What’s the hot new messaging app that all the kids are using? Can WhatsApp keep its credibility after its multi-billion dollar acquisition by Facebook? Has Snapchat reached its popularity peak? What’s the buzz on Telegram? If you’re over the age of twenty-five, you can be forgiven for feeling lost and adrift on a sea of instant messaging platforms. With so many competing services to choose from – each with their own functionalities, communities, etiquettes and more – how can businesses choose the right messaging platform for their needs?
The services mentioned above, along with dozens of competing Instant Messaging [IM] apps, all provide potentially useful communications functions. Yet in spite of their hundreds of millions of users and the billions of messages that they send every day, these platforms are often a poor method for organisations to engage with a wide public audience.
“Sometimes, text messages can literally save the day”
Primarily designed for consumers, IM apps do not lend themselves well to external marketing, promotions or customer communications. That’s because, far more often than not, they are peer-to-peer apps, only accessible to closed groups online. Exclusive by nature, they require direct person-to-person relationships. Facebook Messenger, for example, might have the potential to reach more than half of the world’s online population, but requires an organisation to befriend every person it wishes to message. That’s simply not practicable, unless your audience numbers in the dozens.
Tempting as it may be for a business to adopt the latest hot messaging platform, I’d argue in favour of a more traditional technology which, because it dates from the latter part of the last century. 3rd December 1992 to be exact, is sometimes dismissed as irrelevant and ‘uncool – the humble text message [SMS].
There’s a reason why the most modern mobile devices still feature SMS as an integral function, as important to today’s iPhone 5S as it was to the Nokia 3310. It’s because text messaging is a venerable, but tried-and-tested, technology. It’s familiar to every mobile user, it is a quick, reliable and low-cost way for businesses to reach large numbers of people on their database in a non-intrusive way.
The other great virtues of SMS are its versatility and simplicity. If it is undertaken correctly – and by this, I mean communicating in a way that is sensitive to the needs of its audience – there is very little that text messaging cannot achieve.
SMS helps ensure peace of mind when undertaking online payments. Witness how banks and other financial services providers use texts to send one-time passwords for transaction verification. It is swift and reliable, which is why companies use it to keep customers updated with information on service delivery. It’s almost infinitely scalable, as illustrated by retailers who send promotions via text message to large audiences. At the same time, it can be highly personal – just look at doctors’ surgeries or small businesses that use SMS to remind you about your appointment, or to let you know that an item is ready for collection.
Sometimes, text messages can literally save the day. The organisers of the Castle Triathlon Series use SMS to enable participants to register and to receive live updates on weather conditions, start times and directions. At one of its events, many attendees were having major difficulties finding the venue, which was so rural as to be beyond the capabilities of their satnavs. As soon as the problem became apparent, SMS messages were dispatched to give them the exact directions to their race starting point.
It’s difficult to see any of the Instant Messaging apps seriously competing with the manifold capabilities of SMS. That is not to denigrate the likes of Skype, Kik and Facebook Messenger; they are all fantastic at what they do for personal communications. But for business communications, the right tool for the job is the pervasive, unheralded, old school but unsurpassed SMS messaging technology of the late twentieth century.