Teens Love Texting, Right? Not So Fast.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released some interesting data today which might have you whipping out your cell phones to text your incoming class.  Or maybe not. As you probably have guessed that report finds that teens like their mobile phones…a lot.  

In fact, Pew finds that mobile phones are now the centerpiece of communications for most teens.   According to a summary of the report’s findings, “Those phones have become indispensable tools in teen communication patterns. Fully 72% of all teens2 – or 88% of teen cell phone users — are text-messagers.”  

At this point, many college marketers are probably salivating at the possibilities. However, before you start thinking of pithy, 160 character messages that you can start broadcasting via SMS to your database, here’s what others have found with respect to SMS advertising and teen preferences.

SMS Is Personal

A number of studies have found that while SMS is a preferred communications channel for many teens, they still view it as a “friends only” medium.  A recent White Paper from ExactTarget written with the Center for Media Design at Ball State University stated that “Another surprising data point is that 42% of teens prefer to communicate via SMS, yet 62% prefer to receive promotions via email vs. only 1% via SMS.”

This is consistent with some surveys that we’ve conducted here at Intelliworks.  When it comes to conducting “business” teens and young adults still view email as a primary channel of communication for receiving promotions and interacting with organizations. Similarly, social networks like Facebook are gaining favor with brand and affinity marketers, but still have a ways to go when it comes to delivering transactions.  

Notifications Not Promotions

In a summary of their channel preference survey conducted last year for CRM Magazine, Morgan Stewart of Exact Target summed up the feelings towards SMS as a marketing channel: Only those that have all-inclusive data plans are receptive to text marketing, but even then they are likely to prefer direct mail or email promotions. Consumers feel customer service notifications, such as travel or financial alerts, are the most appropriate uses of corporate text messaging. Even then, it is still a matter of personal preference.

The same probably holds true for consumers that are engaging colleges and universities.  More than likely they’re not going to want to receive an advertisement from you via text message.  However, if they’ve already engaged your institution (i.e. applied) then perhaps they’d be willing to opt in to receive notifications from you via text message regarding their application status or reminders of upcoming deadlines they need to know about (for example).

LOL, OMG: Not Just for Kids

This advice seems to hold true not just for reaching out to teen student populations, but adult learners as well.  As mobile use grows across all age groups, marketers will look to ways to engage with consumers on this platform, but the marketing preferences seem to be consistent across generations.  In a recent channel marketing preference survey of adult learners, consulting firm (and Intelliworks partner) DemandEngine found similar results:

Opt-In Is Key

Regardless of channel, opt-in is key to whether or not recipients will respond.  Below are some more details from the CRM Magazine article on what channels are appropriate and when:

  • Direct mail (85 percent of American online consumers have provided at least one company with permission): Direct mail is universally seen as the most appropriate channel for marketers to communicate with American online consumers. The majority of consumers are receptive both to permission and unsolicited messages through this channel, making it the direct marketing channel for acquisition. Direct mail gives consumers time to review messages at their leisure, which gives them the sense that they are in control of the relationship. It also provides people with written documentation of transactions, which is a source of comfort for some (especially older) consumers. The delay associated with delivery of direct mail makes it less than ideal for customer service issues, especially those requiring immediate notification.
  • Email (95 percent have provided permission): Email is also used universally among online consumers and is widely accepted as a direct marketing channel. That said, issues with spam have rendered this channel acceptable only for permission-based communication. Consumers’ negative views of unsolicited email can cause them to turn against even reputable brands if they perceive email communications to be spam, making relevance critical. Online consumers expect confirmation of online transactions and customer service calls through email.
  • Text messaging (7 percent have provided permission): Text messaging is growing in popularity as a channel for communicating with friends and family, but it is largely off-limits to marketers for promotional marketing. Targeting consumers as they drive past your retail location is still too “Big Brother” for the vast majority. Only those that have all-inclusive data plans are receptive to text marketing, but even then they are likely to prefer direct mail or email promotions. Consumers feel customer service notifications, such as travel or financial alerts, are the most appropriate uses of corporate text messaging. Even then, it is still a matter of personal preference.
  • Social networks (4 percent have provided permission): Social networks have not evolved into a welcome place for marketers-at least when it comes to direct marketing messages. Consumers understand the ad-supported model and don’t mind general ads in this environment, but this does not translate into receptivity to direct messages from marketers.
  • Telephone (37 percent have provided permission): While unsolicited telemarketing is universally viewed with contempt, calls related to the status of a current account or alerts related to travel or potential fraud are viewed very favorably.

When it comes to communications channels it’s important to know that just because you can do something that doesn’t mean you should.  That’s a lesson the Word of Mouth Marketing Association learned when they sent out a phone blast to its members.  The same holds true for text messaging.  There’s a time and place for it, but just because your audience is there that doesn’t give you the right to intrude without their permission.

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