The Difference: SMS versus Twitter

Bryce MarshallOne of my prevailing themes on The Lunch Pail is untangling marketer confusion within the very broad topic of "mobile marketing."
One source of confusion - perhaps we can call it a "misconception" - is common enough to address here in detail. Many marketers misunderstand, or do not see a distinction between, the micro-blogging social media platform Twitter and permission opt-in text message marketing through SMS.
Here is what we often hear from marketers suffering this misunderstanding:

“Twitter is text messages, right? And since it’s free, I think we should dip our toe in the ‘mobile marketing’ waters here first. If it works, maybe we’ll consider creating a budget for opt-in SMS marketing.”

The misconception is simply that Twitter is a viable replacement for opt-in SMS text message marketing. Or, that the benefits of “free” far outweigh the potential benefits of anything you have to pay for.
However, please consider two very critical areas where Twitter falls short as an SMS-marketing replacement (even if it is free, for now):

Twitter is not mobile marketing

Some Twitter users leverage their mobile devices, enabling tweets to be forwarded to their mobile devices as SMS. But many do not. And if they are receiving SMS text messages from Twitter it may be for select members only – primarily close friends. On the other side of the spectrum, a group of followers may be following one business’ tweets in addition to hundreds of other brands and marketers with all of the tweets stacking up in a web queue. So, for all of those followers, how many are receiving and reading marketing messages at the intended time and place? In a lot of circumstances, tweeting will not classify as mobile marketing either in the technical sense of being accessed on a mobile device, or in the spirit of mobile marketing which is designed to leverage timeliness and location to make a marketing impact.

Twitter is not database or direct digital marketing

Twitter is not database marketing and please do not let anyone argue that it is. Twitter followers do not represent a marketing database in any respect, not like the opt-in database of mobile phone numbers you can gain with savvy SMS marketing. Twitter followers are fans and perhaps loyalists, but they are not individually addressable in a scalable way. Marketers are unable to gather additional data points such as a location, product preference, or purchase history and layer these attributes to create more comprehensive follower profiles. Marketers cannot segment and target your tweets based on these attributes, as is possible with SMS marketing. Marketers cannot personalize in any scalable way. Marketers cannot insert dynamic text in a message, or have the user click thru to a personalized mobile web page with a targeted offer or generate a unique barcode for in-store redemption, or track an individual user’s preferences, activity, and behavior.

Twitter, and any form of social media, definitely has a role in a direct digital marketing tactical plan. However, marketers must be diligent about understanding that different roles exist for different applications.

Let’s compare how these benefits break down.

SMS is more targeted, timely, and provides a broad array of useful, automated, interactive touchpoints:

  • Timely and targeted offers drive purchases, move foot traffic, and influence purchase decisions at the point of sale.
  • Provide helpful information on-demand by using Web services and APIs hat query online applications for information like store locations or shipping status notifications.

Twitter can support promotional messaging and drive foot traffic, but is excellent for achieving larger branding, positioning and PR goals:

  • Help establish key terms and positioning points for the business with hashtags, tapping into the power of trending topics and searches.
  • Build a network of fans, loyalists, and advocates who help distribute a message through the social network. ReTweets!
  • Twitter is a better channel for establishing and honing a brand personality because of the highly social, discussion-based nature of the application.

While Twitter definitely has a place in a tactical game plan, please do not fall victim to the misconception that opt-in SMS text message marketing is somehow obsolete.

Bryce recently published a white paper called, Making Sense of Mobile Marketing. Download it for free! Read his new follow up article to the Making Sense series called Making Sense of Mobile Tagging.

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  1. Posted December 2, 2009 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your article. You brought up a lot of points and I see the distinction. Very informative. Thank you.

    • Posted December 2, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the comment, Keri. Stay tuned for an article from Bryce about this topic in a forthcoming issue of iMedia Connection.

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