SMS Keyword Best Practices

Last week’s episode was about call to action best practices. This week we are going to focus on a specific piece of the call to action – they keyword. Here are keyword best practices.

I like to capitalize the keyword. It highlights what the user should text in, but doesn’t confuse them with quotes. Any text message vendor should be able to handle capital or lowercase letters, just like a URL.

Keep the keyword simple. Just use a word. Again, think like an ideal URL and focus on simple and understandable.

Sometimes teams want to squeeze their brand message into a keyword. Imagine if Skittles tried to make “Taste the rainbow” their keyword. Think of all the potential for misspellings. The keyword is for response, not branding.
Use different keywords to track different promotions.

Similarly, the worst possible misstep is making a keyword that feels like a tracking code. Yes, the keyword can track the promotion channel, but it shouldn’t feel like a tracking code. I’ve seen customers try to make TV2 or RADIONYC their keywords. DON’T DO THIS. No numbers in keywords, no weird combinations. Just a simple word.

SMS Call to Action Best Practices

To review, a keyword call to action (or text call to action) is when a promotion tells the viewer to text in. This takes the form of “Text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE”, where the short code is a 5-6 digit number that is statice and the keyword can be chosen and tracked to the promotion. If I were a marketer with the Cleveland Browns I might have a call to action that reads.

“To put your name down for 2019 season tickets, text BROWNS to 216216.”

Let’s break down how all of this might work.

“To put your name down for 2019 season tickets,” Good calls to action don’t say, “For more info…”. There is a specific reason that someone should text in. If people want more info, they already know what to do. A newspaper I worked with wanted people to text in and join a database of sources for stories. If the paper needed to speak with a doctor that was over 65 and ever delivered a baby on a plane, they would have a database of people to connect with.

When they paper’s call to action read, “Would you like to be a source? Text SOURCE to 12345”, no one texted in. When the paper ran a story about a dog attack and the call to action read, “Have you been attacked or almost attacked by a dog? Text DOG to 12345”, the results were great.

The reason that someone might text in is the most important aspect of a call to action although sometimes it’s overlooked if the organization is focusing on the more technical aspects. The keyword and shortcode part of the CTA should be kept simple.

Helping hundreds of organizations understand text message calls to action, I’ve developed a few best practices.

Make the call to action clear. The call to action should avoid confusion. No one needs to remember the call to action. If they are going to text in, they will do it immediately. Make sure that the call to action doesn’t stop them from texting in.
Repeat the call to action. This is true for any response channel – if you’re promoting a URL or phone number, it’s important to repeat it. This is especially true with text messaging where an SMS call to action may be new for viewers.
Show and tell the call to action. Some people are more visual, and some people focus more on audio. No matter who the audience is, it’s best to do both. Show the words on screen – “Text JOIN to 12345” and say them at the same time. This will just get the best results.
Share a good reason to text. As mentioned before, the reason behind the call to action is the most important aspect. If it’s interesting and valuable, people will take action. If the promotion isn’t that interesting, any response will be an uphill battle.

Last note, use calls to action to test different messaging, ads or media channels. Keywords naturally act as tracking codes, so you can measure and compare response for each keyword that’s promoted.

What the heck do I know?

It was pointed out to me that I should share some of the campaigns I’ve been a part of and my experiences in the messaging space. So that’s what this episode is about. 

Why bots were D.O.A but messaging is still thriving.

(Get this article in a podcast here) In early 2016 Facebook released an API for Messenger and introduced the age of bots. Quickly it became obvious to everyone that bots were the next huge trend, startups got funded, Medium posts were written and the space was officially hot. I’d been doing messaging for about 8 years at the time and the it wasn’t clear to me that bots would work. Other people that had experience with messaging didn’t jump on the bot bandwagon either.

It’s safe to say, 3 years later, that the bot era hasn’t happened. I don’t think it’s coming soon. This podcast digs into why bots didn’t make it between 2016–2019, and why messaging is still thriving. The reasoning starts with the boring basics, but gets more advanced. So please stick through obvious stuff.

The first big problem with bots was the hype. You could see it from a mile away. Every tech publication featured articles titled, The Bots are Coming with images showing 1980’s robot toys explaining how every interaction that we were having on the web would now take place with a bot.

Oh you want to buy shoes? Soon you’ll just message into Zappos with your shoe size and their AI will automatically pick out the best shoes for you. Then you can just press a single button and complete the purchase. They hype was outrageous. These interactions would play out everywhere, from doctors offices to ordering pizza.

It was clear that tech was thirsty for the next big thing and the public oversold in the process. Of course Facebook and the promotion around the Messenger Platform launch played the biggest part. But hey, it was early 2016 and Facebook was on a winning streak, riding high. It was still before the other (Russian) bots came.

Which brings me to the second reason that the bot-craze crashed and burned — the word “bots”. I couldn’t think of a name with more baggage hanging on it. Russian bots ruined the American election. Twitter bots are spreading fake news. And both social networks are now cracking down on bots on their platform.

There are also the bots coming for your job (a lot of headlines when I was googling for this post). The robots are coming for your job and if they don’t get you, AI bots surely will. Until Facebook coopted the word, “bots” were just spam accounts on social media.

Did we mention AI? A few paragraphs back I talked about sending a message in to a webstore and that store knows exactly the right product for you. How will that happen? AI. How about when I message in to reschedule my delivery. How will the system understand my request? AI.

The tech press projected bots as the coupling of messaging with AI. The problem is that AI doesn’t exist. For some reason when the interface changed to messaging, AI came closer to possible. But this doesn’t make sense. You’ll know when it’s possible to produce the 1 correct answer to any query because google search results will just include one link.

Positioning bots as AI, spreading this through the hype cycle and at the same time conflating messaging interactions with Russian troll farms attacking American Democracy caused a little cynicism and backlash. But none of these reasons are why bots were DOA and messaging is still a strong and growing channel.

From the descriptions above, a simple explanation of a bot is that a user can text in, there will be some logic to understand what user is saying and the bot will respond back with the correct answer. This type of interaction lends itself to customer service or the actual usage of a product (what I call customer operations). Specifically this interaction is started by the user, it’s not meant to be driven by the organization. Because these bot conversations are directed by the user they aren’t marketing.

I want to quickly distinguish another approach that I call messaging as a marketing channel. The idea of using messaging for marketing means building an opt in list and then sending outgoing messages to this list. This is exactly how email marketing works. From all my experience, this is where messaging makes the most sense. This list building and activation approach is not what people are thinking when they use the word bot.

A simple way to distinguish the two approaches, when a user directs the conversation it’s a bot and when the organization is driving the conversation, it’s a marketing use case.

With this context for bots, here are the specific problems that kept bots from taking off:

It’s extremely complicated to let the user drive a conversation, understand understand that user and respond appropriately. For the user to find value the scope of conversation topics must be wide enough to address anything the user might ask. It’s just an incredibly hard problem to be able to parse and respond to so many potential inquiries.
Compounding this core problem described above is that the bot must be correct. Even a 5% error rate will be noticed. On messaging channels, it’s not particularly easy to help the user when there’s a problem. Sending the user a menu/list is a horrible UX (and contradicts the reason to use a bot) and starting the conversation over would super frustrating.
Focusing on customer service or customer operations (like calling an Uber) use cases are not easy places to build & test MVPs. These use cases can require deep integrations, and the stakes are high in these interactions. A frustrated customer failing to get an answer from the customer service bot is a much worse situation than a marketing lead not converting. Marketing departments are constantly testing and failing ideas — customer service, not so much
Which leads to the final point, customer service (and potentially customer operations) aren’t revenue generating divisions A hit strategy in marketing can drive growth. So marketing departments are looking to innovate, have test budget and will grow the channel quickly when something works. An amazing customer service bot might reduce cost, but it won’t significantly increase growth.
In summary, bots were a new interaction that tackled incredibly hard problems in high stakes company functions with little room for errors. Bot makers were pitching to teams that aren’t built for innovation and even if things work amazingly well, the upside is limited. That’s why bots were DOA.

This was a hard article to write. If you’ve made it this far, listening to the podcast might explain some of the ideas from a different angle. I hope you’ll subscribe on itunes.

Finally, I think that AI and customer service automation will start working soon. I just don’t think it will happen on messaging first. It’s more likely that call centre audio + AI is the place where humans will first start to interact with bots, if we aren’t doing that already.

The Superpower of Messaging = Response

The super power of messaging is response. With a messaging campaign it’s possible to ask people to respond, they’ll do it and the response can be valuable. I don’t know a better way to say it.

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When designing a campaign, most organizations would frame the question as What do we want to tell our list? Better results can be had if the question is instead, What’s the most valuable response someone can reply with?

Let’s take an obvious example, NPS score. We’ve already decided that the user telling us a number 1-10 is what we want. How is messaging superior for this response interaction? Compare the user experience when we do NPS via email. The user opens an email, reads paragraphs, clicks a link, chooses their NPS number and then submits the form. Now compare that to receiving a text and replying with one or two digits. What do you think gets a better response rate?

Now think about the cost and effort for an organization to build each respective NPS collection flow. With the email to webform route, most organizations would write an email that’s too long or includes more than just the NPS score ask. This drives down the response rate. Then a webpage and webform is needed. The organization will also need to make sure the page looks good on mobile where most people will interact.

Messaging is much simpler. The message and response is the email, page and webform all rolled into one interaction – simple and elegant.

This NPS idea is obvious, but it’s not my favorite use case. There is a clear and more valuable example – direct response from media. Suppose an organization buys a TV commercial or a podcast/radio ad and we wants people to sign up for their service. In the commercial the call to action will tell people to go to the URL where the webpage will collect information and turn the visitor into a lead.
Let’s examine this flow

The first issue is that the user might not have their computer next to them. If the target visits the webpage on their phone, they are 50%-70% less likely to convert. Seriously!?!? If the desktop conversion rate is 15% the mobile conversion rate will be between 5%-7.%

Pro tip: Many organizations don’t even track their desktop conversion rate vs. the mobile conversion rate. As more (most) traffic is mobile, this is definitely something that organizations should take a look at.

Even when an organization does a great job converting page visitors, no one is converting the majority of visitors. But people came to the page because they were somewhat interested. Now they are gone. The only way to get them back is to buy another ad and hope they see it again.

Messaging addresses both of the above issues and more. When the organization includes a text call to action, such as Text SIGNUP to 12345, more people will text in than will visit the URL. The value of messaging and response in this scenario is to ask the person to reply with their email address. Convert the user in a conversation rather than driving them to a page. When someone text in and is asked for their email address the average response rate is 80%.

Pro tip: Text messaging is the way to create mobile “visitors”.

There’s more. As soon as the target texts in, they are subscribed to the mobile opt-in list. If they don’t provide their email immediately the organization can reach out and ask again.

This idea of getting more people to start a conversion funnel and provide data like email is a core use case for the messaging channel and we’ll be discussing this in much more detail. We went a little deeper than response being the messaging super power, but that’s ok. This is important.

If you can think about messaging as a response channel, you’re thinking about messaging at a deeper level than your competition. Most people just think about messaging reach and open rates. Although reach and read are outstanding metrics they miss the point. Messaging isn’t a great channel for impressions, there are cheaper and better ways to get eyeballs. There is no cheaper or better way to get response, engagement or conversion – especially on mobile.

Ep 50: Does Size Matter? Longcodes vs Shortcodes in Text Messaging Campaigns

For organizations doing SMS, the default approach should be using a short code. The entire short code ecosystem was created to cater to organization text messaging rather than individuals. Short codes have specific benefits around messaging throughput, deliverability and stability of the channel. If your organization is using a short code, you can be reasonably certain that the short code will work. The same cannot be said of long codes – they are less reliable.

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If you’re a brand, non-profit or business, use a long code unless you have a specific reason not to.

The downside of dealing with short codes is all of the process around them. Whereas long codes are cheap and can be setup in minutes, a short code is costly, requires an application and can take a long time to be set up. In the US, all short codes are acquired from the Short Code Registry. Even if your vendor/partner is providing the short code, at some point they are dealing with the registry.

Once a shortcode is leased from the short code registry, it needs to be provisioned. This process connects the shortcode to the carrier networks. Provisioning is done by aggregators, which are the hosting companies in the SMS space. Getting the shortcode provisioned takes a lot longer than one would like, 8-12 weeks. In the application it’s possible to specify what organization is leasing the code and there can also be a different organization that manages the code. So a vendor should be able to easily help with the application. The applicant also shares some information as to the type of messaging campaigns they plan to run. Pro Tip: Messaging can be a dynamic channel so it’s best to share very broad use cases on the application.

Pro Tip: Most organizations will have a vendor involved in their messaging programs. Have the vendor help procure the short code.

Expected Cost and Timeline: Short codes cost about a thousand dollars per month, but can vary depending on a few variables. Once the application is submitted an organization can expect 8-12 weeks before the application is approved and the short code can launch. In an annoying detail, an organization needs to license the short code before submitting the application. So essentially there is a $3,000 setup cost and a 3 month timeline before a short code can launch.

If this sounds like a dealbreaker, don’t worry. Soon we’re going to explore more options regarding short codes.

Episode 48: The Chat Bubble is back!

The Chat Bubble is back with a new spin. We’re going to publish regular episodes that focus more on education explaining how messaging works as a communication and marketing channel for organizations.

This episode focuses on the basic pitch – how to explain messaging and why it’s interesting for business & non-profits to investigate the channel.

We briefly touch on the big news this week that Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram messaging will merge.

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The Facebook Apocalypse

It’s been a bumping road for Facebook and anyone working in their ecosystem. Here are my thoughts on what happened and where all of this will lead.

Facebook is back, approving new apps! So it appears that things will be back to normal soon.


Set the stage: Set the stage: –

Facebook is not launching/approving new apps.
Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress.
#delete_facebook is a thing

My take:
Yes Facebook is agressive.
They are going to come out of the sitation in a very good place.
Huge misunderstanding about the situation.
The data that was swept is FB Likes. Not personal information.
What CA did with the data — imagine what FB can do with the data.
FB might get penalized, but this proves the value of their asset.

Essentially nothing happens, maybe some small regulation.
More importantly for people working with FB Messenger, I think that FB Messenger Apps will be getting reviewed again by F8 or before – May 1-2. (and apps being reopened was announced the day I recorded this episode).

It’s not the most fun thing to talk about, but let’s dig a little into how the FB setup and approval process works. It’s confusing and there are a lot of misconceptions.
FB Page + FB App + Platform
Logo, Privacy Policy, ToS
Approval – Messaging & Subscriptions
Big shift coming from approving apps to approving pages. Part of real policy enforcement efforts.

Messenger Platform 2.3 Release

The last few episodes focused on SMS. This episode we are going to snap back into the FB Messenger world in a big way. Today we’ll talk about new features that Facebook released, and we’ll get into a big permission update included in the Messenger platform 2.3 release. But before we get into that, as always if you have feedback, questions or comments, the best way to get in touch is to send a Message to the podcast FB Page – Open Facebook Messenger….

Back to Messenger Platform 2.3

First off, I love what the FB team is doing here. The innovation is incredibly fast and this is really the first time that I’ve gotten to know a development platform so well. It’s hard to keep up with all the new releases. Let’s look at what’s new

First up -Quick Replies with contact information. A lot of the campaigns that I build for organizations start with data acquisition. Typically how that goes is the user starts the conversation and the Page sends a Message that asks the user to respond with their email address typically. The user responds with their email and then the next message happens.

We see really high response rates. Once the conversation starts, we generally expect to see 50% or higher conversion rate for email collection. It’s actually much harder to start the conversation than it is to collect an email address.

With this new feature, Facebook is juicing this use case. So a bot can send a message that asks the user to reply with their email. Facebook will then show a user a button, with thier email address entered. All the user needs to do is push that button and their email will be messaged into the page. So instead of the user typing their email, Facebook auto-fills for a one-click experience. Facebook will also do this with the user’s phone number – so they will show the user a button where they can click and send in their number.

It’s pretty cool and it really validates a use case that I’ve been focusing on for a long time. But there might be a downside.

First of all, when you ask the user to send in their email address, the results are good. Almost always 50% or higher. Notably, asking the user for their phone number performs much worse. I believe that we saw about 24% conversion rate when we asked the user for their phone number so that we could text them. It’s still really good, and the cost per phone number was amazing, but just a big dip compared to email.

I guess the point I’m making is that I don’t know if typing the email or phone is friction that actually slows people down, or if they just don’t want to give the info. It will take some testing to see if there’s a difference, so it’s really about launching these quick replies and seeing how well they convert.

There is a bigger question though, is how good is this Facebook data? People signed up for Facebook years ago, and Facebook basically keeps you logged in forever. So the question is whether people still use the email or phone that they gave to Facebook when they signed up or if they have moved on. The reason this is a concern is that I’ve heard that data that Facebook shares in lead ads, doesn’t perform that well.

A lead ad is a type of Facebook Ad where FB autofills the email, name and phone number in a webform. It’s the same data that Facebook is autofilling here. The lead ads convert well, so clickers convert into emails, but I’m not sure if those emails perform up to par. Or to think about it another way, asking the user to type in their is effort, and that might actually prove to be a good signal that the user actually wants to give their email address – and make those typed in emails worth more. I’ve heard both very good and very bad things about the Lead Ad data – so again, we just need to test. Either way, this data autofill is a cool feature.

The next feature in 2.3 release is Customization for the Customer Chat Plugin. I usually call this the web chat plugin – it seems to have a lot of different names. This was a pretty cool feature release in the Fall. Anyone with a Facebook Page and a FB Messenger App can install some code on their website, and on the bottom right of a webpage, the Messenger icon appears. It shows a greeting, like “Click here to chat” and when a visitor clicks it opens a little messaging window and starts a conversation via messenger that is showing on the webpage. Previously, to start a conversation with a FB Page, the user needed to go to the FB Page, or open Messenger and talk to the Page that way. Now it’s possible to start a conversation from the website – but still have the conversation in Messenger.

Why is that cool? Well, this idea of live chat on the site has been a big trend. There are companies that do just that. The problem with traditional live chat (now that FB Messenger is here) is that traditional live chat lives in the browser. So a user can be in the chat while they’re on the page, but if they leave the page, the chat – the connection also ends. With FB Messenger, once they start the chat, the website has connected to them on Messenger. So even when the visitor closes the page, they still have Messenger on their phone. The website can respond the next day and the user will get that message.

All of this changes the dynamic of how live website webchat can work. When you have live chat, it needs to be staffed. If a visitor chats, doesn’t get a response and leaves they are gone for good. With Messenger, a connection has been established with the person, not just their page session. It’s possible to respond instantly with some automation and the Page can follow up directly in the future.

Anyways, this plugin was released in November, and we’re just starting to see it appear on websites. With the new release it’s possible to customize the greeting that the user sees. I believe the default is something like, “Click here to chat”, but now the page can say anything they’d like to frame the conversation.

The results I’ve seen from the web chat plugin have been so so, but it’s all going to depend on how much traffic the site has.

The BIG BIG announcement with this platform release(and I wouldn’t call it a feature) is a policy change and a break notice. The break notice means that it’s really important. This change will break existing apps or bots. This change requires a lot of background so hang tight. And if this is confusing, please message in any questions.

The way to set up a Messenger interaction, or bot, is through a Facebook App. So the brand has a Facebook Page of course – that’s where the user is sending their message. There will be a platform or system that manages the automation – like a 3rd party bot builder. And then there is a Facebook app that connects to both the Facebook Page and the bot builder platform.

Before launch, in the FB App we need to submit for approval from Facebook. There are two types of approval. The First is called Pages_messaging approval – this is the name FB uses. With this approval, Facebook is checking that the automation works. So they will test it, they send a message in and make sure they get a message back. Once approved the Page can launch their interaction, but only immediate messaging is allowed. When a user messages in, the page can respond.

There is a second type of approval called pages_subscription_messaging. Again, these are Facebook terms. Subscription approval is exaclty like it sounds. This approval is needed to send broadcast messages that happen outside of the scenario where the user has just messaged in.

Let’s add a little more detail. The first approval, pages_messaging gives the bot a 24 hour window to message the user after the user sends a message in. The bot can send any message it likes in that window – specifically there can be marketing or promotional messages. With the second approval, pages_subscription, the Page can send a message outside of the 24 hour window. The critical criteria is that Facebook explicitly does not allow broadcast messages to be marketing or promotional messages. In fact they only allow a few use cases – news alerts, productivity and personal tracking.

Alright, hopefully you’re following so far.

Now, when the Messenger Platform launched, a bunch of companies popped up that all called themselves the easiest way to build a Facebook bot. If the promise to the user is super fast setup, you can’t really ask the user to submit and wait for Facebook approval. So these companies would build a single Facebook App, get it approved for both the instant messages and subscription and then they would use this single app and approval to allow multiple customers to all use the same app and send both instant and broadcast messages.

The big change that Facebook announced is that messaging approvals will now happen at the page level – not the app level. So every page that wants to send messages needs approval and a single app cannot work for multiple pages. From the language, it appears that every FB Page that launched on Messenger, but did not get their own approval, will need to submit the page for approval and need to get it to keep running. It’s kind of a big deal – I do individual apps and approvals for each client and it’s definitely a process.

Why did Facebook do this? Here is my guess.

The first approval for instant messaging is pretty easy and straightforward. The second approval for subscriptions and broadcasts is much trickier. Facebook only allows a few use cases and specifically not marketing or promotional messages. The reason FB doesn’t allow for marketing or promotional broadcasts, is because they have a new ad called sponsored messages. If a Page wants to send a marketing broadcast, they pay Facebook to send a Sponsored Message.

Real quick aside, a sponsored message is an ad where Facebook will basically send a message only to people that have previously messaged into the FB Page. So basically, once someone messages in to the FB Page, that channel is now open to communicate with the user. If it’s a non-promotional use case, then the messaging can be free. If it’s a promotional use case, then the Page pays Facebook.

Currently we have these bot builder platforms that include the subscription messaging for customers by default. These customers never got approved and most of these customers don’t fully understand that marketing messages aren’t allowed. Some bot builder platforms actually promoting marketing broadcasts which is a clear violation. Facebook seemed to let it go, and my guess is that the Sponsored Message product wasn’t ready for prime time. But now sponsored messages have arrived and Facebook is starting to enforce their broadcast policy.

This will be a big reckoning for pages that think they’ve built a marketing automation list on Messenger and the rug is totally going to get pulled out from under them. It will most likely be a big hit to FAcebook’s numbers as well. But I think it’s a situation where they’ve grown the space for 2.5 years, and now they are going to test monotizing.

Either way, there are a lot of developers in the FB forums that have been complaining about pages that are cheating – sending marketing broadcasts. So it’s good that Facebook is enforcing their rules and leveling the playing field. We’ll see how this all goes.

That’s the big news. Thanks for listening.