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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Text Message Marketing: What Not to Do

image for Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Consumers are consistently surrounded by advertisements and traditional marketing techniques, and they've become adept at tuning them out to avoid cognitive overload. Emails are deleted unread, banner ads are banished with ad blockers, and video ads are skipped after five seconds.

Text messages, however, have an almost 100% click-through rate, because we are psychologically helpless against that little red dot. When done right, text message marketing (or SMS marketing) is one of the most effective marketing methods out there.

As with anything, though, there are plenty of ways for it to go wrong. Here are six things NOT to do in your next campaign.

"One mistake we made early on was sending too long of messages," said Matt Schmidt, CEO of Diabetes365. "People don't want to read a novel on their cell phone. Keep the text message precise and brief."

Focus on a specific purpose for your text blasts, like scheduling or confirming appointments, offering discounts, or providing quick information, such as reminders on the time and place of an event.

You should also be mindful of your tone.

"Texting is inherently short and conversational," said Rachel Rosenthal, product manager at Lunar. "Don't copy and paste long emails into texts or send highly technical and dense information."

Under the Federal Communications Commission and Telephone Consumer Protection Act, businesses must obtain written (either by hand or electronically) permission from the customer authorizing them to send messages or face serious legal consequences.

"I have brought lawsuits on behalf of customers that have received repeated messages from telemarketers," said Richard Ernsberger, attorney at Behrend & Ernsberger. "The customers developed a negative view of the company that was providing the unsolicited [contact]."

There are various ways to get permission: You can have users text a keyword, provide their phone number or sign up through an email link. These all count as written permission, but you should make sure your audience knows what they are signing up for and how to get out if they want.

Consumers like to have a choice, especially when it comes to how they're being marketed to. Text message marketing is a delicate line to walk, because receiving the text message can be jarring.

"Because you've made it clear you have access to a client's phone number, now you need to be polite and avoid sounding invasive," said Caio Bersot, content and social media strategist at EnergyRates. "Let them know right away what they can do if they no longer want to receive messages from you."

These days, a personal connection to a brand goes a long way with consumers. They feel that their time and money is valued, and the company actively cares. If you can devote the time and energy, consider making your text messaging a two-way communication with your customers, allowing it to serve as a feedback channel.

"By text enabling your business, you are committing to a platform of communication that delivers near-instant gratification," a blog post by SimpleTexting says. It goes on to say that if you do choose to allow back-and-forth messaging, you don't need to overcompensate and schedule employees for round-the-clock shifts, but you do need to commit to responding to all messages in a timely manner.

Text messaging is all about the timing. People tend to take more notice of a text message than an email, so they will notice if you send messages too frequently.

"When we first tried text message marketing, we were sending out weekly texts, and people were getting fed up with it," said Sean Pour, co-founder of SellMax. "People told us it was just excessive, and it made them not want to do business with us, so we cut back drastically."

Traditional forms of marketing don't necessarily need one specific purpose or goal beyond brand awareness, but text message marketing absolutely does. You're sending a text straight to a person and most likely interrupting something they're doing, so you should have a good reason for doing so.

"We've seen the best results when using it as a form of follow-up," said Pour. "We just use it to remind people that they wanted to sell their car, and we're still here to help them."

Because text messages are a direct line to your customer, they can feel more private and personal than regular forms of advertising. Respect this – do not abuse your privileges and be mindful of your messaging practices.

Zach Hendrix, co-founder of GreenPal, said that text message marketing has become the lifeblood of his business, but that success didn't come without some blunders.

"We were sending text messages in the early morning hours on the East Coast, while it was actually the middle of the night on the West Coast," he said. "As soon as we sent them, we started getting irate emails from our users on the West Coast because [it was] 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning their time."

Hendrix said it took a lot of work to adjust the GreenPal promotions to be layered in according to time zone, but it was worth it in the end.

"Text message marketing sounds like a simple thing to pull off," he said. "But you can't really just fire and forget like email. You have to think it through."

Kiely Kuligowski

Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.