The Difference: SMS vs. Twitter

Updated: February 01, 2010

Twitter is not mobile marketing
Many marketers operate under a fundamental misconception about Twitter, confusing the 140-character text limit for tweets as being the hallmark of mobile or SMS marketing. Sure, the 140-character limit on tweets is there in part to ensure they can be created and delivered as SMS messages. But this does not mean that tweets are SMS.

Some Twitter users have tweets delivered as SMS messages, but many do not. The 140-character limit for tweets simply ensures the content is always small bites of information, quickly digested, and very disposable. This does not necessarily mean the content is consumed through SMS. In most circumstances tweeting does not qualify 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 define a unique and valuable interaction

Free isn't "free"
Yes, SMS marketing will probably require a budget to cover transmission fees and perhaps other short code, technology, or services costs. Compared with the free Twitter service even a modest SMS budget can seem like a bitter pill to swallow. However, considering the resources, time, and materials necessary to promote a Twitter account, it is easy to realize there are costs in play no matter what. To obtain a critical mass of followers and achieve any semblance of mass-marketing, investments have to be made. To leverage Twitter to its strengths for maintaining more personal dialogs, well-educated personnel need not just monitor the Twitter presence, but actively engage. Getting value out of the free Twitter service is an investment in itself.

You can't take it with you

Two-way communications through Twitter are excellent, and the application -- when used well -- really does foster legitimate interactions. Those interactions supply profound insights into a consumer base. However, this intelligence is locked away in Twitter. Simply, Twitter followers do not represent a database in any valuable sense outside of Twitter. It is impossible to compile, package, and export knowledge gathered there in a concrete sense. It is impossible to make those insights portable and actionable in meaningful ways across other digital or offline channels, because those consumer attributes are not in a database

Now, think about the organizational value of data that can be mined through smart, two-way SMS marketing programs; for instance, discovering where SMS program subscribers live or shop, based on a zip code volunteered in exchange for more relevant offers and information. Or, a subscriber may share demographic information when participating in a mobile poll and receive an instant coupon in exchange. Or, understanding which subscribers are converting in-store or online based on unique coupon codes and tying that insight back to a database profile. These are all valuable pieces of knowledge -- database optimization -- that simply cannot be managed with, or extracted from, Twitter.

Twitter is not database or direct digital marketing

Twitter is not database marketing, and please do not let anyone argue that it is. As noted above, Twitter followers do not represent a marketing database in any viable way, not like the proprietary opt-in database of profiles built with savvy SMS marketing. Additionally, Twitter does not support the scalable application of message relevance and personalization for direct digital marketing on a mass scale.

Twitter followers are fans, and perhaps even 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 then layer these attributes to create more comprehensive follower profiles. Marketers cannot segment and target tweets based on these attributes, as is possible with SMS marketing. Marketers cannot personalize tweets in any scalable way.

Marketers cannot insert dynamic text in a tweet, or have the user click through 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. These capabilities are the domain of intelligent database and direct digital marketing and can only be achieved with opt-in SMS programs.

Twitter is a 5/8" socket wrench
Twitter is a single, specialized tool. While it can accomplish some excellent tasks when used well, it falls short as a comprehensive online communications tool at critical mass. In comparison, well-designed opt-in SMS marketing programs provide not just offers or notifications of sales events, but also can automate valuable services, such as providing information on store locations and driving directions, execute delivery and shipping status alerts, provide reminders on bank balances, send alerts when out-of-stock items are now in-stock, or help online shoppers get in-store help with a purchase decision. All of these services -- and more -- are provided through a comprehensive SMS marketing approach that delivers extraordinary value and brand experiences for customers.

So what is that 5/8" socket wrench -- Twitter -- good for? Twitter delivers very real marketing value in these ways:

  • Establishes brand key terms and positioning points with hash tags, tapping into the power of trending topics and searches
  • Builds a network of advocates who help distribute a message across their social network through one-click retweets
  • Develops and hones a brand personality through the highly social, dialog-based nature of the application
  • Exceeds expectations with customers by managing fantastic customer support programs that could never be replicated through SMS alone.
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