Bulk SMS: The Business Quick-Start Guide
Thinking of using bulk Short Message Service (SMS) texts to promote your business? Want to get up-to-speed quickly? SMS messages are texts with up to 160 characters. Here are some strategies and best practices you need to be aware of before you start.
As begin your Bulk SMS journey you'll need to determine which service provider to use and brainstorm a few specific ideas for how to use bulk SMS.
We'll cover these core topics and provide you with next steps in this quick-start guide.
The Quick-Start Guide to Bulk SMS
SMS messaging was used for the first time on December 3rd, 1992, when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer in the UK, used a personal computer to send the text message "Merry Christmas" via the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis.
We've come a long way since then. One of the big changes is that businesses have learned how to leverage text messaging to reach many contacts at once. But what exactly is bulk SMS?
What is Bulk SMS?
Bulk SMS is automated text messaging to a large number of contacts. It's also known as Application-to-Person (A2P) or mass text messaging. Basically, any texting which falls outside the limits of normal Person-to-Person (P2P) activity is considered bulk SMS.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) identifies normal P2P activity by specifying the following thresholds.
- Up to 15-60 messages per minute
- Up to 1,000 messages per day
- Up to 200 unique recipients
- 1:1 ratio of outgoing to incoming messages (with some latitude in either direction)
So, any texting which approaches or surpasses those thresholds is considered bulk SMS.
How many texts can I send for free?
The cellular carrier in use handles the regulation of text messaging. Carriers typically do not publicize limits such as the CTIA thresholds above. But they do monitor for what they consider A2P messaging using algorithms. If you don't use a bulk SMS service and your texting activity is too high, your account may be temporarily disabled or permanently canceled.
While there are upper limits at which you must use a bulk SMS service to avoid issues, there are no lower limits. You can enjoy the benefits of a text messaging service even if you only send to one contact. There are many benefits of using a bulk SMS platform for business or organizational use no matter how many contacts you send to.
Benefits of Bulk SMS
When considering using bulk SMS for marketing, it is helpful to compare it to other marketing channels which you may already be using. The comparison can help you determine how much effort and budget to devote to text message marketing.
It's easy to see from the data below that bulk SMS typically gets a broader reach and higher engagement often at a lower cost than other marketing channels.
According to Teradata, while only 29% of Tweets, 21% of emails, and 12% of Facebook posts are ever read, texts are read at an astonishing 98% (90% within the first 3 minutes).
Research from FunMobility has shown that text message advertising containing a URL to a business´s website has a click-through rate (CTR) 10x higher than URLs contained within emails. The text message CTR is 36% vs. 3.2% for email.
How much does bulk SMS cost?
You can see our pricing plans here. The cost can range from around 5 cents per text for very low volume accounts, to around 3 cents per text for high volume accounts.
Keep in mind that when you compare text messaging with other marketing channels, you should compare cost per engagement or conversion rather than cost per message. The cost per message may be lower on email or a social boosted post, but the cost per conversion may be much higher on those channels compared to text messaging.
A Cellit study found that coupons attached to a marketing text message have a redemption rate 8x higher than when attached to an email.
What to Look for in a Bulk SMS Service
There are a lot of factors beyond price which should influence your decision between vendors for a text messaging service for business. We'll outline some of the key features and considerations below.
There are a lot of options when it comes to features in a business text messaging app. Here is a list of what we think are the most useful features with some tips on how to use them to accomplish your organization's outreach goals.
KeywordsShort codes and Keywords work together to provide an easy way for contacts to subscribe or respond to a message list. Short codes are five or six-digit codes which can be dedicated to an organization or shared by several groups. Keywords are single words or short phrases which trigger a list subscription or other action in the messaging service. Example: "Text 'OFFER' to 313131 to get a free beverage with your next pizza order."
MMS Picture MessagingMultimedia Messaging Service (MMS) can be a great way to add some flavor and interest to your text campaigns. Typically an MMS marketing message can contain up to 500kb of data: enough for a 30-second audio or video file. can include images or video, or they can be used for text over 160 characters.
Dedicated Short CodesDedicated short codes are numbers used exclusively for your organization. With a dedicated short code, you can use any Keyword you like because it will only be sent to your short code. This service is particularly useful for marketing agencies that want to run texting campaigns for multiple clients.
Recurring MessagesRecurring texts allow you to compose a message that will be sent out on a regular basis: daily, weekly or monthly, with all sorts of scheduling options. They're great for messages such as recurring meeting reminders or weekly sales calls.
Drip CampaignsBusiness text messaging drip campaigns can be a great way to create engagement, lead prospects through the buyer's journey, increase conversions, and boost after-purchase upsells. Text drips are preprogrammed to deliver personalized messages at specific intervals after a trigger such as a subscription.
Text to Vote SMS PollsIn addition to providing you with valuable insight into customer preferences, text to vote SMS polls a great way to segment your contacts into lists so that you can make your messages more personalized and engaging in the future.
Signup WidgetsSignup widgets are small apps or plugins which can be used in various places including your website, social media page, or emails. Using a signup widget on your website or Facebook page can substantially increase your subscription conversion rate. Another option is to use a link in an email or tweet which leads to the widget.
Text ForwardingIf your contact list is extensive, you will probably prefer to manage responses through a web browser interface. But for smaller lists, you may prefer to monitor replies using your own cell phone or email address. Text forwarding automatically relays incoming texts to your email address or mobile phone.
Automated RemindersReminder campaigns can be used in a number of ways including payment due dates, birthdays, customer anniversaries, and appointment reminders.
Simplicity & Ease-of-UseIf the platform is hard to use, you won't use it. Look for a service that is easy to use, so that you can work efficiently and get back to the 100 other things you have to do.
ScalabilityThe best business text messaging suppliers support both large and small businesses. The system's features should be scalable to meet the operational capacity of your organization. The right SMS and MMS provider will help small companies grow into large-scale, multidimensional powerhouses.
Reliability & SecurityAdvanced bulk SMS providers institute rigorous security protocols to safeguard sensitive user data. When evaluating a partner, ask specific questions like: Where is my data stored? How do you protect my data? Who owns my data? Is my list of contacts secure?
Customer Service QualityLeading business text messaging providers deliver superior customer service. Before investing in an SMS supplier, consider this: is the customer support team able to answer all your questions and provide a roadmap to business texting success?
How to Use Bulk SMS for...
Bulk SMS for retail is an intimate channel of communication that businesses can use to increase promotional reach, create greater brand awareness, develop customer loyalty, and achieve phenomenal response rates. Companies have used mass text messaging to boost retail ROI in several ways:
- Entice customers to return to the store with exclusive mobile coupons. Example: "Show this text to the cashier for 15% off your next purchase. Applies to new & used items. Exp 6/30."
- Notify customers about new products and services with text alerts. Example: "Food Lover’s Alert! Our Famous Pumpkin Pie now available. During the month of October only!"
- Let customers know when their product is available with custom text notifications. Example: "Mr. Smith: Your order has arrived and is ready for pickup between 9AM-5PM. Thx for choosing Joe’s!"
- Announce sales events with SMS Blasts. Example: "Wild Winter Sale! This week only, all snowboards and boots are 20% off!"
- Cross-Channel SMS Marketing for Retail. Example: "Thanks for shopping in our store! Scan the bar code on your dress now to see which in-stock belts and bags go with your purchase! Plus see other coupons available in-store today only."
If you want to dig a little deeper on mobile coupons, get instant access to our free eBook 4 Types of Mobile Coupons to Use in Your SMS Marketing Campaigns. Inside you'll learn how to use free gifts to attract attention, offer the right discount percentage, and make the most of BOGO promotions.
Text message marketing for restaurants, cafes, and food service is perhaps the most effective strategy for engaging customers and boosting sales. Texting enables you to connect with customers about new dishes and restaurant news, leverage keywords to expand your contacts, and even confirm reservation times.
Here are a few real-life examples of how smart marketers are successfully using bulk SMS to ramp up restaurant sales.
Brian's Place created a VIP program for his best customers. Through trial and error, Brian found a mix of messages that help him with a variety of objectives in the restaurant. Brian uses coupons and special offers to drive foot traffic on light days of the week or the slow season. For example, he’ll offer a $5 off coupon for guests that come in midweek, which is when it is typically slower. Brian’s Place serves a special fish catch of the week occasionally. When this happens, he takes advantage of EZ Texting’s MMS messaging to send an image of the special fish catch of the week out to his customers. Brian’s restaurant will have regular special events, and he uses the text program to get the word out to his customers. He will send out a message the week of the event, “Come out to Brian’s Place this Saturday from 6pm to 9pm for live music!” Read the full case study.
A Domino's Pizza franchisee in Charlotte, NC used a cross-promotion between text messaging and Facebook to grow his following. Franchise owner Ryan Swanson promoted a free offer at sporting events to get a large number of subscriptions. Once the contact subscribed, they received this message: "To get FREE pizza, join our facebook group at UNCCDominos.com. Once you join post a message (I GOT A TEXT) & you will get FREE pizza code. Reply STOP 49ER 2 Optout." Swanson got a very high opt-in rate on the initial offer and regularly sees coupon redemption rates of 20-25% on subsequent specials. Read the full case study.
The Couch Tomato Cafe collected over 5,000 mobile phone numbers in a year by using simple paper forms for people to signup, as well as verbal signups at the point-of-sale. After sending a couple of texts with marginal success, the owner sent the following text and got an impressive result. "*Special Offer* til March 31st; mention text - FREE QUESADILLAS with purchase of any Pizza AND Salad!!" The text brought in about 70 extra orders over their average Friday volume. With an average order value of $15, this single text generated over $1,000. Read the full case study.
Real estate agents are using text marketing in some very creative ways.
To give potential home buyers sneak peeks into the homes they’re interested in purchasing, realtors can put a “text HOUSE16 to 99453 for more information” tag on their printed signs. When prospective buyers text, they receive MMS messages with interior images of the house and websites containing more info about the listings, all without having to type in long URL addresses or navigate entire websites.
Real estate agents can then market to contacts in a number of ways including sending a text when a new property comes on the market or when a property they have expressed an interest in drops in price.
Bulk SMS can also be a great way for apartment communities to communicate. Organizers are using text messaging to notify residents of weather emergencies, power outages, upcoming construction, special events, and deadlines for HOA dues.
Bulk messaging SMS for schools takes advantage of a popular channel of communication in order to quickly convey important messages to student groups, parents, faculty, and employees.
Schools use text to advertise the dates of future parent/teacher meetings, ensure that permission slips are received, request donations, and inform parents of absenteeism or outstanding fees. Teachers and school administrators can be given notice of future staff meetings, while individual teachers can use the bulk text messaging service to conduct remote Q&A sessions with their students prior to examinations.
Viking Cooking School uses bulk SMS to communicate with its students, instructors, and staff. Every week, the school takes a look at their class schedule and decides which classes need to be filled. They then send out messages to promote classes with low enrollment. "Girls Night Out in Vegas! Cook shrimp to perfection, make melt in your mouth biscuits and grilling meat to perfection Sun 4/18 5PM-8PM call 898-8345" One recent text filled eight class spots, valued at $79 each. A single text message that cost less than $15 to send resulted in an additional $632 in revenue. Read the full case study.
Non-Profits are also using text messaging to increase awareness and engagement on important issues. These organizations send texts to promote events, keep contacts up-to-date on news, and conduct fundraising.
David Valk, of Students For The National Equality March, used EZ Texting’s group text messaging service to collect phone numbers of students who would be converging on Washington, D.C. for the National Equality March. These students would then be alerted on the day of the “flash protest” of the time and location. In total, 827 participants opted-in to receive a text message indicating a time and location to meet. The text message was sent just after 1PM: “ATTN!! FLASH PROTESTS IN DC!! MEET @ WASHINGTON MONUMENT … 3PM. END DONT ASK DONT TELL!” On-duty police officers estimated a total of 1,200 people participated in the student-led flash protest. Read the full case study.
Water Is Basic uses bulk texting to update their donors and supporters each time they drill a new well in Sudan. The current rate is about one well per week, with an eventual goal of one per day. Not only do the messages convey information about their cause, but the campaign keeps contacts in the loop, encouraging them to donate more frequently and to pass the word onto their friends and family members. Read the full case study.
Sports & Fitness
Fitness gyms have done particularly well with text message marketing. These gyms often see a boost in customer engagement, improvements in retention rates, and growth in the member base. They use to send notifications about:
- Personalized workout plans
- Diet plans
- Class schedules
- Motivational messages
- Promotions and cross marketing
Sports teams use text message marketing to grow their fan base in a number of ways, such as updating the latest schedules, scores, team information, player stats, ticket promotions, contests, and giveaways.
Churches use bulk SMS over other communications channels partly because their members are devoted and want to hear from them in a personal way. Text alerts have a broad range of applications useful for church groups:
- Spiritual encouragement
- Pertinent scripture verses
- Request to invite a friend to a service
- Weather-related cancellations
- Guest speaker notifications
Saddleback Church, one of the largest congregations in the US, used text messaging to replace their cumbersome and expensive pager system to alert parents when they needed to be reached about their child during services. They were also able to increase the interactivity of their services and send daily bible verses to the congregation. Saddleback recently ran a trivia contest before their Easter services. Those in the attendance were encouraged to text in codes corresponding to various answers (SB1, SB2, etc.). When they texted in their answer to the various questions, they were encouraged to sign up for subscription alerts by a return text message. Read the full case study.
Third Reform Church has found text messaging to be particularly useful for their youth group with about 80% opting to receive texts. Student Ministry Leader Craig Zuithoff sends reminders of upcoming events and meetings about two times per week. He also hosts a Monday night meeting with a small group of students that changes locations almost weekly. In order to spread the word about their next meeting place, he simply sends a text a few hours beforehand. Read the full case study.
In addition to the examples above, bulk SMS marketing can benefit organizations of all types and sizes. Here are a few additional ways various businesses and non-profits use text message marketing.
Bulk SMS Best Practices
5 Compliance Tips From the CTIA
- No Unsolicited Messages
- Use Proper Opt-In Methods
- Explain You Recurring Text Program
- Allow Customers to Opt-Out Easily
- Your Content Must Be Appropriate
Business Texting isn't difficult, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you begin planning text message campaigns. Here are a few pointers to make sure you get off on the right foot.
- Only send with consent
- Don't send too often
- Send at the right time of day
- Keep a consistent brand voice
- Be brief
- Include a CTA
- Respond to replies
- Mention who the text is from
For more detail, check out How To Mass Text for Business: 9 Game-Changing Tips and How to Send Business Text Messages Woithout Annoying Your Customers.
How to Grow Your List
All the best features, planning, and messaging in the world won't matter if you can't get people to subscribe to receive your messages. Download your copy of The EZ Guide to Growing Your SMS Marketing Campaigns to find out how to power-up your list. In this guide, you'll learn how to grow your SMS list through social media channels, your website, print ads, and store signage.
Now that you have a general knowledge of bulk text messaging, it's time to take the next step. If you're interested in learning more about the strategies and campaigns that can move your organization forward, check out our free Text Marketing Guide. Inside you'll learn how to grow your contact list, increase engagement, and create successful text marketing campaigns..
If you're ready to take a test run with a bulk SMS service, you can get started right now. Our sign-up to first send process often takes less than 5 minutes. You'll get 20 free credits, and you'll quickly understand why over 50,000 organizations trust us as their bulk SMS platform.