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In this guest post, Stephanie Lashley, Senior Director of Messaging Product Operations Management at Bandwidth Inc., takes a look at SMS messaging use cases and how to improve use case management.

The original panel from the MEF Global Forum and the Future of Mobile Summit in Barcelona 2024 – are available to watch on demand now.

With all the discussion around new ways to reach customers, it might seem that SMS messaging is fading as a platform for customer engagement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

SMS messaging continues to be the preferred way for organizations of all types to reach customers and end users in every market from healthcare to education to retail. With open rates still hovering close to 100% and click through rates around 36%, SMS messaging remains king for organizations that want to get the best engagement for their marketing bucks.

While SMS messaging is still an ideal platform for connecting with customers and users, companies need to remain mindful of the good, the bad, and the ugly of SMS—that is, what makes it good, how it can become problematic, and why it’s important to get it right

The Good Use Cases

One reason that SMS remains such an important tool for such a wide range of organizations is its accessibility. Even in locations where smartphone adoption is not universal or in rural areas without high-speed Internet access, most people still have a way to send and receive SMS messages.

For DeansList, an education communication platform, SMS messaging has driven huge improvements in parent/teacher communication—and student homework completion! DeansList offers instant translation into 192 languages, allowing teachers to communicate with parents in their own native languages. With parents more engaged and aware of what’s happening in their children’s classrooms, everyone wins.

In most cases, campaign drift isn’t nefarious or intentional. However, it can lead to opt-outs or even spam reports, which can lead to financial consequences and blocked numbers—something no organization wants!”

At Nimblr, an AI tool for healthcare, mental health, and wellness providers, CEO Juan Vera says that “SMS Messaging is key as the last mile communication channel with patients. It’s my favorite channel because it’s personal and direct. Patients tend to stay away from in-app messages, and that’s crucial.”

The Bad Use Cases

Of course, just because a technology offers wide adoption and accessibility does not make it foolproof or impervious to poor management or bad actors. Organizations that use SMS messaging need to be sure they are proactively managing their use cases to avoid misalignment with registered campaigns.

One of the most common traps organizations can fall into is campaign drift. Campaign drift happens when an organization starts sending SMS messages that fall outside of the registered categories. For example, if a medical office registers a number for appointment notices and reminders and then starts using that number for educational content, that would be campaign drift.

In most cases, campaign drift isn’t nefarious or intentional. However, it can lead to opt-outs or even spam reports, which can lead to financial consequences and blocked numbers—something no organization wants!

Stefan Heller, Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at The Campaign Registry, recently had this to say on Episode 3 of Bandwidth’s State of Business Texting Podcast:

“If you’re getting into the messaging infrastructure and planning to aggregate and help people navigate through sending A2P messaging of any kind—that’s irrespective of the message sender—you have a responsibility to make sure that you’re not helping bad actors get into the system and do bad things.

You want good messaging. You want the ecosystem to be as clean as possible, because that’s what’s going to encourage people to carry on using it.”

Organizations can avoid mismanagement of use cases on the front end by defining campaigns clearly and registering appropriate use cases according to best practices and “Know Your Customer (KYC)” principles.

But good management doesn’t stop there. Once a campaign is running, it needs proactive management through ongoing auditing to make sure messages adhere to registered campaigns and customers receive appropriate opt-in and opt-out options.

The Ugly Underserved Use Cases

When it comes to use cases, “ugly” isn’t the best word to use, but it’s catchier than “underserved!” The underserved use cases are those where the messaging industry, organizations, and customers have not completely aligned around how to deliver the best, most engaging, and most useful SMS messages for everyone in the chain.

For example, in healthcare, providers may want to send reminders for patients to take medication via SMS message. However, if they mention the specific drug, that could trigger a SHAFT violation.

Kim Howland, Sr. Vice President of Product at Rectangle Health, notes that they have to educate their healthcare clients on the difference between marketing and not marketing. “We advise our customers to really focus on the indication or, you know, having those patients get materials that are very educational in nature,” she says.

This approach can stimulate a call to action that opens the door for providers to have more specific treatment-related conversations through different means, such as an in-office visit or phone call.

(Learn more about messaging for healthcare in Episode 5 of The State of Business Texting podcast.)

The struggle with SMS messaging in the current environment is that when messages turn conversational, there are very few ways to keep them within narrow bounds of current use cases.

It’s tough to create templates for conversations, and in a regulatory environment, it may be hard to distinguish between “hey, want a cigarette?” and “cigarette smoking leads to health problems.” The first can lead to a SHAFT-C violation, while the second is aimed at educating the recipient. Systems and processes that only look for keywords may not be able to tell the difference.

For now, there are no ideal solutions in the SMS messaging realm for these kinds of use cases. However, these use cases do provide a tremendous opportunity for the industry, regulators, and organizations to better serve recipients through a more conversational exchange.

Despite challenges, SMS messaging remains one of the best ways for organizations to engage customers and end users. As the industry continues to grow and improve, platforms and organizations will meet these opportunities head on with solutions that will serve consumers well into the future.

Stephanie Lashley

Senior Director, Messaging Product Operations Management, Bandwidth Inc.

  

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