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Posts Tagged ‘online emotional support’

Pride Month Spotlight: QLife

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In honor of Pride Month we asked LGBTQI organizations to tell us more about themselves, their work, and what they saw as the highlights in the LGTBQI community and their organization this past year. Check out answers to these questions and more from Ross Jacobs, National Clinical Director of QLife, based in Australia.

Tell us a little about what your organization does, and how specifically you help the LGBTQI community.

QLife is a collaborative project, bringing together five separate agencies to provide telephone and web-based counselling for LGBTI Australians, coast to coast. We operate 365 days a year, with a small team of paid counsellors and workers supporting the efforts of nearly 200 volunteers.

What were your organization’s biggest accomplishments or milestones from the past year? What are you most proud of?

This year, QLife continued to grow, having only existed as a nation-wide collaborative project since mid-2013. (Previously, each partner service provided counselling to only their home state.) Webchat has been a significant part of this service growth, both offering clients a different way to interact, and reaching young clients for whom web chat is a far more comfortable platform than telephone contact.

What were some of the biggest or most impactful stories or moments you saw as they related to the LGBTQI community this past year? They could be happy, sad, momentous, regional, national, or international. What did you observe that really moved you?

One of the most rewarding pieces of work that QLife engaged in this year (beyond our counselling service of course!) was making ‘QLives’, a series of 16 short films featuring the lived experience of LGBTI people in all of our varied shapes and sizes. The QLives films featured heavily on the QLife Facebook page, and can be accessed at any time through our YouTube channel. It seemed to be really effective way to draw in people who may not have known about QLife to the service. We hope that watching stories from the lives of people who have similar life experiences can help people start to think about talking to someone and how this may be able to help them.

When you look to the year ahead, on what topics or issues are you hopeful/anxious/or watching closely to see how they develop?

As is the case in the US, Australia is still going through a process of dragging our political leaders across the marriage equality line that it feels like the public became comfortable with long ago. Beyond this, the mental health of our individual communities, including suicide prevention measures and access to appropriate and suitable medical care, remains an ongoing struggle.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges still facing the LGBTQI community as a whole, or certain populations within the community?

The way LGBTIQ people are regarded, whether part of the fabric of a wider society or quite separate from it is at the heart of many of our challenges. But happily, the growing awareness, particularly in younger generations, that the individual lives of LGBTIQ people matter and are to be valued is relentlessly increasing. The way we think of ourselves as LGBTIQ people seems to be evolving too. It feels like traditional ideas of a single LGBTIQ community are being challenged, with an understanding that we are actually made up of many different communities that have different needs and interests, even among single identities – there are many distinct ‘types’ of gay men and how people choose to express this, for instance.

Thanks so much to Ross for telling us more about QLife and sharing these thoughts for Pride Month! iCarol is very pleased to be working with QLife as they provide these awesome services to Australia’s LGBTI community. QLife is always happy to talk to others doing similar work across the world, and they’d love to hear from you, via social media (they are on Twitter or Facebook) or by direct email to ! We also encourage our clients to reach out to one another to network or share information via our iCarol User Community found on your Admin Dashboard in iCarol.

Want to have your input and organization highlighted on the blog for Pride Month? Send your answers to the above questions to me !

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Setting up your Opt-out SMS messages

As we’ve discussed in our recent webinar and white paper, an important aspect of staying compliant when texting is to ask permission of the help seeker, and to put in a STOP message to enable texters to opt-out of text conversations. As a result, all U.S.-based organizations should have their first, outbound text message configured similar to the one below:

“[Name and location of organization] Welcome! Do you give your consent to text you? Reply yes to continue, STOP to cancel. Message & data rates may apply.”

We’ve made it easy for you to set it up in iCarol. Here’s how:

1. Select ‘Messaging’ on the Left Hand Menu Messaging left menu

2. Click on the SMS/Texting link on the upper right hand side of the screen SMS Settings

3. Look for “Settings for SMS”. There will be a new pull-down menu for your portals. It will automatically be set for “default”. Select the portal for which you wish to configure the message. If you only have one, there should only be one named choice in the pull-down list. Settings for SMS

4. Your first, automated message to the texter can be configured in a new field, labeled “SMS Initial Message.” Initial Message

5. Once you’ve configured the message, click the Save Settings button at the bottom of the screen.

Don’t forget that SMS messages have a maximum of 140 characters in the U.S.! Many organizations use abbreviations for some of the wording. You may have to play with your initial message configuration to get it under the character limit.

Note that future updates to the iCarol system will include making the Initial message field a required one for U.S.-based organizations. This will help ensure you don’t forget to configure the message.

For any questions on the configuration options, please contact Support via the Help Page within iCarol.

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Text enable your helpline number

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So you’ve decided to add Texting to your Helpline’s service. Great! But how do you go about picking a number for people to reach you via text? And how will you advertise this new channel?

When you offer your services via Texting with iCarol, you can choose between a 10 digit number, or a short code. Either is allowed by the regulatory entities, so the choice is up to you. But what if we told you that you may already have the perfect number?

For helplines in the US and Canada it’s highly likely that you can text enable your existing 10 digit or 1-800 helpline number. That means that rather than adding on a new number, you can accept texts on the number where you already accept calls. We have several clients doing this already with much success. There are many benefits to going this route.

  • Parallel your advertising – When the number is the same for texting or calling, it’s easy to align your marketing efforts, saving you time and money.

  • Simplicity in messaging – Think of how clear your ad or website will look with a message like “Text or Call us at 1-800-555-HELP” rather than giving out two separate numbers. Cut through the confusion — there’s just one number to remember for either mode of communication.

  • Reach more people – Your helpline number is already well known to your community. Offering the ability to text this same number could increase the likelihood of people remembering it and using it, which can result in greater traffic to your texting service.

  • Your phone service is unaffected – Keep your voice service exactly as is with your current phone provider — enabling texting on this number won’t change your original voice channel.

  • People may already be texting you – That’s right — we’ve had clients text enable their helpline number to find that when texting is turned on, before any advertising of the text service happens, that people are already sending texts. Texting is such a common and accepted mode of communication these days that many people assume they can call OR text you on the same number.

There is a process to go through to set up your existing helpline number to also accept texts, but we’d be happy to help you through the steps. today to get started!

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Collaborative Messaging: Build Networks, Connect with other Helplines

Collaborating w partnersOne key feature of iCarol is the ability to link and share service delivery with other helplines in a variety of ways. Historically a common partnership scenario involves call centers who pass some or all of their calls to other iCarol-using centers either as after-hours contracts, or on an as-needed basis for overflow. iCarol accommodates these partnerships with call report sharing capabilities. Much the same with resources, centers can share resource databases with others who may be taking their calls, or to better service the needs of help-seekers with a wider range of potential services to refer them to, or through setting up provincial and state-wide resource databases to be accessed by a network of helplines who can all take part in maintaining these resources, thus reducing burden to each individual center.

These same principles of sharing volume to benefit centers and clients alike also extends to iCarol Messaging, and in recent month’s we’ve made improvements in this arena.

As an example, one nationwide network using iCarol was using a sort of round-robin approach in how to route chats to the centers who were members of that network. Visitors would arrive to the website and click through to chat, and from there they’d be routed to one of the centers based on the schedule, and the coverage area of the center. Once they were properly routed, they’d arrive at that center’s registration page and after completing registration they’d appear in just that center’s messaging queue.

There are some challenges to this approach, namely:

  • The routing system didn’t take counselor availability into account so chats may be routed but the destination center may be overwhelmed with other work and short on counselors to take chats
  • The visitor was visible just in the iCarol system to which they were routed
  • Registration pages may have a different look and feel, depending on the center to which the visitor was sent
  • Lack of control over the data being collected by individual centers
  • Statistics could not be run in real-time; they had to be aggregated first

chat networks sharingOur developers have been working on a new approach for this network, and they’re currently using it to much success during the pilot period. So, how does the approach work now? The network is using a single shared “portal” made available to the participating centers in their iCarol systems, rather than routing the chats as it did before. This means:

  • Standardized registration pages make for a more consistent look and feel, and better branding for the network
  • Pre-written messages, reporting forms, and data collection are standardized
  • The network system directly hosts and controls their own data, so they get better reporting capabilities
  • Chats are visible to any center serving the visitor’s area, meaning better load balancing and shorter wait times for visitors, fewer abandoned chats
  • Chats are clearly marked as being from the network, but appear in the same queue as the center’s other local chats for ease of use

We’re excited to say that this pilot period has gone very well and the network is enjoying the benefits of the shared portal technology.

We’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you about your network whether it’s provincial/statewide, or national, to see how this functionality could improve and streamline your messaging services and benefit all your participating centers and visitors alike. Current iCarol users, please open a case with us, or if you’re not using iCarol yet please contact us to learn more!

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We never talk anymore: The preference to text instead of talk

An interesting take on the preference for texting over talking can be found in this article by Bizzuka.

Some key points to take away:

  • Smartphone owners aged 18-24 send and receive 4,000 messages per month.

  • 43% of 18-24 year-olds say that texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone.

  • 42% of teens say the primary reason they have a cell phone is for texting. Safety was second at 35%.

These and other statistics about millennials are sourced here.

Millennials aren’t the only ones who text, though. According to Factbrowser, statistics reveal that US smartphone owners who use text (92%) send an average of 111 messages per week, and 49% of those who use social media daily would rather text than call someone.

More evidence that texting is not a fad but rather an often preferred mode of communication that’s here to stay.

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Key Differences and Similarities between Instant Messaging and Texting with iCarol

Are you thinking about letting visitors contact you via messaging, but are not sure of the differences between Instant Messaging and Text Messaging? iCarol offers both – here’s a quick review of how each differs in access, convenience, variable cost, and privacy.

Access

Laptop in useInstant Messaging lets visitors click on an iCarol-provided “chat now” button on your website to initiate a session with one of your specialists. Both the visitor and the specialist converse from computer screens, typing messages back and forth to each other.

With Text Messaging, counselors also converse from iCarol computer screens – actually the very same screens they’d use for Instant Messaging – yet visitors participate from their own cell phones, not from a computer screen.

Convenience

We all know that the easier it is to get information or help, the more likely it is a person will ask.

Many of our Instant Messaging clients love having a “Chat Now” button on their website. Not only does it encourage visitors to return repeatedly to their website – who doesn’t want a popular website? – it also offers visitors a handy way of communicating when and where a visitor really needs it.

For example, you could paste the button right next to the screen where visitors search your resource database (another iCarol feature). If the visitor is having trouble finding what they need, help is just a click away.

So Instant Messaging is great for organizations that either have a popular website, or don’t, and appreciate a boost in web traffic while at the same time better serving your community.

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Text Messaging, on the other hand, offers a convenient way to ask for help when a visitor is not near a computer. Often clients tell us that visitors who text them would not reach out to anyone if a texting service were not available.

For example, maybe a man’s on the bus on the way to work and he’s stressed about paying his utility bill. Or a mom sitting at a park rocking her sleeping toddler needs help finding an after-school program for her first grader. Perhaps a middle-school student plops down on the family couch next to her siblings after a tough day at school fending off bullies. All of these people might reach out for help via texing.

Text Messaging makes help available right from the convenience of a person’s own cell phone. It’s a kind of access that people tend to expect more and more in a world where texting friends, family, companies, banks, etc. is ubiquitous.

Variable Cost

Where the two forms of messaging differ from a variable cost standpoint is in text usage fees. Text Messaging has them, Instant Messaging does not. When you have Text Messaging service, you’ll be billed for usage based on how many thousands of texts you use per month.

In your iCarol system, you’ll always have a running count of texts so you can see your usage level. We won’t cut you off when you reach your billed-for limit; we’ll just make it up on the next bill. As you use more texts, volume discounts kick in. Plus an increased volume helps funders see how popular your service has become.

Your visitors will of course never be charged by iCarol for text usage, but may be charged by their own cell phone provider, depending on their texting plan. There’s a spot in the workflow to add a note to visitors reminding them, and typically our clients like to add such a note as well to wherever they publicize the texting number.

Privacy

Both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging offer a kind of privacy that a voice phone call does not. That is, nobody can overhear a conversation asking for help conducted via either kind of messaging, because it’s all nonverbal.

That’s helpful for a large segment of the population who might not otherwise reach out for help.

It’s an important factor, of course, for those with hearing or speaking issues, and for those who would rather not speak out loud.

Consider the person experiencing domestic violence, or a troubled student who has a hard time getting out of earshot of siblings or dorm-mates. Clients who work with transgender individuals say their visitors are thankful they don’t have to explain why their voice may not match their gender identity. And some people just are naturally more comfortable typing their innermost concerns than voicing them aloud. The privacy that non-verbal communication affords is a hallmark of both Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging differ in other aspects of privacy, though.

Keyboard and screen in useWith Instant Messaging, all the communication is handled within iCarol –the ChatNow button connects directly to your iCarol system. Because it’s a closed system, iCarol can control the traffic entirely, and encrypts messages from the time they leave the keyboard of both the visitor and the specialist. Data saved in your iCarol system is encrypted, too – with the same strict encryption used by financial services institutions.

Data saved in the system for Text Messaging is also encrypted, but unlike with Instant Messaging, text messages aren’t controlled end-to-end by iCarol. Instead, while the messages are in transit over the phone lines, it’s the phone carriers that control the security of that traffic. That is true for any vendor’s text messaging offering. These days, phone carriers of course handle traffic for financial transactions, medical information, plane reservations, billing, etc. so you can determine your own comfort level.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging can be used Concurrently

Because of the distinct features of each type of messaging, many of iCarol’s clients actually use both.

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That’s easy to do because the specialist workflow is exactly the same — if you learn one type of messaging, you already know the other. Also, both forms of messaging are integrated nicely into your iCarol system – so much so that specialists can, and do, handle both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging sessions concurrently.

If you’d like to learn more about messaging, please join us for a webinar on Messaging, or contact us for more information.

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What we took away from NOMORE.org’s ad

The famous pro-football championship game that aired last night (honestly, it’s unclear whether we’re allowed to use the trademarked name in our blog, so let’s err on the side of caution, shall we? 🙂 ) is arguably watched for its commercials just as much as it is for the game itself. As usual, this year’s game produced a number of ads that are generating lots of conversation, both good and bad. It was a great year for ads that focused on social awareness. For instance the “Make it Happy” ads by Coca Cola advocate for positivity in response to bullying on the internet and social media. The “Like a Girl” ad reminds society to stop using that phrase as an insult. And after a year of controversy surrounding the NFL’s handling of domestic violence, there were ads tackling that topic as well.

Last week the organization NOMORE.org released a very powerful ad, which was also shown during the game. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.

This is easily one of the most compelling, important tv spots I’ve seen in a long time. When I first watched it I felt sad, scared, and anxious as I listened to the exchange between the woman and the 9-1-1 operator. It’s one thing to understand what domestic violence is, but it’s quite another thing to hear the call for help.*

There are several messages I took away from the commercial. How isolating domestic violence is, for instance. Or how resourceful and resilient survivors of domestic violence are. But for me the most resounding message came at the end of the ad with the text on the screen: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

Finding the strength to speak up can be difficult. Finding someone who can listen, who can read between the lines if necessary in order to help — that’s even harder. And we know that helpline workers use their expert skills to do this with clients every day, not just when it comes to domestic violence, but in identifying child abuse, or thoughts of suicide. You’re able to weed through their words, to pick up on the slightest hint of what’s below the surface, and uncover the deeper issue.

But there are lots of times when a verbal conversation just isn’t possible at all. The woman portrayed in the ad was able to make an excuse to use the phone, and cleverly found a way to call for help without her abuser realizing it. There’s a reason why efforts are underway to enable texting to 9-1-1. Local law enforcement and emergency services are recognizing that in some situations, a phone call is dangerous or impossible.

More and more, help seekers reach out via chat or text instead of a phone call, too. Sometimes because of personal preference, and sometimes because silence is necessary. The instance shown in the ad is just one example; certainly chat or text has been used by those affected by domestic violence to reach out for online emotional support, or even receive emergency rescue during a violent incident. But there are other scenarios where this might be needed, and they may not all be as dire as the call in the commercial.

Think of the teen who wants to discreetly discuss his sexuality without risking a parent or sibling listening in on the conversation. Or the young woman at a party who is feeling anxious and upset, but can’t verbalize that to the friends she’s with and doesn’t want others to overhear. A child may have just been bullied in the hallway at school, and they find it much easier to hop on a library computer for a chat session than it is to make a phone call.

There are plenty of instances where someone needs to talk, but they can’t say the words outloud. It’s important that we be there to listen through the channels the help seekers want to use.

* While the call in the commercial feels very real, it is actually a re-enactment of a real call to 9-1-1

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National Council on Problem Gambling Conference Recap

Donna and Eliisa recently attended the Pre-Conference symposium at the 28th National Council on Problem Gambling Conference in Orlando, FL at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. Members of our team attend conferences like this to ensure that we are on the cutting edge of the issues, challenges and experiences that helplines face.

The Florida Gambling Affiliate hosted the event. We’re happy to have just welcomed them to the iCarol family, as they went live on iCarol July 1st with phone, text and chat. One staff member said “iCarol has made my life much easier.” We love that feedback! It’s always great to hear that folks are finding their volunteer experience made easier or more enjoyable by using iCarol.

Brian Kongsvik is the Helpline Director and he did an excellent presentation on how his helpline works and the outcomes and follow up research of those that had contacted their helpline services. He reported that in his center, 79% indicated they had either stopped or decreased gambling since contacting their helpline services.

Eliisa Brian Donna

The breakout sessions gave us lots of great insight and presentations from a spectrum of sources. Donna from iCarol gave a presentation on chat and texting as well as the importance of integrated technologies. Anyone who has ever managed a helpline knows how easy it is to fall into the trap of using quick technology fixes to get by day by day. At the surface, you think it doesn’t cost you anything to do a quick update on a computer here and there, or utilize someone’s expertise to add a field into a form quickly, but soon you find yourself only able to do the report you need on one computer in the office and using a multi-step process utilizing many people every month just to do your routine monthly reports. The group was actively engaged, and for some the story of this vicious cycle hit a little too close to home! Integrated technologies like iCarol can help stop this cycle.

Donna Burrow presentation icarol NCPG conf 7-9-14

Bensinger, Dupont & Associates did a demo of iCarol’s live chat feature, which they use for several problem gambling live chat sites around the country. They noted they like the customizable programming to fit their unique needs.

Peer support networks and websites that people are accessing for help with problem gambling, other than calling, texting, and live chatting into helpline services, were discussed. Experts include GamTalk (Canada) and Gambling Therapy (UK). Both offer services run by licensed mental health professionals, with peer support from those in recovery from gambling addiction. These organizations offer a community (often anonymously) whereby they can build support communities around them.

The group also discussed the decrease of phone calls across the country to problem gambling helplines in the US. Among all the addictions, it was noted that those with a gambling addiction have the highest completed suicide rate among any other addiction. As such, those attending the pre-conference were fortunate to be given an opportunity to be trained in QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). Best practices in advertising were shared, with some noting that billboards near casinos work well.

Unfortunately some heavy rain moved the welcome reception sponsored by the Seminole Tribe of Florida indoors instead of outside by the gorgeous pool area, but it didn’t detract the crowd or the fun. We had such a great time meeting so many of you from the various NCPG affiliates and gambling helplines. And of course to the new friends we made if you want to learn more about iCarol we’d love to hear from you. Give us a call, or join an upcoming webinar to learn more about us and our features.

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Collaborate with partners: Load balance chats between organizations

We have an exciting new capability to share with iCarol Messaging subscribers. You can now allow a partner center, or multiple centers, to take chats for you from within their own iCarol system.

Collaborating w partnersThis new ability is transparent to visitors; they will not be aware of which center is taking the chat session. Visitors will still click on your familiar Chat Now button on your website and will see your prechat survey. But during times you designate, both you and your partner center will see those visitors come in to each of your messaging queues. As usual, safeguards are in place so two people don’t accidentally take the same chat. Both centers will have access to submitted call report forms and associated real-time statistics.

The possibilities here are endless. It’s ideal for handling overflow in a disaster situation. Watch your messaging queue grow shorter and become more manageable as your partner agency takes some of your chats. You can use this feature to handle after-hours messaging visitors. Because iCarol centers are found in multiple time zones, after-hours for you might be prime time for another center, and your partner could take all of your after-hours chats. This lets you expand your hours of service without trying to staff shifts during hard-to-staff hours. Want to get really fancy? You could even designate multiple centers to handle chats that come in to a central iCarol system, effectively creating a consortium of chat centers where no single center feels overburdened or underutilized. Every partner center sees all chats and takes chats when they can — it’s load balancing at its finest. Each partner center could have their own hours of service, too, and you’d get real-time statistics.

If you’re interested but don’t have a partner center in mind, feel free to post a message on the iCarol User Community on the Dashboard to find your perfect match. We can see it now: Single Crisis Center on East Coast seeks same on West Coast for meaningful after-hours relationship…looking for good listening skills, compassion, and ability to read between the lines. 🙂

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iCarol to present workshop on Online Emotional Support at AAS Conference

We’re gearing up for the American Association of Suicidology’s 47th Annual Conference in Los Angeles! We’re looking forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues there; it’s always a great chance to catch up with everyone in the helpline and suicide prevention industry.

This year iCarol is particularly excited to present a special lunch session on Friday April 11th. Our workshop is
Chat, Texting, Mobile and Social: A look at today and the future of online emotional support with iCarol.

WebinarsWith every passing year, the use of new channels to seek help continues to expand. Join this session to help your crisis center evaluate these channels, determine your next steps and plan your technology choices to adapt to the evolving Online Emotional Support (OES) landscape. You’ll hear from your peers and technology experts about the best way to get started serving people interactively using the electronically written, rather than the spoken word.Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Adding new channels by which your clients can reach you can be intimidating and may leave you with a lot of questions. We hope to answer the questions you may have about these new technologies and give you confidence to embark on this new and exciting path with the tools iCarol has developed. We hope you’ll join us for this session at AAS! Not attending the conference but still want to learn more about our Online Emotional Support capabilities? Sign up for a webinar!

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