors for digital services differently – whether through a formal RFP process, a board approval process or a local referral. It’s important to educate prospective vendors about the special needs of providing services to victims of domestic violence. In an ideal situation, applications such as chat or SMS platforms would be custom built to the specific needs of each organization – though this is generally cost prohibitive. We recommend looking for a vendor who has worked with similar agencies (suicide hotlines, substance abuse services, peer programs, etc.).

The Hotline’s practice has been to issue the privacy requirements as an attachment to our RFPs, based on the privacy requirements found in VAWA. This not only gives the vendor fair warning that the project does not have an out-of-the-box solution, but also makes abundantly clear that the privacy of  clients is a matter of federal law, and not to be taken lightly.

It has also been a good practice to schedule introductory meetings with vendors that include an opportunity to sit down with the staff who provide direct services to observe their existing workflow. This allows the vendor to see how their product could be configured to work in a specific organization’s environment, and reaffirms the impactful nature of your organizations work (which will hopefully factor in when cost is considered).

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

As previously mentioned, there is a direct correlation between how reliably your service can be accessed and the trust your clients will place in your advocacy. It’s therefore critically important to understand your vendor’s SLA, which, in loose terms, translates to the availability of the services they provide.

Having a realistic expectation for maintenance outages and expected downtimes will help your organization better prepare for interruption in service. Additionally, discussions of SLA are an opportunity to get a better idea of how an account will be serviced – when you have concerns or problems, will you have a dedicated representative to help you or will you be referred to a larger team? What is the expected response time? Are support functions handled in house or by a sub-contractor?

Is your IT department just the person on staff that knows the most about computers? Is that staff member comfortable in this role? Sometimes it’s unavoidable given budgetary concerns, but this is a role that is often taken by default and without necessary training or education – not a recommended practice.

What are the must-haves for digital advocacy?

  • computers/laptops
  • internet access
  • stable power supplies
  • the chat/texting service itself
  • mobile phones

Channels & Services

Social Media

General Considerations

The social media channels you choose to engage in should be carefully considered prior to opening any account. These channels require constant maintenance and will require staff time. Don’t feel obligated to have a presence on every social channel that exists. There are many options – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. – but only choose the channel(s) that makes sense for your audience and your intended purpose.

Before opening social media accounts, create a social media strategy. What is the core message you want these channels to communicate? How will your team support these channels? What topics will you talk about? What topics will you avoid? How will you deal with crisis situations? Will the channels be monitored 24/7?  If not, how soon will you respond to a question or concern? How often will you post? How will you measure success? Do you have a budget to conduct media buys on social media?

Once you open an account, make sure that appropriate team members have access to this account.

Social media presents a great opportunity for direct engagement with your supporters, clients and fellow organizations. Know that domestic violence victims may post their stories and information, looking for help through your channels. Be ready for this by discussing internally how you will handle these requests and by creating community guidelines.

Be specific in planning your community guidelines. How you answer a wall post or status comment may look differently than the way you handle a direct message. Have a plan in place so that you know what to do if someone writes inappropriate comments, if an abusive partner posts a remark, if a victim gives out identifying information, etc.

Once you develop your community guidelines, post them somewhere public where they can be easily referenced, such as your organization’s website. When someone on your channels violates the community guidelines, post a link back to the list of rules so that everyone is reminded of the parameters in place to guide civil and safe conversations on your channels.

Check out this great article to learn more: Convince & Convert – Social Media Strategy in 8 Steps.

Social Media Training

It is very important that your social media strategy be shared with your entire staff. Because the issue of domestic violence is so complicated, it can require very skilled advocacy to appropriately respond to a victim’s needs online. We have found that the best way for us to manage our social media channels is to pair our Communications Department with our advocates on the hotlines to ensure the best service to anyone seeking help through our social media channels.

We appointed two people from our communications team to be the point people for social media questions. Advocates know they can turn to these people for answers to their questions. Advocates were selected to be on a social media response team based on their facility with both social media and communicating through the written word. These advocates were trained on how to respond to social media requests.

When developing social media training, consider how often the accounts will be checked. It can be hard to respond to all requests at all hours. Select the times of day that make sense for your team while considering staffing needs.

In order to have seamless social media tracking between teams in our building, we use a Google spreadsheet to track which advocate responded to what message at what time. This allows the social media lead to review responses to make sure everyone who is reaching out to our organization receives a proper response.

Consider the following:

  • What is the appropriate response if someone from the media sends a message?
  • What is your protocol for helping a victim through these channels? How will you respond to a direct crisis or life-threatening event?
  • How many messages in a thread will you be able to respond to?
  • Is there a more appropriate way to help a client asking for help through social media?
  • How will advocates use your content to answer questions through these channels?
  • If using Facebook, will you respond to wall posts/comments or only private messages? For Twitter, does every @ message get a response? What about direct messages?
  • How will you respond to high profile media events? Controversy?
  • How will you respond to public criticism or negative feedback of your service?

Make sure advocates, or anyone responding to social media requests, have access to content links (again, we maintain a spreadsheet with helpful links to content on our website) as well as the Community Guidelines. Talk through the Community Guidelines with the people running the social media accounts so that they can recognize and adequately address a violation when they see one.

Keep the social media response policy training and support documents in an easily accessible place where everyone can find them. Consider using Google Drive or a similar document sharing platform. You can also have hard copies of these policies on hand.

You may find that issues come up that you hadn’t planned for in your Community Guidelines. That’s ok – your Community Guidelines can grow and adjust according to organizational needs. Make sure you update the guidelines online, alert and train your team and share the updates with your online community.

Evaluation of Channel Efficacy

Measuring your social media efforts can help you ensure that you are reaching the audience you intend as well as creating meaningful content for your online community.

Evaluating the efficacy of your efforts on digital channels can be a challenging task as most private sector tools are targeted towards metrics like conversion, growth and return on investment. That said, it is vitally important to evaluate your efforts through some form of measurement, not only to measure growth, but also to document and prove the reach and demand of your service, which provides useful data for future grant applications.

There are several inexpensive tools that can provide base-level metrics on social media accounts and most platforms for chat and SMS text will come with a basic level of reporting. Sites like Sprout SocialGoogle AlertsTweetDeck and HootSuite can help you monitor your engagement levels for little or no cost. Take advantage of Facebook and YouTube’s internal metrics. It also helps if you have a solid vocabulary to describe these different metrics. Try this link to learn more.

At the Hotline we take these numbers and aggregate them, along with website traffic, service bounce rates, phone requests and several other metrics to look for trends. This method allows us to customize our reports and quickly evaluate the efficacy of actions we’ve taken (around a specific campaign, for example). Ultimately each organization must determine what metrics matter for you and which indicators are important enough to be actionable. Are you looking for engagement? Do you want to ensure that people are clicking the links you share? Here’s a helpful article from Mashable about what different social media managers measure.

It has been the Hotline’s experience that having solid indicators of channel efficacy has been invaluable in fine-tuning our services, as well as planning and preparing for their growth.

Changing Landscapes

Last year, Facebook made a major change to their Pages section. At the time of this writing, less than 20% of our followers see each post. Pages administrators have the option to pay to promote each post, which will ensure that all of their followers will see the post in their timeline. Doing this for each post would be cost prohibitive, so the choice must be made which posts (if any) to promote. Changes like these have to be considered when maintaining a social media property.

Tumblr

One of the difficult things about using Facebook for digital advocacy in domestic violence work is that Facebook maintains a real name culture. There’s no way to post questions or engage in conversations anonymously. We recommend using at least one channel like Tumblr, where users can be anonymous and use alias usernames. This allows users to engage in conversations while staying anonymous and therefore safer.

Campaigns

Online campaigns can be an important part of service outreach for your nonprofit. A campaign could be done strictly online, or the organization could extend or support an offline campaign by developing smart content online.

Campaigns can help position your organization as a thought leader for specific topics related to your focus. Campaigns can also provide an opportunity to start online conversations with your audience and allow your digital community to deepen their connection with your organization. They can also be a good time to encourage hesitant users to try out your services to receive the help they deserve.

The timing of the campaign is important. Will your campaign be during Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Back-to-school? Valentine’s Day/Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month? Selecting the right time of year for your campaign, as well as setting a duration, will help your audience feel a sense of urgency in helping you spread your message.

Create your campaign with online engagement in mind. How will you build in the opportunity for your audience to connect with this campaign through your channels? What would you like that engagement to look like? Will you have the needed staff to handle an influx in traffic and service requests?

User-Generated Content

There’s a wealth of content being created around domestic violence. Identifying content that relates to your campaign message can have two effects:

  1. Help you identify potential partners/volunteers/advocates:  The people who are posting messages aligned with your campaign strategy can be great allies. Contacting them can help create important relationships (we consider these relationships as important or potentially more important than viral content)
  2. Save creative budget: You can often share, distribute or reblog this content for free. The content creator will often be happy to have an organization share their content, but first make sure to check with them if their site terms of service dictate that you can do so

Consider how a user-generated campaign strategy can be part of your educational efforts as well. Teaching a user how to create an appropriate message for your campaign is a great way to train that user on broader DV issues as well. It also provides touch points for those users – reasons for them to follow and engage with your channels.

Understanding the Terms of Service (ToS) as it relates to domestic violence is important. What are the ways that the social media site deals with complaints and reports of DV? It’s also good to understand how to report something yourself.

Often, a user will self-identify on your social media channels as an advocate. Consider ways that you can train and engage those users as grassroots community managers. If you are coming to this document as this type of user, then know that you can make a huge difference by weighing in on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. Other users will often be more likely to communicate with you than with official services. If the organization you are most interested in has social media properties, be in touch with them (they’ll have an administrator who will be happy to hear from you!) and see how you might be able to help.

Online Chat

Chat is one of the most robust digital channels for working with a variety of users. Chat can be used to provide direct services to victims, friends and family by offering information about a website or a program. Chat can even be used as a technical assistance channel. Because of this flexibility, it is important that you decide on several factors that will help make your chat service successful.

Target Audience

Deciding who you intend to speak with through a chat channel is the most important point to identify before launching a chat program. Are you looking to speak with teens and young adults? What is that age group exactly (13-24 or maybe 13-17)? Or are you opening the channel to anyone who is seeking the service you are offering?

When loveisrespect launched chat, we quickly learned that people would ask for services outside of the age group we were targeting. As an organization, we are committed to making sure that we provide quality services to everyone who asks for help. However, we found that we were not able to commit to offering services in Spanish. When we did receive requests from Spanish-speakers, we would immediately send a pre-written response that would inform the user that Spanish services were not available via live chat, and then invite them to call the Hotline for Spanish services instead.

Online chat also requires an organization to think about the impact that the internet has had on creating a “globalized service line” for our field. Many people perceive anything offered on the internet as globally offered, without geographical boundaries.

When loveisrespect began working with the LivePerson chat platform in 2011, we were able to see for the first time that chat participants from across the globe were not only looking at our website, but also attempting to use our chat services at higher than anticipated levels. This usage of our service channel did have some effect on our staff and our data, so we made the decision to limit access to only the U.S. and its territories.

This issue translates to all organizations offering digital services. If you’re a local program in Houston, Texas, will you serve people outside of the Harris County area? If so, at what level of service? Or will you inform the user on your website that the service is only offered to those in your area?

Knowing who you are trying to reach is important on a digital channel. This knowledge will allow for you to have a plan in place that provides clarity to your service workers and communicates clearly with the people you intend to help.

Hours of Operation

When loveisrespect launched its chat service (geared toward teens and young adults) in 2007, it was advertised as a 24/7 service, due to our organization’s previous service experience with the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s 24/7 phone service. In October of 2013, we launched chat services for the Hotline as well, setting the operational hours for the service from 9am – 7pm CST.

We learned an important lesson through our experience with loveisrespect chat. Not all services are necessarily meant to be or need to be offered full-time. Chat services require a significant amount of infrastructure for an organization, and may not be cost effective as a 24/7 operation. Consider opening any chat service channel with a set time first, in order to determine the volume of need.

By setting trial times, you may learn ways clients want to use your service. For example, since launching chat for the Hotline, we’ve noticed that the chat service is being used as a complement to our website by people on break at work, who may just be looking information or starting the process of deciding if they want to leave a relationship.

It’s also important to consider your desired audience for the chat service. If it’s teenagers aged 12-17, it might be better to provide after school hours rather than 9-5. There could be regional and cultural considerations as well. Perhaps the people in your desired demographic work late shifts, take weekly technology breaks for religious reasons, are off from work on Mondays, etc.

Reserve the right to change your service times for the most optimal effect. Maybe you discover that opening up chat services from 9am–5pm reveals that your highest volume is from 4pm–5pm. This might tell you that maybe it‘s better to open chat from 12pm–7pm. To be successful, give yourself room to let your data determine when the need is the greatest and when people are open to using your service.

Staffing Capacity

When activating any service channel, you should always take into account your internal capacity to support the service. This is even more relevant with digital channels to make sure that you are prepared for how people operate online.

People online have an expectation of instant access. One example is using a bank website or app to check your bank balance. When you click on your account, you expect to get a response every time. We saw a similar scenario when we placed the live chat button on our website: people clicked it and expected immediate service. While it would be optimal for us to respond to every incoming request, we simply cannot. At this time, the Hotline and loveisrespect only allow our advocates to take one crisis contact at a time. This is to ensure that our advocates can dedicate their full attention to assisting the needs of the individual user.

We have explored several other options that can possibly be used when expanding capacity:

Consider dividing up your staff for different ‘levels of need’. With live chat, you could have one group of advocates focus on information-based requests, while another group of advocates focuses on crisis contacts. The info-based group of advocates can answer more than one contact at a time and provide contacts with information and referrals to helpful content. If and when that user reaches a point that requires more attention and focus on their individual situation, the advocate can transfer the contact to a crisis advocate who can then spend a longer period of time with the individual.

Here at the Hotline and loveisrespect, we have worked to address this issue by providing a “waiting room experience” for people holding for services – similar to holding on a telephone call. When a contact is waiting for an available advocate they’re sent a hyperlink to content they can read through. This allows them to explore and gain knowledge about the issues they are facing, and even possibly find the answer they are looking for right there in the content.

Digital Advocacy Training

Our advocates go through a 40-hour training program where they learn about the context of violence in our society, the dynamics of abuse and unhealthy relationships, and ways to empower victims of dating abuse to make their own informed decisions.

Many teens and young adults prefer having conversations online and/or through text messaging but for advocates it can take some work to translate traditional in-person or telephone advocacy into digital advocacy. Language choice is very important on chats/texts since you have to use words instead of your voice to convey a tone of empathy and understanding. Since building rapport digitally can be difficult, we teach our advocates to use friendly, reflective, validating and empowering language, which helps chatters/texters feel safe to speak.

It can be tricky to empathize, validate, explain abuse, and create movement in a conversation when providing advocacy digitally.

We train our advocates to use 3-part statements to move the conversation along.  The three parts are: 1) Empathize/Validate, 2) Explain/Clarify, and 3) Ask Exploratory/Action Questions.  Making 3-part statements lets the chatter/texter know that the advocate has heard their concerns and experiences, and wants to move toward options that work for them.

After completing training, our advocates receive an additional 4 to 6 hours of one-on-one practice and coaching with a supervisor. During this time, they work to become comfortable with the chat and text platforms that we use. We find that after this training, our advocates have a lot of knowledge but still may feel nervous about putting it all together in a chat. On the first few practice chats, this may show in the slowness of their responses. But after just a few practice chats, most advocates become more confident and adept.  The feedback that advocates get from supervisors after each practice chat helps solidify all of the information that they’ve learned in training and show them how to use it practically when talking to victims and survivors.

Another important component of training is shadowing an advocate and bringing the trainee into the call/chat center to watch live chats. This provides an incredibly useful framework for everything they’re learning.

Lessons Learned

Because users may disconnect from a chat or text abruptly, we want to make sure that our advocates address the topic of safety planning quickly when any potentially dangerous situation is brought up.

One huge benefit of providing digital advocacy is the ability to place links to supplementary information directly within a chat or text.  Linking to loveisrespect.org or the hotline.org allows our advocates to provide comprehensive information to chatters and texters about healthy relationships, signs of abuse, safety planning, tips on how to safely break up, how to help a friend, and a lot more.  Links to content do not replace individualized advocacy, but they provide supplementary background information to ensure that chatters and texters are receiving the knowledge they are seeking. Due to the sometimes limited space wherein an advocate can connect to a chatter or texter, linking to loveisrespect.org ensures that we are providing the best advocacy possible in a short time span.

At the end of training, we have a “scavenger hunt” for our database and commonly used resources, so that our advocates become familiar with a large amount of resources and how to quickly locate them. We also provide specific training on how to manage, speak with or disengage off-target contacts, because it can sometimes be harder to disconnect on chat than it is when talking on the phone. “Off-target” contacts would be people inappropriately utilizing the service, those looking for services we don’t provide, etc.

To save time, our advocates use canned responses (short-cuts for commonly used responses and links) as a framework, and then are able to personalize their advocacy and responses around these.

A true grassroots provider can have huge impact in the field of global services. Whereas state and national organizations are often limited to their catchment area by funding, a “lone wolf” can do anything they like. If you’re a person who’s interested in helping others out, consider teaming up with others online who are doing the same. There’s power in numbers of grassroots activists!

Other Considerations:

  • Will you serve people outside of your local area?
  • Will you talk with people who are outside of your issue? If so, how long will the interaction last?
  • What other chat services will you refer people to?
  • What data do you want to collect?

Text Messaging (SMS)

In 2011, loveisrespect began offering text messaging as a new service channel. Based on reports from multiple sources including Pew Internet reports, we believed that the channel would be an optimal way to reach young people. As a result, loveisrespect text-messaging-for-help has become our second most popular service after online chat. While similar to online chat, text messaging has its own unique benefits. People may choose to engage in a back-and-forth text conversation, but texting can also be used for a quick check-in or as an easy way to try out services from a mobile device.

Campaigns

Text messaging services can also be used to conduct campaigns to more effectively reach your audience. With a text campaign, you can easily engage targeted groups or even secondary audiences by developing tailored content for immediate delivery. For example, loveisrespect is utilizing a text-based service for the Texas Attorney General campaign aimed at parents and teachers, called RespectText. Additionally, the Humane Society and text4baby are using text alerts to create ongoing and expanded engagement with their clients.

Considerations

Confidentiality

Will your service be presented as confidential? When creating and presenting your service to the public, there are specific requirements that must be considered to ensure that you are following federal and state guidelines regarding confidentiality, such as:

  • Defining in a public privacy statement or policy (ex. loveisrespect’s privacy policy) what comprises a confidential digital interaction
  • Abiding by specific federal and state requirements such as VAWA ConfidentialityChildren’s Online Privacy Protection and mandatory reporting requirements for your state
  • Developing procedures for quality control when printing, sharing or deleting digital transcripts

One-time Contacts or Ongoing

Will your interactions be one-time contacts or ongoing?

SMS can serve many different needs for your organization, from providing a one-time crisis communication or ongoing client contact to distributing information in a campaign. It is critical that you define what your service(s) will be in order to create appropriate policies and procedures.

  • A one-time crisis contact: This requires you to develop procedures and policies that protect the identity of the client and the conversation that you have with them. You will also need to determine how you will ensure this is a one-time contact.
  • Ongoing client contact (case management): This service requires policies and procedures that treat client interactions as case files. This will include printing out hard copies of all interactions, developing systems and procedures for hardware you utilize (such as phones) and timeframes in which clients will receive a response. Many hotlines distinguish themselves as crisis lines in order to avoid case management regulatory issues.
  • Campaign: When using SMS for campaigns, you are required to inform your users about any personal information you collect (such as phone numbers) and how this information will be used. Additionally, from a content perspective it is important to consider whether the campaign will consist of a one-time contact to provide information, or if it will be an opt-in service that sends regular updates to subscribers.

Funding Sources

Will your program be using OVW money? If your program receives any federal funding from the Office of Violence Against Women, you must follow the provisions defined in VAWA.

Out of Area Contacts

How will you handle service contacts outside of your area?

As discussed in the online chat section, digital services are now seen as a “globalized service line”. In the case of SMS, people who connect to your services will not always be in your local area or even in your state. When designing your service, it is necessary to define your “service area”, whether that means local, regional, statewide or beyond. With some service providers, you will be able to define your service area by criteria as specific as users in a single zip code. Once you establish a service area, decide if you will notify your users of this area up front, or if you will offer an abbreviated level of service to those outside the service area. You should take into account that a cell phone number’s area code does not necessarily reflect where a person is actually located.

Service Times

Will this be a a 24/7 service? Often it’s not feasible or necessary for all services to be offered around the clock. Like online chat, SMS services require a significant amount of infrastructure and most likely are not cost-effective as a 24/7 operation. If you are planning to provide crisis intervention or ongoing contact via text, we recommend launching this service channel with a set timeframe to determine your volume. As an example, loveisrespect’s text services are only available Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm local time as a complement to our 24/7 phone services. This method has allowed us to determine if there is a need to extend or reduce service times based on user data.

Transfer of Contact

How will you hand off contacts to a phone call if requested?

There are instances when a client initiates contact with an organization through their digital services and then at some point during the communication, he or she needs to speak directly with staff via phone. If you are using a personal phone for the SMS or chat service, this can become a confidentiality issue. The client has the ability to call you at any point during or after the interaction. Consequently, it’s important to have a process for escalating a client to phone contact when necessary, or have guidelines about information gathering. If you’re going to be providing services via a cell phone it’s important to treat all information on the phone as confidential, delete records, and have policies and procedures designed to maintain the confidentiality of that caller’s phone number.

Privacy & Security

As with any digital service you provide, privacy and security should be a top priority. You may need to mask incoming cell numbers, set clear limits on who can access transcripts, and determine how you will ensure contacts and interactions are deleted. Before launching a digital service, think through the following questions regarding privacy and security:

  • Will you be able to de-identify a contact’s information?
  • If you use a cell phone to provide service, what will your policy be to ensure confidentiality? Additionally, what restrictions will you have on access and usage?
  • How will you handle mandatory reporting issues?
  • Where will your privacy policy be located for users to view?
  • How will billing information be kept private on the user’s end?
  • How do you protect your data from subpoena (this includes third party vendors)?
  • Who has access to review transcripts?
  • What guidelines will you suggest to your users to ensure safety on their end?

Whereas a phone call or a chat takes place in real-time, a text conversation can happen over a span of time. The key benefit of such asynchronous communication is that the user can feel like help is always available, in their pocket. They might use the text as a way to check in and manage their emotions.

The challenges for an advocate can be the unnerving time in between receiving worrisome texts and the user’s next response: there’s no way to know if someone is in danger or if they are simply doing something else. Regardless, text is a useful service distinct from phone calls or chat.

Website/Blog

Site Content

Developing useful content for your website is incredibly important. Clients will turn to your website as a source of guidance and information. If you have useful content, a client may be able to answer their own questions about domestic violence and not need to call, chat or otherwise contact your agency. Site content can lessen call or chat volume and thus free up your advocates to answer more nuanced requests or crisis contacts.

Content can also be integrated into call, chat, text and social media services. Links to specific pieces of content can be given out during a call or chat so that the client can explore a topic deeper on their own time, either during or after contacting your organization.

At the Hotline and loveisrespect, advocates and content creators have curated a list of useful topics ranging from sexual abuse to general tips for healthy dating that are regularly given out during client contacts. This list is maintained in a spreadsheet and is updated often. The links in this spreadsheet are shortened using bit.ly which allows us to track how often those links are clicked.

A website’s content could be static (constant pages that don’t change too frequently) or could be more of a blog type, being updated frequently. A blog is a great way to introduce new topics that may not need a dedicated page on your website but could still be useful to your audience.

If you have a blog, consider developing an editorial calendar or a content schedule for the year, so the organization can know what content needs to be developed and shared. At the Hotline, advocates and content creators work together to create this editorial calendar so that the topics discussed on our blog reflect the needs of the people contacting through calls, chats and texts we receive.

When making an editorial calendar, keep in mind that current events can impact the schedule. If a high-profile news story hits, or a pop culture event draws attention to your organization or issue, you may need to rearrange your blog calendar to adequately cover breaking stories.

Blog content also helps feed your social media channels. You should always consider your blog and social media channels to be interconnected. What happens on any of those channels could inform the others. For example, a blog post could be cross posted on Facebook or Twitter to spark conversation. Conversely, a conversation that has happened organically on Facebook or Twitter could inform a more involved blog post on your website.

Here is a great blog post by Aaron Strout for WCG that discusses this idea.

Responsive Site

With the growth of tablet and smartphone usage, it is important to consider how accessible your web content is on these devices. At the Hotline, traffic to our site from mobile devices is at 30% and growing. Responsive web-design is a technique that provides an optimal user-end viewing experience (better access to navigation with minimal amount of scrolling and panning, and better readability) across a wide range of devices including tablets and smartphones. This allows an organization to focus its content strategies on one outlet, as opposed to segmenting efforts across mobile apps that must be maintained on multiple platforms. Apps are an attractive idea but are often very costly to develop and maintain.

There are many open-source frameworks available for building a responsive website, and it can be a cost-effective alternative to costly mobile app development.

Responsive Design Frameworks

All non-profit organizations are eager for quality content. A good way to partner with existing groups while also increasing exposure for your voice and story is to contact a larger organization and ask if they would consider a guest blog post. You get to tell your story for an established audience and they get great content – an arrangement that benefits both of you.