Silicon Valley giants are battling over the future of mobile messaging and practitioners are watching intently as they jockey for market share on the bleeding edge.
Brand marketers are increasingly using Facebook Messenger bots for everything from selling prints of old photos to movie tickets.
Meanwhile, Apple is in the process of tweaking its iMessage platform, while Google has been readying Android Messages for the wider adoption of Rich Communications Services.
Email and SMS are still the dominant channels for campaigns and advocacy groups. But email deliverability continues to decline, with now roughly 30 percent of messages hitting spam folders. And some practitioners argue there are growing flaws with SMS.
“SMS is the place to start in October 2017 if you just want to start doing messaging, but the list of cons, arguments against SMS, is growing,” Michael Sabat, a consultant specializing in mobile messaging, said during the Oct. 2 episode of his podcast, “The Chat Bubble.”
“The first argument against launching SMS is that it’s expensive, and there’s no way getting around this per message cost.”
He noted a typical message costs one-two cents a message. “If you’re sending 10,000 messages multiple times a month, it might add up,” he said.
Or if a consultant is working internationally, it can be difficult to reach voters via SMS because of the cost to the recipient. That cost is the reason why apps like WhatsApp are so popular abroad, he said.
Now, Sabat is a proponent of using Facebook Messenger bots. He noted that Facebook is concentrating on making Messenger mobile users primary text channel where it can also pull in SMS messages, which is how iMessage operates.
Moreover, Messenger chat bot can get supporters to sign up to volunteer, or for the campaigns email list. And best of all, they can ask a polling question like, how does this policy make you feel? Even if the response is an emoticon it can provide a valuable data point.
Sabat added that Facebook Messenger is also more attractive because it’s “the only messaging app that’s connecting to an ad network.”
“SMS is no longer a sure thing,” he said. “A few years ago it was the only [channel] and [a] sure thing. But now the door has opened to competition.”
Lloyd Cotler, a senior strategist from Mobile Commons, is watching how Facebook is developing Messenger, but remains sold on the effectiveness of SMS.
“It depends on who you're talking to and where your organization is at. If you're a group that really has to do sustained advocacy work, it's a lot harder to do that on Facebook Messenger because people don't have push notifications,” Cotler said. “From Messenger, you can put a voice number into the message, but without a system that also does all that tracking, you're not going to gain the outcome that you want.”
For live events, Facebook Messenger is limited, he continued. Having a candidate tell supporters at a rally to open Messenger and sign up could be problematic. "A lot of people get lost in each step of the process, versus text XYZ to 345.”
Still, Facebook Messenger does now have some uses, Cotler said. “If you're organizing young people and saying, ‘Come to this campus meeting next week.’”
“With a really small universe of folks, text is probably too expensive for you and just not as good,” he said. “If I'm younger, Facebook Messenger is a much more normal communications channel versus if your list is filled with 40-year-old women. They’re going to think that's less of an appropriate [channel] to do advocacy or fundraising or whatever it is.”
Hustle, another SMS vendor, said it’s also eyeing an eventual integration with Facebook Messenger.
“[It’s] is a wonderful channel for human-to-human communication, but their bot-first strategy with Messenger Platform has eschewed meaningful 1:1 dialogue in favor of transactional marketing communication that is too often noisy and frustrating,” said Roddy Lindsay, CEO of Hustle.
“We are hopeful that Messenger Platform will evolve to support 1:1 conversation platforms like Hustle alongside bots, but until then, we believe that SMS is the best messaging channel for meaningful conversations to drive votes and constituent calls to legislators.”