Facebook Messenger vs. SMS – FBM’s 3 biggest advantages

I’ve been sick, busy with work and expecting a baby. So I missed the podcast last week and this one is short. Actually have some very interesting guests coming up, so stay tuned. Today I’m doing a short overview of the top advantages that Facebook Messenger has over SMS. These are the simple simple basics.

For the last few episodes we’ve been talking through SMS- how it works, FAQs etc. We’re going to make a shift in the solo series and talk about Facebook Messenger. We already discussed a little bit about how messaging apps came into being. I just thought of a new analogy that is applicable.

If you’re old enough, you remember AOL in the late 90s. It basically was the internet or at least indistinguishable from the idea of the internet. At some point the walled garden broke down, people figured out how to use URLs and we all realized wow, there’s a whole lot more here than just aol. Messaging is sort of the same. SMS was all there was for a while – like a decade. Now we’re seeing this shift where there is an entirely new space called messaging and SMS is simply a part of that — but it’s a big big world of messaging.

OK so Facebook messenger. There are downsides and we’ll get into them, but let’s talk about 3 positives first.

Number 1: It’s Free. Yes, you heard that right. Sending a message over Facebook Messenger does not have a cost. You might need a platform to send the message or a developer to build some technology or you need to hire someone to respond manually within Facebook, but… Facebook does not charge for messages the way that carriers do via SMS.

Cost can play a big deal for organizations that are scaled up. Having a million people on an email list is not rare. The fact that sending an email is virtually free has lead to its ubiquity as a marketing channel. 1 Million person SMS lists are rarer, but it can be expensive. If you’re paying 1 penny per text sending 1 million messages to that list will cost at least $10k. It’s just a factor that comes into play.

Number 2: Facebook Messenger is worldwide. We talked about SMS having this amazing ubiquity because it’s installed on every single phone. That’s great, but the market is fragmented. The suppliers of SMS are different in every country. Costs are different and more importantly the setup is different and needs to happen in every country where SMS campaigns are launching.

If you’re a brand that wants to message people in US, Canada, Mexico and the UK. That means 4 different SMS setups, 4 different cost structures and potentially more than 1 aggregator (remember them). If you launch on FB Messengers, it’s one launch and of course 1 cost structure, free, and the build is to a single API.

Combining worldwide and free is a multiplier. One perfect example of these two benefits is messaging for podcasts – go figure. I launched SMS campaigns with podcasts and it went great. The only two problems were – if enough people messaged in to the podcast to actually make a difference, it became too expensive. We could see tens of thousands of people messaging in over the course of a month or so. It’s great response, but podcasts don’t have huge budgets and it’s tough to experiment when the costs are rising a little bit with each message. Also, a penny per text is low…. At high volumes. Almost all campaigns doing thousands of messages, not millions are paying more per text.

Also, podcasts can be worldwide. When a podcast tells listeners to text in, it’s great but the call to action will only work for one country. Doing multiple calls to action isn’t realistic.

So FBM being free and worldwide takes care of these issues and aligns really nicely for podcasts.

Number 3: This is the biggest advantage. Facebook Messenger is connected to Facebook!!

This is probably a 10 hour conversation, but high-level, this connection is a multiplier. Anything that an organization might want to do via messaging can be multiplied by Facebook. One example is a the Facebook Share action. So if my company wants people to take a survey for some type of incentive, at the end of the survey I can ask the person to share on FB and the social aspect means that some of their friends might see it and then click and take the survey.

This isn’t a groundbreaking process – it’s what socials all about. But the multiplying idea comes into play if we can make it easier to share via Messenger (than through the web) then Messenger is multiplying all of the social aspects.

It also works the other way. The first example is Facebook amplifying what the brand does via messaging. The opposite way is that Messenger amplifies what the brand is doing on social. The idea here is that the brand is buying Facebook Ads, can we increase the conversion rates, and value we are getting from the ad by sending the clicker into Messenger rather than a landing page.

This is where I get really excited. With SMS it was always tricky. People wanted to use the channel, but in order to get started they needed marketing to make a TV commercial to drive opt ins. With FB Messenger, marketing can actually get excited about messaging – hey, this will increase ad conversions AND build the messaging channel at the same time.  

This is a big deal and it’s just getting started. We’ll be talking a lot more about all of this soon. So if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so at itunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can search for us – just type in The Chat Bubble.

Of course if you have questions or feedback, message us on Facebook – eh – we are The Chat Bubble there as well.

We’ll be back soon with more, thanks for listening.

SMS+Messaging FAQs

We’re talking FAQs for messaging – mostly SMS.

SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or iMessage?
This answer is evolving. It’s now October of 2017 and I think this answer might be different in the future. The short answer is SMS is the dominant channel right now, but in the future one of the messaging apps might be a better choice.

The question really boils down to SMS broadcast vs. Messenger Apps, and right now it’s only really Facebook. Let’s go through the SMS positives.
First, it’s ubiquitous. It’s installed on every phone.
The other big positive for SMS is there is a well established ecosystem of vendors and case studies and use cases. It’s possible to copy what other people are doing… and start to do it for your organization.

It’s sort of the place to start in messaging.

The list of cons for SMS is growing. A few years ago there might not have been any cons at all and now there are cons… Although a few years ago I worked for an SMS company so maybe that’s why I didn’t see any cons.

First, SMS is expensive. There is just no way of getting around the per message cost. Even on the super low end we’re talking a penny or two per message. It doesn’t seem like much, but sending 10k messages costs $200-$300. All this means is that you have to have a plan to make each text worth more than a few pennies. It’s not hard, but it does rule out some use cases.

Second, SMS might have different limitations in different countries. If you’re doing international campaigns, SMS is tough. If you’re working in a single country that isn’t America it’s good to understand if people use SMS in that country.

My bigger worry for SMS is that there are very capable companies encroaching on the messaging territory. Specifically Facebook, iMessage and potentially Google. SMS will always be on the phone, but I’m worried that the channel will seem old soon. It’s the default, but the best companies in the world are trying to displace it.

The iMessage move is incredibly deft. They step in front of the text message and almost consume it, without the user knowing. I guess the takeaway on this point is that SMS is no longer a sure thing. In the past it was the only/best option, now the door has been opened to competition.

There is an interesting advantage for Facebook Messenger. It’s the only messaging app that’s connected to an ad network. With SMS a brand needs to find a way to build a list. Maybe that’s the web, maybe that’s a TV commercial or live event. But the brand needs some type of campaign to drive the list building. With Facebook Messenger, it’s obvious, you can drive messages from the ad network.

Of course Facebook has it’s own disadvantages, most notably that you don’t own your list and cannot do certain types of marketing messages. We’ll get into all of this soon. Facebook is the next messaging channel that we’ll be digging in to.

OK next FAQ.

SMS – broadcast or peer to peer?
This is not a tough decision. Broadcast messaging and peer 2 peer are completely different things and they are not mutually exclusive, so this isn’t really an either or situation.

Peer to is sort of like advertising on steroids and broadcast SMS is like email on steroids. I say that peer to peer is like advertising because it’s not permission based and it’s interruptive. Peer to peer is like an advertisement that happens via SMS and then is followed with a personal conversation. The best analogy is telemarketing – the consumer’s phone rings and then someone wants to talk with them.

First let’s talk about the benefits of P2P. It can be highly targetable. The organization launching the P2P campaign brings their own list of numbers, so they can use any data vendor or their own lists to target and reach the right people.

P2P is also really engaging. SMS is a very personal and powerful channel and the campaign is powered with a real person talking to the target users. I guess a one on one conversation would be more engaging, but this is as close as you can get – and texting scales much better than calls, because one operator can be talking to more than one target person at a time.

The other advantage of P2P is that an organization will see results really quickly. As soon as P2P texting starts, we’d expect to see results coming in.

Now the downside of P2P. First, it can be very expensive. You’ll have the vendor costs, but then there is also a cost for a person to do the P2P texting. This concept of P2P launched during the presidential campaign where there are plenty of volunteers, but the dynamics change when those volunteers need to be compensated.

The other downside of P2P is that the organization is not necessarily building an asset. So maybe a political campaign can pay $1,000 and do P2P texting and find 100 volunteers for the event. But if the same organization wants to do another event, they’ll need to do P2P again and find more volunteers. There is no inherent opt-in or list building built in.

Less quantifiable, I think there is a real concern about texting people that haven’t opted in. It’s ok when it’s a presidential election and almost everyone in the country is paying attention. But it is ok , when it’s a non profit asking for a donation? What happen when it’s a business letting you know about their new car insurance options? It’s always a little risky when an organization is intruding in people’s lives.
Onto broadcast messaging and let’s talk about the pluses.

An SMS list is the strongest list that an organization can build. These are people that are interested enough to give the brand or organization their phone number. And then the organization can communicate with the person over SMS on an ongoing basis. The organization is building a list which is an asset – just like an email list.

With broadcast SMS if you incorporate calls to action from media, the SMS call to action can increase all of your results from the media campaigns.

The other big plus is that the SMS list will route people to other assets – SMS is a great way to collect other data and information. So the first best practice of broadcast SMS is that you should ask for the user to reply with their email address.

The big downside of broadcast SMS is that when a company launches, they are starting with a list of 0. For broadcast SMS the brand is building out this channel, given that people need to opt in, there is just no short cut – the organization needs to spend time and effort to build the list. It’s obvious, but this can be a hurdle.

I sold SMS technologies for a long time and there was a lot of selling this dream of the channel. We would eventually get to this point where the buyer would ask, OK where do we get the list? The answer is… well you need to find a way to get people to opt in, here are our ideas. It forces the buyer, who might be in the communications department to now go talk to marketing, because they need to find a way to promote an SMS call to action.

So overall with this question of peer to peer vs. broadcast messaging. It’s not a valid question. It’s kind of like saying, should we do Twitter or should we build our email list? Other than both being on the SMS channel, they are basically unrelated. I wouldn’t consider them substitutes in any respect.

Broadcast messaging is definitely a bigger, more long term initiative. The longer you do it, the bigger the asset and more valuable the initiative. P2P can show results faster, but campaigns are not cumulative. They don’t build towards anything necessarily.

Short code or long code? Unique short code or shared? Vanity or random Short code?
Finally a simple one.
Peer to Peer messaging forces a long code. Mobile Donations force a short code.

If you’re a small business doing reminder type messaging, it’s fine to use a long code from the local area code.

Anyone that has calls to action in media – text JOIN to join the list should be using a short code. It looks really shitty when text calls to action are based on a long code.
For anyone doing any type of volume – 1 or 2 thousand messages per day, I would recommend a short code.

So I guess all of this breaks down to broadcast messaging means short code and P2P and reminder messaging means long code.

For the question of shared or unique. First off, if you’re getting your own short code, get a vanity code and make it something easy to remember. It doesn’t matter what the code spells because it’s never promoted that way. PEPSI if they have a short code, it’s probably 73785 because that spells pepsi on the keypad. But they would never advertise text CONTEST to P-E-P-S-I. They would spell out the number. And it’s an ugly number. It’s better to get 222333 or something that’s just easy.

Along the same lines, if you’re going through the process of getting a number, it’s best to get a vanity short code. It’s worth it to get a number that you like, vs a randomly assigned number that won’t be as easy to recognize or remember.

But back to the question, should you get a shared short code or get your own number? It all comes down to cost and timeline. If you’re a bigger organization and can afford the $15k per year for the short code, it’s worth it.

All organizations should start with a shared short code. Even if you are getting your own short code, I recommend starting early with the shared short code during the three month setup period. It’s always best to get going with the promotional aspects especially on this new channel where it’s going to take a little time to understand how to promote SMS and generate optins.

How do I pick a vendor?
There are a lot of SMS vendors out there. If you are going to build the technology yourself or integrate into an existing system that you’ve built – like uber would, then just start with Twilio. They are by far the most reliable, fastest and most flexible way to start if you’re looking for an API. It’s possible that you might have special needs and go to a different aggregator, but Twilio is far ahead of the game, basically everywhere I can think of.

More people will have questions about how to choose an ASP, and this is tougher. Like choosing any system, it’s probably best to start by finding a vendor that focuses on the space. The biggest advantage to having a vendor that works in the space is integrations with the other systems that work in the space. Just like email and the website really need to work together, SMS is in the same mix. It needs to work with other systems especially scheduling and CRM.

Any ASP vendor should be able to answer tough questions about short codes and know some of the terms that we’ve used on previous podcast episodes. It’s not that hard to build a platform that sends a text message. The harder part is knowing how to run mobile campaigns effectively.

On that note, I think that vendors that provide strong account management or customer success services are essential. Text messaging is a new channel. It’s different than email, different than web, apps etc. It’s really worth it to get experience and help along with the platform. The cheapest ASPs out there are going to start in the $30-50 range. They are going to be hard to set up, they won’t have a lot of features and the charges will increase with every addition – like adding a keyword will cost money. Or for a few hundred dollars a month you can find a system that’s solid, has a lot of features, and when you need to talk over a campaign, there is someone you can call.

How do I make money with messaging?
As far as I’ve seen, SMS needs to support a business model. SMS hasn’t been successful as the business model. If you’re an oil change business, messaging can help you make money, by reminding people to get their oil changed at the 3 month mark, upselling people etc. It’s not really possible to make money charging people to receive text messages or with sponsorship of messages.

I’ve recently noticed some attempts at trying to do this – so there is a monthly charge to get messages on a topic. It’s interesting and I hope someone figures it out. Generally in 2017, we think about media being free – music, TV, newspaper articles etc. Messaging would be hard to share and not worth it. I think this will get figured out.

Sponsorship of SMS campaigns will be harder. I have worked with media companies doing SMS and the idea of “this text is brought to you by a sponsor” just never worked. Messaging is just not an eyeball business. If the sponsor is extremely integrated, there are options, but it doesn’t make sense to just append a sponsor name at the end of a message.

How much does a text cost?
I haven’t checked recently, but I believe that Twilio charges one penny per message. If you’re using an ASP the cost per text will probably be higher than that. Most ASPs will have a monthly fee that includes a certain amount of texts.

If the cost per month is low, the ASP may charge for every text and it could be sizable – that’s how they get you. As the monthly cost is more for the software, it will usually also include more messages. As requirements get really high – like into the millions of messages per month, the cost per message can come down under a penny, depending on the negotiating power.

Also, as you’re investigating price it’s important to understand if the vendor is charging for incoming messages, outgoing messages or both

Should we do messaging?
Yes, absolutely. Messaging works today and there’s a strong chance that messaging becomes a more dominant channel in the future. Launching messaging today is like launching email 15 years ago or social 10 years ago.

We’re going to talk a lot more about how to start, and some exciting stuff about Facebook Messenger. If you’re listening to this podcast, and aren’t already doing messaging – it’s something to get on the list for 2018.

Jason Brenier, Director of Strategy at Georgian Partners Impact discusses conversation, NLP and AI

Jason is a linguist that works at Georgian Partners, a growth-stage investment firm.  Georgian Partners focuses on conversational business as an investment thesis. They’ve written a great deal of best practices and think pieces on where the space is heading. 

As part of the Impact team, Jason helps Georgian Partners companies use NLP and advanced linguistic tactics to improve products and customer outcomes. Jason has more than 15 years of experience applying advanced analytics, computational linguistics and machine learning to business problems in the financial services, pharmaceutical and legal domains.

Our conversation covered many topics with a focus on how language, linguistics and NLP work for technology companies. 

You can read more about Georgian Partners, their investment thesis and any of their whitepapers at https://georgianpartners.com

The benefits of SMS as a marketing & communications channel

Why companies and organizations should do SMS.

The solo series has been about explaining messaging channels. We’ve been concentrating on SMS and there is a lot of background information and terms that we’ve discussed over the last two episodes. It’s been a lot of detail, this episode is the payoff.

We’re going to talk through from an organization or marketers point of view, what SMS is good for and how an organization should use the channel. These are not the only answers, but they are pretty comprehensive and we’re talking at a high level, so it covers a lot.

I’d love to discuss all of this or answer questions. So if you disagree, or are thinking about a use case that I don’t mention, please connect on Messenger so we can discuss. CTA.

Let’s talk about the cold hard facts. First and foremost, SMS is the most ubiquitous channel of communication on the planet. I’d imagine there are more phones on the planet than any other type of device and every single phone has SMS. Like every one. Almost everyone on the planet has one.

I’ve helped to launch campaigns that were focused on homeless populations and SMS was the obvious and only channel. You might be thinking that you’re a marketer and the homeless is not in your target demographic, but young people it’s their only channel in a different way. They just don’t use email even if they do have to have an email address for some reason. I don’t think anyone really uses email until they have a job that requires it.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. First factor is the ubiquity of SMS – absolutely everywhere.

The second factor is the importance of the channel. Text messaging is the way that people talk to their parents, children, best friend and significant other. It’s simply the most important channel out there.

Now this is still true, but I feel it’s slipping a bit. I have some friends that moved out of the country and we use Facebook Messenger. I have one friend in the UK and we use Whatsapp. Most things that are group messages we’re doing on Messenger. And of course I have friends that work in the messaging space, so we use Allo ironically. Although I do like it a lot.

For now, SMS is still king. When anyone here’s that sound they automatically & instinctively look at their phone. It simply can’t be helped. In fact I’d argue that the messaging ping, SMS or your messenger of choice, is the number #1 trigger in the world. If you’re a marketer and want to get someone’s attention there is nothing that grabs attention like the message ping.

What the ubiquity and importance of the SMS channel means is that when an organization sends a message, it’s going to be read and it will be read quickly. That’s something easy to say and easy to hear, but the numbers that are floating around are that messages have a 99 percent open rate and the average test is read in 90 seconds. This is just simply insanity. I bet for the average link on the internet, 99% of the people that click, don’t actually make it to the page. That’s how crazy a 99% open rate is.

NOW, there is a chance these numbers aren’t exactly true. It’s really hard to tell. It’s just way too much of an echo chamber out there. If you google for it, there are a million hits, all the numbers are impressive, but they are all companies sell or promote SMS campaigns or news stories talking about SMS campaigns. It’s unclear what the source for this data is and/or who a credible source would actually be.

BUT even with that uncertainty, SMS is ubiquitous and an important channel for almost everyone. Because of those facts open rates are very high and opens happen very quickly.

What is SMS good for from a marketing/communication channel view? First, let’s review what it’s NOT good for. Remember, SMS requires an opt in, so it’s not an advertising channel. By advertising channel I mean that a brand can use the channel to find new people. They can pay to get their message in front of people. This is not possible with SMS. You cannot just send a user a text, they would have had to message in first. And if they messaged in first, that means the brand reached them somewhere else and asked them to message in.

This is actually a common question. It’s not possible to buy a list of numbers and send them a text. That’s a big reason why you, as a text message user do not get spam texts often.

SMS is not an advertising channel, but it’s great as a response channel to advertising. This is actually the first big super-power of SMS. If you do a tv commercial and the call to action is to join, call 1800 or go to www.com or text join to 12345, the text message call to action will beat the 800 number and website. From a call to action someone is more likely to text in rather than call in or visit a site.

Let’s even take this a step further. Once someone texts in they are more likely to provide their email address over SMS compared to the phone or URL response channel. The first superpower of SMS is as a response channel (response to a brands ads and media) and that means that the brand gets more people, more leads from all of their advertising efforts.

Here’s a theoretical example. We’ve all seen heard and read a one hundred Geico commercials. Whether it’s cavemen or the lizard, they all basically say that I can save 15% or more on car insurance by getting a quote from Geico.com. From what I’ve seen with clients if Geico added or text the word GEICO to 12345 each commercial would drive more people to get a quote.

I’ve seen many different tests and they usually work something like this. Let’s stick with the Geico example. In order to give a quote, Geico needs to understand zip code, make & model of the car, age of the driver and miles driven each year in order to give a quote. So sending the user to the website is just the first step of this process. Same with the user texting in, it’s just the first step of the data collection process.
With test I’ve run in the past the SMS channel will drive about 3 times more leads than the URL call to action from a TV commercial. That’s huge. This ratio will change depending on the advertising medium. For a TV commercial, viewers will probably be near a computer or they’ll have a phone with a browser. If someone were to stand up at an event and do the same call to action… a person would be much more likely to text in rather than go to a URL.

Basically, the further away a viewer/listener is from a computer, the bigger the ratio will be.

Think about a scenario where Bruce Springsteen wants to help a charity…

Another big advantage for SMS as a response channel is that it’s an instant subscription. If a user messages in, but doesn’t provide the information asked for, the organization can follow up. If a user goes to the URL and just leaves, that user is gone.

Again, the best way to describe this value is that SMS works as a response channel and will drive MORE PEOPLE – whether that means leads, donors, customers etc.

Super power number 2 for SMS has to do with activation. When a message is sent, it’s going to be seen and it’s going to be seen quickly. The best use for messages is to drive action from the recipients.

In the Geico scenario, it would be better to send an activation message such as “remember that you need to add a credit card to the account before you’re covered” rather than an information message like, “Geico was rated #1 by JD Power and Associates.”

Texts are great at getting people to do things. Sometimes that means replying with data, sometimes it means a real world action and sometimes it can lead to long term behavior change. The one thing that I’ve seen over and over again is that the mobile list will take more action compared to any other list a marketer can access. Most of the time we’re comparing the mobile list to email.

I’ve seen campaigns where people on the mobile list are more likely to vote, donate or even quit smoking. This activation idea is a big deal for brands – Geico wants people to buy their insurance, Amazon wants people to sign up for Prime and a presidential campaign wants people to donate and vote. Everything comes down to activation at some level.

Here’s where it gets interesting. People will probably not finalize their insurance on the phone most of the time. They probably don’t sign up for Prime on the phone and they definitely can’t vote on the phone. But the people on the mobile list that receive a text will be more likely to take the action even if the action isn’t on text or even the phone.

An example that I used all the time. It’s a trick, but just think through it with me. Let’s say that you are the marketer for a CRM company like Salesforce. People come to a webinar and give their email address to attend the webinar. After the webinar there are automated follow ups over email. The whole point is that we want to nurture the leads that attended the webinar and get them to signup for salesforce give a credit card etc. So let’s say 100 people attend the webinar and Salesforce has email addresses for all of them. How many people signup for Salesforce through that email???

It’s a trick question. Zero people sign up through the email. It’s actually impossible to do that. People signup on a webpage. The email will link people to the webpage or simply remind them to go to the page and signup. SMS works the same way.

It’s slight of hand because email is definitely a direct route the signup page. With SMS it’s tough to link out and get the person to signup on their phone. With SMS it’s also probably that people get the text, but then signup on the desktop computer. And it’s also common that the text would actually capture the person’s attention, increase the chances that they open the email and then convert.

Whatever the route, the data is pretty solid. We would regularly see the mobile list convert 3-5x better than the non-mobile list. Just to get really specific, the text campaigns are usually working in the same department as the email campaigns or CRM. So the cohorts that are being compared are the email + SMS list vs the email – only list. In that scenario, the mobile+email list will usually do 3 times better.

It’s not surprising, right. The mobile phone number is a sign of interest. I mean when you’re single, you’re more likely to go out with someone if you get their number. This is a little like the business equivalent.

There’s one more thing to talk about quickly. I sold SMS capabilities for almost 8 years. When an organization would reach out they would always have one of these benefits in mind. So I’d get a call saying something like – we have this opportunity to partner with a rock back. We think it makes sense for the band to tell their fans to text in.

Or they would be thinking about the second superpower – we want to text people and get them to do X.

In order the campaign and organization to be successful both benefits, both superpowers need to be used. If you’re thinking of a great way to use SMS as a response to media, you still need a long term plan to activate the people that respond to the media.

If you have a great idea to text people and get them to purchase, or show up for an event, you also need an idea of how the person will join the list in the first place. That opt in is a requirement.

It’s really similar to the approach of email – an organization needs a way to grow their list and something to say to the list they’ve grown.

Lastly, I boil down the benefits of SMS to More People and More Action. In terms of direct marketing, not brand marketing, these two benefits are about all there is.

Elliott Golden founder of Civic Shout talks advocacy over Messenger

Elliott Golden joins the pod to talk about using Facebook Messenger to help people contact Congress. Civic Shout walks the user through a quick conversation and then sends a fax to the user’s legislators. 

Elliott created most if not all the technology and he helps clients promote their campaigns. So the conversation focuses on the details of building the interaction and strategies for promotion.

Hope you enjoy.

SMS terms you need to know before launch

We’re going to stick with SMS campaigns on today’s show and talk through the different terms, definitions and service providers in the space. This is a follow-on to the last episode where we talked through the different types of SMS campaigns. Now, we’re going deeper with broadcast messaging and mobile donations.

If you’re thinking about doing an SMS campaign or are new to the space, this background will be helpful. It’s a little dry if you’re just listening for fast-paced, thrilling messaging chat (that’s a joke). When I was selling SMS campaigns, these questions came up a lot. I hope it can be a reference to some people looking for answers.

Let’s jump in.

Long Codes and Short Codes: We touched on this last episode. If you’re doing SMS campaigns in any manner, you need a phone number to send and receive messages. As an organization or business you can choose between a long code and a short code.

A short code is a 5-6 or 6 digit number, that was created specifically to do high volume SMS campaigns. The carriers created this entire system to license short codes, approve campaigns and keep an eye on everything so their customers are not getting spammed. This is the way the MAN wants you to do it and most legitimate companies doing SMS will use a short code.

They are expensive and they take a little while to set up. The big advantages is that you can get more data around deliverability, send messages a lot faster and the organization has some protections about not being shut down.

There is one vendor for short codes in the US – CSCA – http://usshortcodes.com. You can go there to see if your number is available and reserve it or lease it. You can only lease a short code you can’t own it.

Withing short codes there are vanity numbers and random numbers.

Vanity means that the organization chooses the number and the lease is $1,000 per month. Random means that a number is randomly assigned and the cost is $500 per month to lease. There will usually be a setup fee and to launch a new short code it will take 8-12 weeks for the carriers to turn it on. I’m also going to bring up a shared short code. We’ll talk about this more when we get into the vendor breakdown. For most organizations the shared short code is the way to go. There is no cost and no wait time, but other organizations are using the short code.

A long code is another option for SMS campaigns. Long codes are meant more for the 1 on 1 campaigns or small businesses like a reminder from the dentist. Long codes are just phone numbers and then connect to APIs to send or receive SMS.
Long codes are cheap and fast. The downside is sending messages through them is really slow. With a short code you could send a million messages in an hour or two. With a long code it would just be impossible. So they are good for 1 on 1 messaging type stuff. So when your uber is arriving they would send a text from a longcode. They actually probably have thousands of long codes in different area codes so it seems, like it’s the driver texting.

On an upcoming show I’ll give all my opinions, but a big question from companies that want to do SMS – should we do a long code or short code? How about random or vanity? The short answer.. Big brands should get their own vanity code. If you have a special use case you might want your own random code. For instance clinical trials might require their own number, but they don’t care what it is. Most companies should pick a vendor that provides shared short code – my opinion.

If you’re a small business or doing 1 on 1 messaging, it’s OK to start with a longcode, but as you prove out the channel, think about leveling up to a short code.

Finally on this, if you’re going to do real world calls to action, get a short code. Billboards, flyers, events you don’t want to be telling people to message in, to a 10 digit number.

Let’s talk about the different players in the space. Obviously, we have the phone companies – Verizon ATT etc. They deliver the messages directly to the user. Below them there is this layer called an aggregator. We’ll dig in a bit there, but for an overview, they can be thought of like a hosting company for SMS. So they way you need to host a website, you can host your short code with the aggregator. Horrible terms, I know. Below them on the stack you’ll probably have a platform. This would be where you loging to manage campaigns. Finally there is the company that is creating the messages.

We don’t need to talk about the carriers other than there is an interesting insight that the short code system is completely separate from the P2P texting system. That’s a little surprising. They aren’t even related from the way that I understand it.

The aggregators are this middle-layer business. The carriers want to let businesses do SMS, but they are huge companies and networks – they don’t want to just open an API so that anyone can connect to them. They built this layer of businesses called aggregators. The aggregators connect to the carriers and then platforms or businesses connect to the aggregators. It’s actually 1000x more complicated than this.

No aggregator connects to all of the carriers directly, but they connect to at least 1 or more than one. For the carriers they don’t connect to, they have deals to trade traffic with the other aggregators. OK who cares.

The aggregators host the shortcodes. So if you lease a short code, you’ll want to provision it with the aggregator so that you can start sending messages. This is the setup that takes the 2-3 month process. In reality, you’ll only work directly with an aggregator if the messaging volume is large. An organization should be doing at least a half a million messages per month before an aggregator will even return your calls. If you do start a relationship with an aggregator, you’ll sign an agreement that includes a short code hosting cost, minimum payment per month that includes a specific message amount and a cost per message on top of that.

I wasn’t in the business then, but aggregators feel very 2005-ish. You need to be a big company to work with them and they are a part of the infrastructure. Once aggregators became established, people started building platforms to actually execute the campaigns.

A really dumbed down version of a platform or ASP would be something like mailchimp for SMS. A business could license mailchimp or they could build their own software and connect to their own email server. It’s the same with SMS, you could build your own software and connect to an aggregator, or you can sign up with a platform.

In my opinion the platform route has a lot of advantages. They’ll offer a lot of flexibility with short code options. They will help you get your own short code if you choose or they may offer a shared short code. A platform will have multiple customers and the platform can pay for the short code once, and then include short code use to their customers. It’s definitely a benefit.

Platforms range in price from almost free – $10 or $50 per month all the way to thousands or tens of thousands per month. There are some vertical specific platforms and more agnostic ones. Basically if you’re searching for a platform, you should set a budget and talk to a number of vendors, watch demo’s etc. I would recommend looking for

Shared Short code option
Setup, training and strategy help
Some level of connection or integration with other systems – like CRM or email
Keywords, webform and upload capabilities.

There are many more things that will become clearer as we discuss messaging strategy soon.

Just a few more types of vendors in this space. There is a company called Twilio. The best way to think of them might be a platform. Twilio is basically an aggregator, but they are very flexible and modern, where the aggregators are older feeling businesses. Twilio is a product created for developers to build apps for phone and SMS. They do short codes, but one of their major contributions has been introducing long codes as a flexible option.

The aggregators are for big businesses, and contracts. The platforms completely abstract the infrastructure. Twilio is for companies that want to build their own logic or platforms that connect to or send SMS. Again to use Uber as an example, they build into their system that when the driver is two minutes away, trigger a text. They could never use an ASP because it’s uber’s logic, they can’t code that into another system. They use the Twilio API to simply trigger a message.

Last week we talk about text donations. All that is really happening there is that there are just a few aggregators that can set up short codes in a certain way – to be premium SMS channels. The biggest such aggregator is the Mobile Giving Foundation. They have shared short codes or you can get your own. The MGF requires that organizations connect with a special type of ASP to help launch and manage mobile donation campaigns.

There are a lot of intricacies, but to sum everything up. If you are in product or operations you’ll probably want to check out Twilio to incorporate texting into your product. If you’re in marketing or a comparable field you’ll want to find a platform that can do what you want it to do.

Let’s talk about some terms that you’ll come across.

We talked about short codes and long codes. If you know what they are, you are way ahead of the game. Keywords are also important. A big value of SMS is that you can tell people to text in and they will. As an organization you have this one short code and you want to be able to source people as they are texting in. In a call to action you’ll say text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE – so text JOIN to 12345. This allows the ASP Application to know where the person heard to message in, and most ASPs can respond with a different message based on a different keyword.

Also, a keyword is needed to make the call to action make sense. Maybe it just caught on and it sounds right, but there should be something that we’re asking the user to send in. It’s weird to simply say text in to 12345 – telling people what to text where, just feels better.

MO – mobile originated. This is a message that is coming from a mobile phone.
MT – mobile terminated. This is a message being sent from a mobile phone.

Opt-in – there is a formally defined opt in process, but essentially opt in means the user is subscribed to messaging from this organization on this short code. A user has to give the opt in, in writing so that can be a text message in, or a webform – or I guess a paper form. It might be a violation, but it’s a regular practice that if someone says they want to opt in, that is fine too. Really they just need to agree to receive texts before they are texted.

Opt-out – There are some magic words required for SMS campaigns to unsubscribe people from the list. These words are STOP, CANCEL, END, UNSUBSCRIBE. The carriers require that when someone opts out, the organization needs to send a message confirming the opt out. This was actually part of a funny lawsuit a few years ago. I think someone sued Facebook because they opted out, but then Facebook sent a text confirming the opt out. Even though that’s what the carriers require. Facebook won the lawsuit.

Double Opt-in: When someone opts in, it’s the business’s responsibility to confirm it’s the person that owns the handset that is opting in. If the user texts in, that’s fine. We know that the text was sent from the phone. But if the number is entered into a website there is no connection to the phone. I could be entering an enemy’s phone number in every webform that I find. The double opt in serves as a check, to make sure that a confirmation is received from the phone that is opting in.

Generally, when the first opt in happens, the system will trigger a double opt in message that asks the user to reply YES to confirm the opt in. The user is in a pending state, not fully opted in until they confirm.

This double opt in can really hurt the opt in rates, so it’s in a gray area. Some people skip it, and are just sure to make it really clear that the user can opt out in the first messages that are sent to them.

Character Limit – texts are limited to 160 character and that’s including spaces. This can sometimes be confusing because tweets are 140 characters. The limit can be an issue. Messages have to be concise and texts cost money, so the answer isn’t always as easy as just sending 2 messages.

OK, that’s a lot of detail. Just thinking through all of this for the first time in a while I could probably add 100 things to the list, but this is enough info to be dangerous.

We’ll get more interesting on the next episode and I’m going to talk about the two biggest benefits to adding the SMS channel to an organization.

The different types of SMS campaigns

On the previous Solo episode we listed the different type of messaging apps. This episode we are going to dig a little deeper into SMS. It’s a little strange because it’s such a simple thing – a text is only 160 characters, can’t even have a picture and maybe it can have emoji… but in application there are a number of different ways that companies and organizations use SMS. We discuss broadcast campaigns for B2C, Premium SMS, Mobile Donations, P2P and reminder messaging.

I worked with SMS campaigns for a long time and have a lot of opinions. As we do more episodes I’ll be more opinionated, but right now we are going to keep everything fact-based. Although I’m sure that a few opinions will creep in.

Just to reset, we are talking about SMS specifically for business or non-profit communications. So this is about SMS for B2C communications and what’s available. And in that world, there is this really horrible acronym(?) that people use called A2P. Is that an acronym? Initialism? I really don’t know. If we had a bigger budget I would get a producer to check that out.

Anyway, A2P stands for application 2 person. So that means that it’s software sending a message to a person, not two people talking.

Let’s start with the type of messaging that could be considered the standard in the space, and the best name for this is probably broadcast messaging. This can sort of be compared to email marketing where an organization builds a list of people and then the organization can send broadcast messages to that list.

It’s a little strange because this is simply SMS marketing messaging and then all of the other campaign types popped up. This broadcast approach was never really given an official name, like some of the other types of messaging. So again, this is like email marketing where you build a list and can then blast out text messages to that list.

There are a few parts that pop up regularly for broadcast messaging. One of the most critical is this idea of opt in. A user needs to opt in before they are actually on a list and can be broadcast to. Users can opt in by texting in or filling out a webform with their phone number. When you see the phrase Mssg&DataRatesMayApply and Text STOP2stop, this is all part of the opt in process.

The opt in/opt out process is actually pretty well defined and the guide is online. This guide is written by the CTIA – Cell Tele… and they oversee the short code ecosystem. That’s another characteristic of broadcast messaging campaigns. Short codes, which are basically 5-6 digit number that were created for A2P SMS campaigns are usually sending and receiving broadcast message campaigns.

We’ll get into a lot more detail on future episodes, but the rules and standards for broadcast SMS campaigns are pretty well defined. The carriers – ATT, Verizon, Sprint etc don’t want their customers getting SMS spam, so they created the CTIA to create and enforce rules for the channel among other things. It’s an established space, and there are very legitimate companies and vendors that can help to conceive, launch and manage broadcast campaigns.
When companies think about SMS they are most likely thinking about broadcast campaigns. We’ll go through a lot of this in great detail in future episodes. Moving on right now, or actually we’re going to take a step backwards.

Before there were SMS broadcast campaigns, there was this idea called PSMS – premium SMS. This also happened with short codes, but what made it Premium SMS is that these messages would add a charge on the user’s cell phone bill. It was a few dollar charge, not just the messaging charge. If you remember early American idol shows, viewers could text in to vote and really early on, that vote would cost money. There’s a chance this is an urban legend, and there really wasn’t a cost, but you get the idea.

I think this is like 2003, 04, 05 and SMS is just totally new. Nobody knew where it was going and it probably made a lot of sense to trigger charges on the phone bill. But it seems so weird in retrospect. What ended up happening is this shady layer of companies slid in. There was this whole ringtone and wallpaper phase where you might text in to pay for a ringtone or get a wallpaper. In this really scammy situation, the carriers would allow for recurring billing. These companies would launch where they text your horoscope. They would end up charging $10 per month and it was sort of a hidden charge on your phone bill. You don’t have to worry about this anymore – the whole process was called cramming and it’s not allowed in the US anymore.

I have a funny-ish story. My wife, when we were dating we lived in NYC. And I woke up at her house and a remember I was insanely hung over and just couldn’t move. She had like a 19 inch TV and just the basic channels because we weren’t in the nesting/Netflix phase of life yet. It was still party time. Anyways, I’m lying on her couch, can’t move and I flip through the 13 channels and on CSPAN some Congressional panel (I probably should know that) is debating cell phone cramming – they are talking about people getting ripped off an how it should be outlawed. I’m hungover, can’t move and just absolutely fascinated by the most boring shit ever. It’s the tech equivalent of tripping and staring at the wall.

Anyways cramming is illegal and all premium SMS is illegal in the US… except for mobile donations. And that’s a perfect segue, because mobile donations are the next type of SMS message.

We’ll probably do an entire episode on this, and I might even be able to get them as a guest… So I’m just going to do an overview right now. I think the full story is interesting, or at least as interesting as the CSPAN Congressional debate I guess.

When Hurricane Katrina happened a few guys took this premium SMS idea and decided to launch a product or campaign where people can text in and the charge on their phone bill is actually a donation. Back in those days, the carriers would take a percentage of the premium SMS charge and for the donations, the carriers would actually waive that fee. So the first campaign happened in 2005. It probably took a while to get everything organized, get the carriers on board and to officially launch. So in 2008 or so, the Mobile Giving Foundation became a thing.

So a non-profit, a 501c3 could apply to the MGF and get approved, and then the non profit could launch a mobile donation campaign. Basically the organization can select a keyword and a dollar amount. (We’ll get into a keyword later), but basically the call to action would be, text DONATE to 12345 to donate $5 to Katrina victims. The charge would be added to their mobile bill and then the funds would filter to the non-profit.

It was all tough and tricky and took a little bit to set up. But I worked for a company and we helped an organization launch a campaign in Nov or Dec 2008. Then the Haiti Earthquake happened in January 2009 and text donations really became a thing. It was craziness, I remember working all Saturday at this coffee shop called Blue Stove in Brooklyn and just being so jittery from so much coffee – but there were just so many non profits that wanted to launch these mobile donation campaigns.

But this isn’t a memoir. Mobile donations is the only and last type of premium SMS campaign in the US. It’s for non-profits only and it’s fairly rigid in that it can only be set dollar amounts – $5, $10 and potentially $25 dollars. The basic situation is for any innovation to happen, all of the carriers have to agree and it’s been hard to make that happen. So innovation is slow.

The next type of SMS is called Peer 2 Peer. This is pretty new, it’s maybe a year and a half old. The debut of P2P messaging happened with the Bernie Sanders campaign. I actually did an interview for the Chat Bubble Podcasts – Episode 5 from February – with Daniel Souweine who is the founder of Relay and he was the person at the Bernie campaign that managed P2P messaging. We should also mention that Hustle was the vendor for Bernie at that time and those are the two companies that I know do Peer to Peer campaigns.

Remember with broadcast campaigns people need to opt in and then you can message them. The CTIA oversees this and the entire short code system powers messaging and it’s also police-able. P2P Messaging is an attempt to get around this opt in requirement. So the P2P company makes software that powers an application on a phone. The Bernie campaign, for instance, would have volunteers install this app on their phone. From this app, the volunteers would text people, like just a list of numbers one at a time, directly for the Bernie campaign.

Because there is an actual person “texting” and I‘m using quotes, the opt in is not required. So if you’re Bernie and it’s the New Hampshire primary, you want to text all of your supporters and remind them to vote. Ideally, they have opted into your mobile program and you can just go into your SMS marketing program and press a button and everyone gets the message. But now let’s you didn’t opt anyone in to your mobile list. With P2P you can buy a list of phone numbers and then get a bunch of volunteers to text this list of numbers. You don’t need the opt in because it’s not an automated text, it’s coming from a person. The CTIA, shortcodes and potentially the law only outlaw the automated messaging.

It’s really interesting and a little risky. These campaigns don’t use short code messaging, so it’s coming from a regular number so the carriers would have a tough time policing it. It’s hard to tell what the carriers might think about this, but P2P definitely isn’t in the spirit of the rules.

It seems really powerful, but at the same time it might also be expensive, and you need people to actually push the buttons. That’s a good point the P2P company app actually allows the volunteers to send texts with very few clicks. It’s not like they are typing out every message. There are default messages set, but it’s also possible to have direct one on one conversation.

Last but not least is simple alerts, reminders and 2FA. So my dentist texts me appointment reminders and when I log into certain websites they send me a code to confirm that it’s actually me. I’m sure that when it’s all added up, these reminder texts dwarf all of the campaign type texting.

These reminders and alerts are kind of in their own space. Many times it’s a regular phone number sending the message and it’s not marketing necessarily. It’s a cool use, and fits the channel perfectly, but I don’t really have thoughts.

My last point is the difference between companies that do SMS and non-profits. My work with SMS has been mostly with NPOs, and I understand it might skew my view, but it seems to me that NPOs are way ahead of companies on this stuff. Obama was doing texting campaigns in 2008 and Haiti donations were in 2009. I could be wrong, but there haven’t been many interesting marketing campaigns via SMS for companies.

Don’t get me wrong, Uber probably sent 1 trillion text between 2011 and 2015, but telling me that my car is arriving isn’t as cool as Hillary telling me where to vote and asking me to confirm that I’ll do it. It might just be my vantage point, but I just haven’t seen that many interesting campaigns from companies.

Next time we do an overview like this we’ll get a little deeper. We might need to do an overview of all of the terms and players involved in mobile campaigns. All of these episodes seem like they’ll be really quick, but I guess I can talk a lot about this…..

Episode #19 Ishay Tentser, CEO of Initech

Ishay joined the podcast to share a few different projects that his agency has worked on, as well as a perspective of what’s happening outside the US. Ishay’s firm, Initech, has been in business for about a decade and within the last 2 years they’ve begun to focus on Facebook Messenger applications.

They are based in Israel and Ishay travels regularly through Europe and provides some anecdotes about what’s happening outside the US.

Here are a few links for contact or campaigns and examples mentioned in the show.

Ishay’s contact information. ishay at initech.co.il — http://www.linkedin.com/in/tentser

Israeli Chatbot Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/TLV-Marketing-Chatbots/

Here is a presentation on bots. https://www.slideshare.net/IshayTentser/messenger-as-a-new-marketing-platform-70853206

Finally, a demo of the internal Messenger Loyalty bot mentioned at the end of the episode. https://www.facebook.com/messages/t/341778542908006

Episode #17 Arte Merritt Co-founder and CEO of Dashbot

Arte Merritt joins the podcast to talk about Dashbot and analytics for conversations and bots. Dashbot helps builders track what’s happening on their messaging and conversation applications. Dashbot works on messaging channels like Facebook Messenger and SMS as well as voice devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The most impressive thing about Dashbot has been their growth. They’ve processed 7 billion messages for 10’s of thousands of bots and messaging applications.

You can find them online at http://dashbot.io and on twitter @dashbotio.

Episode #16 – Here’s why messaging is worth investigating

We’re starting something new with The Chat Bubble. This is the first episode in a series that will explain terms, share best practices, strategies and benchmarks for messaging and how organizations’ approach to the channel. We’re keeping these episodes short and of course we’ll still be interviewing people in the space regularly.

This episode talks about messaging as a channel, and why it’s worth understanding.

I look at messaging as one of only 5 communication channels in existence (Face to face, mail, phone, email and messaging). It’s a natural progression along the timeline of personal and business communication and messaging will be the primary communication channel on new devices (VR, AR, autos).

Hope you enjoy.