Is SMS the Future of Digital Communications?

February 08, 2017

As we get saturated with more and more inbound messages every day, what’s the best way for organizations to break through the clutter?

Nonprofits traditionally use email marketing and direct mail, but a growing number are turning to text message marketing (SMS or “short message service”) to enhance their communications.

But how do know whether SMS marketing is right for you? We’ve put together this quick FAQ to help you decide.

What are the benefits of using SMS?

While a 20-22 percent open rate is about average for an email, text messages boast a whopping 98 percent average open rate, with a typical click through rate of 30-40 percent. Think about it: While an email might languish in your inbox for days, we bet you read every text message you get. In fact, the average response time to a text is 90 seconds.

What are the drawbacks?

People are used to receiving marketing messaging through their emails. Text message marketing can feel more intrusive. Many people are much more judicious about giving out their cell phone number, so it can be harder to develop your list.

How can you build your list?

Consent is key, so you need to provide an easy way to opt-in to receiving messages. The easiest way to do this is simply collect them through a sign-up form on your website. You can also set up a code people can text a short number in order to opt-in.  But to build your SMS list you must tell people—often and everywhere—that you have this option. That means frequent mentions on social media, in your enewsletters, maybe even in your email signatures.

Who does SMS reach?

Texting is one of the most prevalent cell phone activities.  According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Internet & American Life Project Survey, fully 81% of cell owners text.  It is especially popular among younger adults, the college-educated, and those living in higher-income households.

How is SMS being used by nonprofits?

Many nonprofits are getting creative with SMS. Texting can be very effective as an advocacy tool, particularly in GOTV and voter registration efforts, but also in asking people to take action by calling or writing to legislators. It can also be used for fundraising, including crowdfunding. Some organizations use a live chat function to act as a hotline for youth in need of assistance.

What are some best practices?

Much like email, segmentation is key to being strategic and effective in your SMS marketing. Not every message is going to be relevant to your whole list, so you need to gain data on your audience to smartly target them. Another best practice is to test everything. Subdivide your list and test different messages with a small percentage. See which one gets the best result, then use that one with the largest list.

What are the different systems and how much do they cost?

There are many different systems, but most of the major ones marketed to nonprofits are a significant investment. They tend to be focused on yearly contracts, so it makes the most sense if you feel you’ll have an ongoing need, but we also found that there’s lots of room to negotiate to make sure the plan is right for your needs.

Looking to integrate SMS into your digital strategy? The Hatcher Group can help you use SMS to succeed in your next campaign. Get in touch!