Marketing Showdown: Twitter vs. SMS

Marketing Showdown - Twitter vs. SMSA number of sales reps have come to me lately and asked how they win a deal when the prospect tells them, ”I don’t need to do SMS marketing because I am doing Twitter, and it has an SMS component to it.”

Twitter is an important communication channel that businesses need to adopt as a strategy, but it is vastly different from an SMS marketing strategy.

Let’s take a look at the two channels side by side and begin with the similarities:

  1. Limited Character Set: You need to be really good at making short, impactful statements. SMS allows 160 characters, while Twitter only allows 140. One could argue that you don’t even get 160 characters with SMS because of the standard ”best practices” footer you need to have for unsubscribe and help.
  2. Database Development: In both cases, you need to develop your database. In Twitter you get followers (i.e., Twitter handles), and with text message marketing you collect cell phone numbers.
  3. Mobile Reach: In both cases, messages can be received on-the-go.
  4. One-to-Many Broadcast: Both Twitter and SMS are one-to-many technologies that allow you to broadcast a message to a group of people. If you are not using a mobile service provider, you are limited as to how many text messages you can send thru your cell phone to your friends, and in Twitter’s case, you are going to reach anyone who follows you (hashtags and @replies aside).  
  5. Link Sharing: Both channels are used to share links. URL shortening services like Bit.ly became popular on Twitter first; however, adoption rates for smart phones (which offer full HTML viewing) are quickly growing, giving link sharing traction over SMS.

Now let’s look at the channels side by side when it comes to marketing:

  1. Database Control: SMS marketing is similar to email marketing in that you get to control who is in your database. You can upload subscribers, have a registration form on your site, or send someone a message asking them to join your list. With SMS, you can even set up a keyword on a short code and ask people to text in (Example: text JOIN to 99158). This can be promoting on everything from billboards to TV commercials. However, with Twitter there is only one way to opt into someone’s Twitter account and that is to follow them. You cannot upload Twitter handles. You can ask people to follow you, but you have no control over your database.    
  2. Usage of Twitter vs. SMS: Ninety-nine percent of cell phones in the U.S. now have SMS capabilities, and 78 percent of cell phone users are sending text messages. There are now over 280 million people in the U.S. with cell phones.  SMS usage in the U.S. is growing at a staggering rate, with an estimated 1.36 trillion messages sent yearly. Compare that to Twitter, which is reported to have around 15 million users and only just sent its 10 billionth tweet a couple of weeks ago. While Twitter is an important service that is getting a ton of media attention, it dwarfs in comparison to SMS usage and popularity.
  3. SMS with Twitter is Optional: SMS is an optional feature with Twitter. Most people who are following a lot of people do not have SMS messages sent to their phone as they want to avoid carrier fees that would bankrupt a small third world country.
  4. Targeting: With SMS, you can segment out your database and target a specific group of customers. With Twitter, any message you post will be read by anyone following you. The only kind of segmentation you can have is by having multiple Twitter accounts, but this is not a very scalable solution.    
  5. Adoption: Purewire (operator of tweetgrade.com) came out with a report in June of 2009 which shows that 80 percent of Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers. Compare this to mobileStorm’s average SMS customer database size of over 1500. There are many Twitter users that have massive followings, but this is not the norm. It’s not easy to build a large following on Twitter. You need to devote loads of time to tweeting and trying to find people to follow you.
  6. Personalization: With Twitter, one message fits all. There is no way to tweet out a message that is personalized with everyone’s first name. When you send out a message on Twitter, everyone knows you are sending it to the world; it’s not personalized.   
  7. Selling: People don’t want to be sold on Twitter. Asking for business over Twitter is a very fine line and somewhat of an art form. However, if someone opts into your mobile club, he expects that you are going to offer him incentives. He expects you to sell.

So the next time you think about choosing Twitter over an SMS marketing service because Twitter has SMS, think again. However, both channels are important to growing your business. I always tell my clients that no matter whether you are building a following on Twitter, growing a list of cell phone numbers, or gaining fans on Facebook, you need to be developing your database in as many channels as possible. People are unique, and the more ways you can communicate with them, the more you will have a leg up on the competition. Just remember, every channel comes with its own set of challenges, policies, and best practices. Partner with the right vendors to make your business stand above the rest.

 

4 Responses

  1. I LOVE this. Couldn't agree more. We made a similar argument.

    And yet: Despite the clear logic, the undeniable truth is Twitter has captured the imagination of the public (though that is waning) and businesses. I think in large part the Twitterer's argument can be boiled down to that fact that people don't think twice about following a business on Twitter, but are generally skeptical to give out their mobile number for commercial purposes.

    The path to winning vs. Twitter, then, is to deliver value that gets more people to hand over their phone number. Your Kaiser pilot is of course the text book study in doing this.

    Best,
    Paul

  2. tweet adder says:

    Tip* to have updated content daily on twitter, you can use a news aggregator or RSS feed, you can as well post at planned times during the day. The maximum tweets you should post daily should be between 2 and 4. 5 or more per day is overkill.

  3. GREAT post! I was brainstorming a similar post, but it looks like you nailed the first part for me. I think you put together some food for thought for those companies that are looking at their time budgets and having to choose between a social media strategy and a mobile strategy. I'll be leaping from here to show how all of the great things you show here that SMS can do can complement social media like Twitter and close the ROI circuit for businesses. Stay tuned!

  4. Text messages are sent directly to text-capable devices — primarily smartphones and cell phones. As a result, without one of these devices you can't receive a text message. By comparison, Twitter is primarily hosted by its own website online, with a myriad of mobile devices offering compatibility with an app that connects to Twitter.

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