Text message alerts best practice guide

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Dave Hitchins

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Do you think spammers get misty-eyed at the memory of the 1990’s when they were free to deluge our inboxes with offers that were irrelevant and unwanted? Or when they went mobile in the 2000’s, and branched out into SMS? (1.5 billion spam text messages received in the US in 2008 alone according to Ferris Research.)

Thankfully, the golden generation for spammers is over. We have wrested back control of our email and SMS inboxes thanks to legislation like GDPR in Europe, A2P 10DLC in the United States, and many other initiatives worldwide.

There will always be rogue traders trying to sell little blue pills to whatever email or phone number they can harvest, but for reputable businesses, the penny has dropped that sending unsolicited messages will do more damage than good in the long term.

However, there is definitely still a place for useful, timely and well-crafted text alerts that people actually want to receive.

Read on as we spill the beans on how to create and send text message alerts that are always welcome.

What are text alerts?

Text alerts are a mass communication tool for delivering timely and useful information straight to people’s mobile phones, usually by SMS. They are used by both businesses and government agencies to transmit specific information that is relevant to citizens, or subscribers who have opted in to receiving them.

They are not a way to broadcast a generic mass marketing message. That sort of behavior will get you blacklisted by most network operators before you can say ‘Alexander Graham Bell’.

Text alerts come under the umbrella of A2P (application to person) messaging. In most countries, if you want to send A2P traffic you will need to register with the network operators and agree to abide by their fair usage policies. Break the rules and they will use filtering technology to protect their subscribers from unwanted messages.

How to send SMS alerts during a digital revolution

What are the top use cases for text alerts?

Delivery notifications by text

For many people during lockdown, a knock on the door from an Amazon delivery person was the highlight of their day. We went online in our droves and ordered all sorts of products and produce to make life in isolation more bearable.

Even as restrictions have lifted, people are still shopping online just as much and the excitement of having something to unwrap has not diminished. Tap into this happy experience with hyper-accurate delivery tracking text alerts – and let the anticipation mount!

Customer service

Apart from front-line medical workers, the group of people that have had to work harder than ever during the pandemic has been customer service agents. The well documented explosion in home shopping and huge investment in digital services has led to a lot more work for contact center staff.

Text alerts can be a huge asset in the customer service industry. If something is going to be delayed, or circumstances change at the last moment, then let your customers know about it as soon as you can to minimize the impact on them. Text alerts are quick to create and deploy, and are the most likely to be seen.

Fraud prevention

If someone is using your credit card details to buy a Bugatti in Barcelona, then you probably want to know about it as soon as possible. You will be very happy that your credit card company sends you a warning message immediately, so that you can block the transaction.

Financial alerts like bank statement notifications, overdraft alerts, and many more – these are all useful messages that we are happy to receive.

Text alerts as part of two-factor authentication (2FA) is another use case that has proven to be very popular as it is just about instantaneous and doesn’t rely on a data or Wi-Fi signal.

Emergency text alerts

The Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 was so devastating because people in most of the affected countries around the Indian Ocean just didn’t know that it was coming, even though authorities in many places did have some advanced warning. There was just no mechanism for getting the message out immediately, reliably, and en masse.

With advances in technology and more extensive mobile phone ownership, these communities are now much better protected should the unthinkable happen again.

With the effects of climate change, we are unfortunately all in for more extreme weather events. Text alerts are the best way to get warned of imminent storms, floods, and other life-threatening events.

Text alerts in APAC via almost 100% network coverage

6 top tips for crafting excellent text alerts

1. Get the format right

By their very nature, text alerts are short and factual. SMS is the best format as it is the most cost effective and efficient to send in high volumes. MMS is best reserved for creative messages or promotions that benefit from enhanced graphics, video, or audio content, or when you want to include coupons or QR codes.

But that only gives me 160 characters!” I hear you say.

Warning – Hurricane Amber is due to make landfall 80 miles north of Tampa at approximately 14h00 on Weds 14th Sept. Wind speeds in excess of 120mph expected. [158 characters]

Vodnjan Bank Fraud Alert: Did you just use your credit card at Primo Luxury Car Sales, Calle Sola, Barcelona? Reply 1 for YES. Reply 2 for STOP TRANSACTION. [156 characters]

See? You can still convey a lot of important information with limited characters.

One last point on message formats. You might be tempted to use Flash SMS for your text alerts. These are a type of SMS that appears immediately on the recipient’s mobile screen, without them having to open their message inbox, and then disappears for good once they dismiss it.

It might sound flashy, but we wouldn’t recommend it – they are not very secure, and just because a person dismisses a message it doesn’t mean they have actually read it, and by then it is too late.

2. Use the right sender number

When sending text alerts to a large number of recipients, you have two options for the number that you are sending from – Short Codes and Virtual Long Numbers (VLNs).

Short codes are numbers of between four and six characters that can be leased from service providers. If you have ever voted by text in a TV talent show, or donated money in the same way – then that was almost undoubtedly via a short code.

The drawback of short codes is that they are expensive in comparison to VLNs and can only be used to message recipients in the country that they are leased in. If you have an international customer base – short codes are out.

Most businesses use Virtual Long Numbers for text alerts. They are cheaper to provision, can be used internationally, and can receive both texts and voice calls.

3. Mind your manners

Just like in face-to-face situations, people don’t appreciate approaches from strangers.

Use Sender name or Sender ID so that people know that the SMS is from a brand they trust. If it is the first time that you are contacting them then introduce yourself – you don’t have to do it every time you send a message as it will be in the conversation history, but make sure the person knows who you are and what your motives are. It’s just polite after all.

This is a message from the fraud team at Vodjan Bank. Thank you for helping us to keep your account safe by informing us of your upcoming trip to [Spain].

4. Personalize (but don’t overdo it)

With only 160 characters to play with you can’t afford to go crazy with bespoke text, but where applicable you should throw in some personal touches that let your customers know that it is not a generic message blast. A name or account number is all you need to let them know that the message is intended for them.

5. Be aware of time-zone differences

If you are sending alerts to recipients in different countries, remember that time zones will be different, and some countries will apply daylight saving with the changing seasons.

Make sure you are familiar with SMS compliance rules in your destination countries as there may be rules in place about sending certain types of message outside of sociable hours.

With time-sensitive campaigns, for example offers that are only valid within a particular timeframe, make sure that the messages are actually delivered while the offer is live.

6. Leverage omnichannel

Even though SMS has both the best delivery rate and highest open rate of any channel, it is still a good idea to have a fallback option, especially for business critical messages. This is where it makes sense to use a communications platform that covers every channel, where SMS sits alongside Email, Voice and chat apps like WhatsApp, Viber and Apple Messages for Business.

Having multiple channels at your disposal has other benefits too. For marketing messages, no matter how skilled your copywriter is, there is only so much that you can convey in 160 characters. For alerts and CTAs that require more verbosity, direct recipients to your website, social media or even voice channels – but make the message compelling so that they are happy to make the channel leap.

As you can see, the recipe for successful text alerts includes a dash of technology, a sprinkling of creativity, and a whole lot of authenticity. At Infobip we know SMS. With direct links to over 700 global mobile networks, let us help you create and deploy text alerts that people actually want to receive, and that may even save lives.

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Apr 8th, 2022
7 min read
Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Dave Hitchins

Senior Content Marketing Specialist