Texting 101: The Guide to Understanding Business Text Messaging
You might think you already have a good understanding of text messaging. After all, who doesn't know how to send a text message these days? That being said, business text messaging is a lot more complex. Do you know the difference between a short-code and a long-code? Did you know that you can text from a toll-free number? Do you know the costs, restrictions, and legal risks of each of these methods? When I say business text messaging, I'm not simply referring to how employees communicate with customers or leverage text as a marketing tool. Keep reading, and we'll answer the questions above and help you understand when and where to use text messaging as part of an overall communication strategy.
Aren't all text messages the same?
Yes and no. At a basic level, text messages are delivered to mobile phones, tablets, desktops/laptops, or other devices. They can also be sent over a cellular network or an Internet connection. Messages have also evolved beyond SMS (short messages) to now include MMS (multimedia messages).
The method in which text messages are delivered is where they differ. Each method has restrictions that you should be aware of when selecting the right solution for your business.
The method most familiar to people is long code texting or basically texting over a standard local phone number. While local numbers are widely available and easily recognized, they have limitations that can impact business usage. The biggest restriction a business should be aware of; delivery is limited to 100 msgs/hour and 500 msgs/day. Carriers highly restrict local number texting to prevent marketing spam. Simply put, local number texting is not meant for business usage, but rather personal communications.
The second method is short-code texting. Short-codes are often associated with automated services to deliver mass messages to thousands of recipients. There aren't really delivery limits on short-codes, but the numbers are expensive to lease and providers often share numbers among all their customers. Our own short code service uses 292929 with each customer having a unique keyword. While this is very effective for delivering urgent messages to many contacts at once, it isn't good for managing individual replies or conversations with customers. In "short" (sorry for the bad pun) it's good for marketing and mass messaging scenarios.
The final method, and also the newest, is toll-free texting. This is a hybrid model of short-codes and long-codes, the best of both worlds. Toll-free texting isn't as restricted as long-codes but is better for conversational texting than short-codes. Additionally, toll-free numbers carry an immediate association with business and are much less expensive than short-codes.
There are also systems that let you text by tapping into mobile carriers email systems. You simply type your message in an email and then send it to an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org and the message will be delivered to that Verizon user. However, these systems are unreliable and dependent on you knowing the mobile carrier of the contact.
What are the real costs of business text messaging?
There is an endless supply of text messaging providers available to businesses. Like most services on the web today, digging through the fine print to uncover hidden fees and charges can make it challenging to determine the real costs involved. Here's a quick breakdown of pricing models you will likely come across.
- Monthly w/Unlimited ($90/month with unlimited msgs)
- Monthly w/Set Messages ($49/month for 2000 msgs)
- Monthly w/Unlimited Messages to Some Contacts ($35/month for unlimited msgs to 100 contacts)
- Pay As You Go (5 cents per msg)
- Customized Packages (submit a quote)
Beware of "unlimited" plans over long-codes. As mentioned above, long codes are restricted so these aren't truly unlimited. Additionally, you should also be on the lookout for hidden charges. Many service providers charge additional fees for extra features, additional users, and premium support. Not to mention a whole host of services that lock you into long-term contracts with fluffy SLA's (service level agreements) that bosses tend to love, but provide very little real value.
What Should Businesses Know About Texting Services?
No matter how good the service, downtime is unavoidable. Almost all service providers rely on aggregators and mobile carriers to deliver messages - in addition, the service providers application is a factor. So inevitably, equipment fails, the API goes down, or a car crashes into a utility pole - and it's a domino effect that results in your messages not going out.
The network isn't perfect and messages don't always get delivered, especially in rural areas. The FCC is aware of known issues in rural America that result in undelivered messages.
You don't have to send a text message from a mobile phone. It's now possible to text enable a landline phone. This means you can enable texting on your existing business phone number and send/receive messages from a website interface.
Transparency, simplicity, and support are really important. Many of the businesses that use a mass texting service rely on it to deliver critical messages. Emergency notifications during severe weather are just one example. It's absolutely critical that a business evaluate beyond just cost, and look for a partner who understands their industry, is transparent about their service, offers a simple to use service, and makes support one of their highest priorities.
Longevity & technology. How long has the provider been in business? Do they have an open API with integrations? Is the user interface simple?
There are endless factors that go into choosing the right service provider, and only you can determine the right fit for your business.
How Should a Business Leverage Texting?
This can be a really tricky question. There are well-defined regulations and legal risks that businesses should be aware of related to text messaging. While businesses should understand these issues, common sense should be your guide. Don't send messages to people who don't want them, or people you don't have a relationship with. If you want to succeed with texting you should focus on providing meaningful content to your contacts. Nobody likes spam and you should be sure to follow a responsible use policy like ours.
Used responsibly, texting can be a great tool for any business. You've likely seen some amazing texting stats that show just how effective texting can be. As a general rule, if your message isn't urgent and isn't easily delivered in a couple of sentences - you shouldn't be sending it as a text.
Texting is a great way for businesses to deliver important messages, announcements, and reminders. Think about how you communicate with email, over the phone, and via regular mail. What scenarios might be better served with a brief text message?
Don't Ignore Replies
You wouldn't ignore a voicemail message, so don't ignore replies to your text messages. This is a bigger problem when you're sending out mass text messages, but can quickly turn into a major headache when not managed. Having an opt-out system isn't enough. You should be looking for better opt-out solutions.
In summary, texting might not be as simple as you thought. This is where we come in. Call-Em-All offers mass texting via both short-codes and toll-free numbers. We also offer texting over long-codes. More importantly, we've got you covered on the voice broadcasting side and our customer experience team is the absolute best.
Ron Kinkade is the Director of Marketing at Call-Em-All, an automated calling and group texting company that provides solutions for small and medium sized businesses, large corporations, membership organizations, community groups, and individuals. Ron has more than 15 years of experience with a proven track record of success. Ron is a graduate of Illinois State University.