A phone tree is a network of people organized in such a way that they can quickly and easily spread information amongst each other. These trees are especially common among parents, who often want to be able to communicate quickly about canceled events and other issues, and they are also used by activists and a variety of other groups as well. Setting up a solid phone tree takes time, but many people feel that it is well worth the effort, since the list can be used again and again.
One easy to way to visualize a phone tree is as a phone pyramid. One person at the top of the pyramid calls two people, who each call two more people, and so on, until every person in the list has been called. This allows people to distribute information quickly, without placing the burden of work on one person. There are a number of advantages to setting up this type of organization, not least of which is the ability to distribute information quickly in a crisis.
Generally, a phone tree is organized by a single person, to eliminate confusion. The person organizing the tree collects information about all of the individuals who should be included in the list. For example, a small rural school might have a tree that could be used to notify people about canceled school days and other events of relevance to the school.
Ideally, the organizer would collect at least two contact numbers for each person, including a contact number with an answering machine or voicemail. Once the list of people is collected, it can be divided up to create an organized phone tree, which is copied and given to all members of the group. Because the people at the top of the tree are crucial, it is a good idea to pick the most reliable members of the group for these positions, ensuring that information will be passed on.
The decision to activate a phone tree should not be taken lightly. It can be a good idea to discuss situations in which the tree would be activated with the people on the list to ensure that they know what they are getting into by agreeing to be included. As a general rule, phone trees are used for information that requires rapid action. For example, activists might use one to alert each other to an important event, or a small town might use it to notify people to evacuate their homes in the wake of a natural disaster. If the information someone wishes to spread is not time-sensitive, it might be better communicated through notes, casual phone calls, or email.