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SMS Basics: Fundamentals of Business Text Messaging

Posted by TextUs Team on Nov 24, 2015 12:17:06 PM

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How many text messages have you received today? Did you read and respond to them instantly? Thought so.

Text messaging is the #1 thing people do with their cell phones. Across all age groups, people send and receive an average of 41.5 texts per day. Younger demographics are pulling this number even higher -- 18-to-29 year-olds average 87.7 texts per day, while teenagers top 100. And unlike for email and phone calls, we are all incapable of ignoring text messages -- 98% of them are read, almost all within 3 minutes of receipt.

Over the past few years, text messaging has gone from just a way for friends and family to keep in touch to a powerful tool for business communication.

This post outlines some basics of SMS text messaging -- what it is, how businesses use it, and some best practices.

What is SMS?

SMS stands for Short Message Service. It’s a protocol that allows plain text messages to be exchanged over cellular networks. Believe it or not, the history of SMS development dates back to 1984 (remember what cell phones looked like back then?), and the first text message was sent in December 1992. It was “Merry Christmas.”

SMS quick facts

  • Speed. SMS is fast. Almost all text messages are delivered in 15 seconds or less, with the average being about half that.
  • Reach. SMS allows you to reach anyone with a mobile phone and a service plan, which means you have a fast connection to more than 90% of adults nationwide.
  • No Internet required. SMS doesn’t rely on an Internet connection.
  • Device-agnostic. SMS can be used with any type of phone. This, along with the lack of an Internet requirement, are two reasons SMS has higher engagement rates than email, branded messaging apps like iMessages, and over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Skype.

There are two main types of SMS -- short code and long code. A short code is a 5- to 6-digit number frequently used for automated notifications and marketing campaigns (see below). A long code is a full 10-digit number. Whether it comes from a phone or a desktop application, long code SMS looks and acts like a regular phone number.

Major differences between short codes and long codes

  • Calling. You can’t call a short code number. Long codes, which you can call, provide a seamless integration of talk and text.
  • Vetting. Before you can set up a short code, your application must first be vetted by the CTIA to confirm you aren’t a spammer. This process can take several weeks. A long code can be up and running the same day.
  • Opt-ins. Customers must opt in to receive short code messages. This is to prevent businesses from sending unwanted spam. No opt-in is necessary for long codes. However, to protect consumers, mobile carriers don’t allow bulk marketing messages and other types of spam to be sent using long codes.
  • Personalization and interaction. Short codes are used for automated messages. With the exception of certain functional messages, like HELP (if you need assistance) and STOP (to unsubscribe), there is no interaction with end users. In contrast, long codes enable personalized, two-way communication between the business and the customer.
  • Cost to the end user. Messages sent to and received from long codes are subject to the terms of the end user’s service plan. Messages sent to and received from short codes can be subject to these same terms, but they can also be set up to be free to the end user. However, with most cell phone plans moving toward unlimited talk, text, and data, the potential cost differential is quickly disappearing.
  • Ownership. Finally, short codes are typically leased, not owned. This makes them useful mainly for short-term campaigns. Long codes are like regular phone numbers -- they’re exclusive to you.

8 ways businesses use SMS

As a fast, efficient, direct form of communication, SMS text messaging is ideal for a wide variety of business uses.

Automated, one-way text messages

Opt-in notifications

You can sign up to receive text message notifications about your flight status, when your bills are due, and when there's been activity on your checking account. It’s a great way businesses use text messaging to keep customers informed about timely issues.

Marketing campaigns

Customers can opt in to receive marketing messages via text message. For example, SMS is perfect for contextual marketing. Say you own a Thai food restaurant and someone opts in to your marketing campaigns. Come Friday around 11:45, you can send them a text message advertising a 10% off lunch deal. Then just make sure you have enough staff on hand to handle the rush!

Contests

You’ve seen these offers: “Enter to win a TV! Text 303-442-3223 right now!” Offering a contest by text is another way to grow your SMS marketing list.

Donations

Charities have found that SMS is an amazing way to collect donations. After Hurricane Sandy, more than $900,000 was collected via text.

Real-time information on request

Text messaging can deliver real-time information on-demand. For example, bus schedules -- many cities now have a service that allows you text a number to see when your bus is due to arrive. These notifications are often sponsored by companies, so they serve double-duty as marketing campaigns.

Customized, two-way text messages

Recruiting

Text messaging has proven to be a boon for recruiters, especially in fields like healthcare staffing, where the target candidates (e.g., travel nurses) work long shifts and aren’t easily accessible during the day. Texting allows recruiters to reach more candidates and to move them through the placement process faster. Check out these case studies to learn how some of the nation’s top healthcare staffing firms use text messaging for recruiting.

Sales

Salespeople in SaaS and other businesses have noticed a disturbing trend -- traditional forms of sales communication (i.e., phone calls and email) don’t work anymore. Response rates to these efforts are falling off a cliff. Text messages, on the other hand, have a 98% read rate and a 35% to 45% response rate. This is where your prospects are, and if you want to reach them, it’s where you need to be too.

Customer engagement

Customer engagement is the secret to business success. Gallup has found that across industries fully engaged customers represent “an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer.” In some sectors, like restaurants, the engaged customer premium is greater than 50%. An actively disengaged customer? A 13% decrease in those key metrics.

Text messaging provides an easy and effective way for businesses to stay engaged with their customers, even if that just means sending a simple thank you message. Explore these nine text message templates you can personalize and use as part of your customer engagement strategy.

Best practices for business text messaging

In a previous post, we outlined 10 dos and don’ts of business text messaging etiquette. (Example: DO respect your contacts’ time and attention, DON’T text at weird hours.) Here, we’ll look at best practices for crafting your text message communications. These best practices are specifically targeted toward customized, two-way business text messaging, but most of them apply to automated one-way messages as well.

Communicate your intentions clearly

Tell your contacts why you want to text them. Will you be texting meeting requests? Renewal notices? Links to paperwork for them to fill out? Make sure your customers and prospects know what to expect and give them the option to receive your communications in another way if they prefer.

Don’t send spam

As in, never ever. If you do, you’ll lose your customers and prospects faster than you can say CAN-SPAM Act. Even worse, you might get reported as sending spam and have your number blocked. Before you start sending too many texts, get your contacts’ permission to communicate with them in this way.

Avoid the mass blast

We recently polled 45 staffing professionals about how they communicated with their prospects. We found that companies growing at a very fast rate (>50%) used text messaging very differently from companies growing at a slow rate (<5%). Specifically, fast-growth staffing companies use texting in a highly personalized fashion -- for sales, customer service, and normal communications. Slow-growth companies take more of a shotgun approach -- blasting advertisements and sending mass texts.

The result? Obviously fast-growth companies are growing much faster, but also they report that their candidates react much more positively to receiving their text messages.

Deliver value

Just like any good piece of content, the goal of your business text messages should be to deliver value. Value can come in the form of increased efficiency or essential information. The important thing is that you don’t just ask for something -- You give something. Here are three ways you can deliver value via text.

Provide a way out

If you send automated text messages as part of a marketing campaign, make sure your subscribers have the ability to opt out at any time. If you conduct two-way texting conversations with prospects or customers, be respectful and honor their wishes when they say, “Can you call me instead?”

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t send a text you wouldn’t want to receive.

If you follow it, everything will be all right.

MMS: The next evolution of business text messaging

SMS allows plain text messages to be sent over cellular networks. MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, is a newer protocol that allows multimedia files, like images, videos, and attachments, to be sent as well. MMS is booming -- by next year, the MMS market worldwide is expected to reach $21 billion, with almost 400 billion messages being sent.

For business communications, MMS offers many opportunities, but there are also a few caveats.

The opportunities

  • You can spice up your communications for better engagement. For example, instead of sending a welcome text message to new customers, send a welcome video.
  • You can attach files, such as instructional documents or forms that need to be filled out.
  • You can use MMS for group text broadcasts.
  • MMS doesn’t have a character-length limit (for SMS it’s 160), so you have more flexibility in what you send.

The caveats

  • Not all phones are capable of receiving MMS messages. Check with your contacts before you start sending messages in this format.
  • MMS messages cost more to send and receive. If your contacts don’t have sufficient data plans, you might be hitting them with extra charges. Again, the key is simply to ask.

The caveat to the caveats: Most modern phones do support MMS and cell phone data plans are getting bigger as a matter of course. So, these caveats won’t be caveats for long.

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Topics: Business Texting, Customer Service, Text Messaging