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11 SMS Best Practices

  |  February 24, 2012   |  Comments

SMS is the universal mobile app. Done well, it delivers bright brand touch points.

I have written about SMS best practices before, but with a little more experience, it's time to issue a more comprehensive update. Let's dive in.

  1. Provide above-and-beyond value. Don't give me offers and information I can find in your email/print/store/site. My phone is a part of me, and text messages are reserved for my inner circle. If I let you in, make it worthwhile.
  2. Consider the conversation. You're very good at figuring out what you want from me. What might I want from you? What useful information can you provide to me in response to a keyword? Customer service is one of the best uses of SMS.
  3. Do not disturb. I'm a sound sleeper, but the sound of a new text message wakes me every time. It better not be a commercial message or I will be very unhappy. Don't send after 9 p.m. or before 11 a.m. to avoid aggravating night owls and early risers. Request time zone information and send your SMS in waves.
  4. Timing is critical. The "when" in the mobile mantra is very important: I want what I want when I want it. Send when I am most likely to be in the mindset to buy from you, e.g., just before/during prime shopping times for retailers. Tap your mobile site/app usage times for intelligence and test.
  5. Provide value first, capture personally-identifiable information (PII) second. You may not know anything about me other than my phone number and desire to receive your SMS messages. You can gain data along the way (e.g., time zone), but don't make data capture your primary objective. Intersperse data capture requests with high value messages.
  6. Monitor opt-outs per send. To gauge content value, calculate the opt-out/delivered for each outbound campaign. Compile the percentages in a spreadsheet and learn from those with rates above and below your average.
  7. Have your trigger ready. Do not begin to collect SMS numbers on your website until you can send an immediate confirmation to the subscriber's phone. If it follows weeks or months later, I may no longer be interested and you will lose a significant portion of your reach.
  8. Gather preferences at opt-in. On your full site opt-in page, request all the critical information and permissions you will need. Request time zone/Zip code (see No. 3 and No. 4 above), critical segmentation data, and specific program permissions. If you add programs down the road, you will need to get new permissions, so the more comprehensive you can be at the outset, the fewer subscribers you will lose as your program expands.
  9. Consider the total mobile user experience. All web interactions linked to SMS must be available on your mobile site or pages that are optimized for mobile. Don't send me something I have to print or go to email to retrieve. If I have to enter information, consider using a login with Facebook, which makes it easy for me and gives you a wealth of data. Consider all the data, but remember: if you overreach, I will drop out.
  10. Collaborate to get the best content. Find out what other departments are developing so you can deliver the best of the best to your customers - a great video on YouTube, a giveaway on Facebook, an event, or a VIP opportunity. Additional benefits include accolades from your colleagues, who appreciate the extra reach SMS delivers.
  11. Move to a numeric vanity short code. It's OK to start with a shared short code, but if you want to have a robust program, get your own. When you share a code, you share keywords, so a stop text unsubscribes an individual from all programs. Brief, logical, common keywords get used up quickly. Vanity short codes represent a commitment to a great program, and if you don't have that, you can't succeed (see No. 1). Remember that most users aren't texting on a telephone keyboard, so the digits that spell out a name are far less useful than an easy-to-remember number, such as 12121 or 88888.

SMS is the universal mobile app - virtually every cellphone owner can receive it. Done well, it delivers bright brand touch points. Done poorly, it delivers aggravation. Follow these best practices and do it well!


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Melinda Krueger

Melinda Krueger is a senior marketing consultant with ExactTarget and a digital marketing veteran – starting with direct, moving to interactive, specializing in e-mail, and now charting a course for mobile marketing. Working with the best agencies in the business, she has helped Harley-Davidson, Miller Brewing, Sears/Kmart, CDW, and many others build their interactive marketing programs. Melinda holds an MBA from Marquette University and is a highly-rated speaker for professional organizations and business schools. As the Email Diva, Melinda answered questions on all aspects of the practice. Your questions about mobile are welcome!

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