It's one of the oldest digital communication formats, and yet it's also one of the most enduring. Short Messaging Service (SMS) technology has been around since the 1980s and despite being technically surpassed by e-mail, internet messaging, WhatsApp, Signal and many other messaging systems, rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In fact, SMS remains one of the most robust and universal of all communication media. Globally, it's thought that business will spend around $50billion on SMS messaging by 2025 and research has shown that 9 out of 10 consumers prefer communicating with businesses through text messages compared to phone calls.*
"I don't think SMS has ever gone away, particularly for businesses. Yes there are lots of exciting new ways of communicating with customers but SMS persists because it's so simple and reliable. It works on virtually all handsets from the oldest to the newest, on all networks, it's very cheap and when it's done right, it's highly effective," said Sarah Priestman, consumer customer value management (CVM) manager for Vodafone.
"The trick is to match the medium to the message, to use it in ways that take advantage of its immediacy and brevity."
The ideal SMS message is short and communicates something immediate, such as a specific offer with detailed information and a clear call to action. An example could be something like 'Flash sale, this weekend only. 10% off all items. Use promo code 10percent at www.yourbrand.com/sale'. The customer should know exactly what they need to do when they receive the message.
One of the advantages of SMS marketing is that compared to other forms of communicating, phone numbers tend to change very little. While people tend to update e-mail addresses and usernames on messaging platforms when they change jobs, SMS numbers are relatively resistant to change.
But at the same time, there are potential pitfalls to using SMS. Most people have received text messages in the past from fraudulent or fake numbers, so called 'phishing' messages sent by cyber criminals attempting to steal log-in credentials by impersonating established businesses or individuals.
As a result, consumers can be wary of unsolicited communications. This makes it all the more important to adhere to best practice in order to create and maintain trust with customers.
"It's really important to safeguard the reputation of your company when you deploy SMS. You need to make sure that you check and check again everything about your messages before you send them. They need to come from a trusted number, using a sender ID that your customers are used to getting communications from, and they shouldn't ask customers to do anything out of the ordinary," said Priestman.
"It's a good idea to avoid using random mobile numbers to send messages, as these don't engender trust. All our text messages for example are clearly from Vodafone. In the body of the text, you need to clearly identify your brand."
Phishing attempts often follow quite predictable patterns, so it's important that anyone conducting a legitimate SMS campaign knows and is familiar with how criminals attempt to fool the public, so that they can avoid doing things that might cause suspicion.
"Some people advise not including web links in text messages, instead asking people to manually visit a site using a browser, but doing that will impact click-through rate. There's a delicate balance to be achieved here, between staying safe and not making the most of the medium," said Priestman.
"But if you do include a link make sure it's one that looks right. Don't use a URL shortening service as they can raise alarm bells, and instead use a URL that is clearly and obviously associated with your brand and has your company name in it."
Likewise, poor spelling or grammar in a text message will immediately set off warning bells for any customer that receives such a message.
"Proofreading is so important, and not just by one person. Always have multiple sets of eyes look at a message before you hit send. It's also a good idea to send one or two test messages so you can preview what it will look like on an actual handset," said Priestman.
It's also important to note that businesses using SMS for marketing purposes need to clearly understand their legal and regulatory obligations. Under GDPR, for example, you can't use a person’s contact information for purposes other than that for which it was explicitly collected.
"Make sure you have the preferences from your customers set up so that it's agreed you can contact them, and you have an option available to them so that they can opt out of receiving future messages."
To learn more about different marketing methods and how to make the most of social media marketing for your business, read on here.
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