Of all the arrivals on the social media scene, few have caused as much hubbub as the micro-blogging/link-sharing/abbreviated-message-spamming/blue-bird-mascotted site Twitter. “We are the generation of Social Media. Our biggest Revolution is a Tweet of 141 Characters,” writes author Sandra Chami Kassis. Consultant and tech guru Alec Ross notes, “If Paul Revere had been a modern day citizen, he wouldn’t have ridden down Main Street. He would have tweeted.” It’s easy to see where he’s coming from.
Social media played a major rule during the uprisings in the Middle East that came to be known as the Arab Spring, and the University of Southern California’s International Journal of Communication even published a scholarly paper soon after entitled “The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions.” Such acclaims have made experts wonder: Could Twitter have surmounted SMS as the short-message service of choice for most people?
That question makes perfect sense when you consider the similarities between the two platforms. SMS allows for 160-character messages; Twitter lets you fire off tweets of 140 characters. Both are accessible on smartphones. Both allow you to target large groups or a single individual. But the differences start piling up pretty quickly after that, and at first glance, they appear to give a definitely advantage to the blue bird.
Twitter easily reaches desktops and laptops. (SMS may require a little bit of futzing depending on your particular combination of hardware and software.) Twitter allows attractive sharing of all sorts of multimedia. (SMS’s technical limitations mean that sent links don’t get the same pretty thumbnails.) Twitter has no up-front costs. (Even the most frugal SMS campaigns incur some small expense.) And Twitter has panache. (Sadly, some view SMS as very old hat.)
But don’t write off the humble text message just yet! Twitter may seem shiny, but SMS has it where it counts. Just consider the character limits. As abbreviated as SMS is (a factor some consider a negative), Twitter trims that space even more. Reach matters, too. According to one source, Twitter boasts 317 million monthly active users, but there are more mobile devices worldwide than people, the vast majority of which can receive SMS messages.
And just as important as the breadth of one’s audience is the ability to segment it. Marketers can’t control who they market to on Twitter. Once users follow you, there’s no way to organize your communications based on variables such as age, sex, and geographical location. But with SMS, users pre-screen themselves thanks to opt-in requirements, making market segmentation and campaign scalability far easier.
The issue of audience openness to marketing messages deserves special emphasis. Simply put, Twitter users don’t exactly welcome promotional pushes with open arms. A 2009 study by Pear Analytics about the content of Twitter messages discovered that most people used the service for—and I quote— “pointless babble” (40.55 percent), followed closely by conversational exchanges (37.55 percent). Self promotion (5.85 percent) and news (3.60 percent) lagged far, far behind. SMS users, though, want your marketing. They’ve even gone so far as to voluntarily provide their personal information to you.
Yes, Twitter’s powder-blue birdie has soared high indeed, and good for it. The San Francisco-based service works stupendously in its own narrow niche. But when it comes to connecting with potential and ongoing customers, SMS is the tech that truly has the wind beneath its wings.