SMS: The Center of the Social Media Universe


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Most social media and networking articles focus on how SMS can be used by consumers to generate a buzz amongst their friends. They talk about the various tools available without demonstrating how they begin the discussion with the members of their communities. They particularly don’t talk enough about how texts can be sent to initiate viral marketing activities within this space. I think this would be a very powerful mobile marketing strategy. But you need to know your audience well in order to activate them.

A question of ownership?

One question remains, do you have to own a community to take advantage of such a strategy as this? Advertising may be increasingly accepted in communities like You Tube, but mobile consumers find it hard to accept blatant advertising on their phones. Although most mobile phones can now accept MMS messages, the majority of people still use SMS and most of them are between the ages of 18-35. So the types of content that will get them talking to their friends, which may include either a coupon (perhaps offering discount to a pop concert) or a less explicit promotional message, is perhaps likely to get them talking.

As marketers we should just be sitting on the sidelines watching them send messages to each other, we should be involved and part of that conversation. Yes we want them to send text messages about our products and companies to their friends and colleagues, but why not seed that conversation too? For instance you could send an SMS which says, “Welcome to Bar Paradise. This is your VIP pass. Show this message to get two free beers. Perhaps your friends would like to come along too?”

Viral: Invaluable business

There are good commercial reasons for guiding the dialogue towards viral marketing. Informa, for example, says that the mobile social networking market is worth US $3.45bn. Laura Mazur suggested in The Marketer’s November 2005 edition that the division between the techniques used for building brands and ‘responsive media’ are disappearing. James Kelly, a senior executive of the Direct Marketing Association commented in her article, ‘The Direct Approach’, about the power of SMS:

“This is a very, very personal form of direct media and is increasingly successful because the messages are always read. If you think that 90% of the population have mobiles, the reach is exceptional. We are currently seeing SMS campaigns being used for all sorts of things: acquisition, retention, customer service and relationship management.”

The big advertisers are getting in on the act; their communications are aimed at brand-building – a prime direct marketing activity. A growing number of people are also turning off their TVs, and getting involved more with online media and online or mobile social networking. Today’s environment is very much about media integration. Therefore the statistics for mobile phone ownership, and apparently most of us have a least two handsets, highlight the potential for exploiting and nurturing this upwards trend.

SMS contrasted with MMS

In contrast to SMS, Nick Fuller, Chair of the DMA’s Mobile Marketing Council, talks about another example using MMS messages:

“In South Korea (a country with the world’s highest penetration of 3G), Cyworld is an amazing success with 43 million users (an estimated 90 per cent of the country’s youth)”, he says before adding, ‘It’s a combination of the established elements of social networking ( i.e. picture and video sharing, personal profiles, blogging, dating, virtual rooms and environments, and downloadable content sales). Significantly, it is not just used by teens – there are communities of parents and even politicians; these communities have their own economy like Second Life online.”

When is viral most effective?

The viral aspect of this is most effective when the products is simple, the message is obvious, targets a group with common interests, it is trendy and encourages natural groupings, and it is instantaneous. What can be more instantaneous than receiving a text message that begins a series of conversations? It is also a low cost way of delivering advertising, with limitless scope, contemporaneous in that the recipients will pass it onto their on own contacts, and it won’t end until the target audience has been fully addressed. SMS is said to be particularly effective with women.

The components involve establishing the target audience, the means of delivery (SMS, email, instant messaging, MMS, web etc.), how the viral mechanism is expect to work, how the data is to be collated and how the campaign is tracked. The real key to the success of social media is based upon volumes of users. SMS should and could surely be an effective tool at the centre of this universe. It shouldn’t be just about people receiving alerts every time a new post has been made between community members, brands should also be joining the party to spread the word, and perhaps by using SMS campaigns as the main vehicle for dialogue and viral marketing. Is it time to Twitter about it, and not just sit back to let it happen?

By Lee Bowden,
Director, Piri Ltd

Email: [email protected]

Graham Jarvis, MA
Media-Insert Communications
Graham Jarvis, M.A., is a former Guest Editor of what is today, - formerly BT Insightexec. He has edited publications such as TheWhereBusiness, and MforMobile. He is a business and technology journalist, with years of experience of writing about CRM, I.T, marketing and customer management.


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