Good SMS Manners for Market Research

SMSiconAs mobile market research continues to expand, there are increasingly more options available for communicating with online research participants: email, SMS, in-app messaging, location-triggers, QR codes, social media, and others. The selection of which method(s) to utilize is of course dependent on the type of studies being conducted, and the target audiences required.  While email still reigns as the most versatile and widely-accepted method, SMS (text messaging) has some clear advantages for multimode and mobile-only projects. First, it is most pervasive – more than 95 percent of mobile phones (“smart” and not) are text enabled. Second, it is highly immediate – on average it takes only 90 seconds to respond to a text message, versus 90 minutes to respond to an email.

SMS is widely used and it can sustain high engagement (particularly among teens and young adults), but it does have some disadvantages. Most notably is cost; today per-usage fees are often required which can make implementation undesirable for more limited research budgets. However, SMS costs continue to decrease and more mobile providers are offering unlimited text plans, so this issue may resolve itself in the near future.  As SMS becomes a more popular mobile communication method for market research, it is important to use good manners when sending out texts. Below are some best practices that Kinesis recommends:

Get permission first: receiving an unsolicited text message may annoy (or worse, anger) some recipients, therefore obtaining a separate opt-in that is specific to SMS is necessary. You may have previously collected the mobile phone number as part of a registration or profiler process, but until you have expressly obtained permission to text, do not utilize SMS.  The financial/punitive repercussions of sending unsolicited SMS communications are more severe than with email.

State the purpose: Inform participants upfront as to how text messaging will be used (to send survey invites, reminders, rewards notifications, etc.), and stick to it. If you decide to extend your SMS communications in the future, obtain permission yet again to encompass the expanded intentions.

Be clear: SMS is by nature an abbreviated form of communication, but it is important that your intended meaning still comes across correctly. While concise messaging is desirable, do not assume that all recipients will understand an abbreviation or slang term. For survey invitations, use of abbreviations and slang can introduce significant non-response bias.

Be time-specific: Capture each recipient’s time zone and only send texts during (their) daytime hours. In multi-region studies, communications should never be sent out all at once because what is late afternoon for one recipient could be the middle of the night for another. Think about how many people sleep with their phone beside the bed, and be respectful. Going a step further, consider allowing each participant to set their own desired time parameters as to when they are willing to receiving texts.

Offer a way out: Be sure to provide a way to opt-out of text messaging. Some participants who initially agree to receiving texts may change their minds, and they should be able to terminate SMS communications quickly and easily. Providing an unsubscribe link or simple text term such as “quit” is usually adequate, and in many countries this is legally required.

Use sparingly: Remember that SMS is inherently the most intrusive communication mechanism available to researchers, so it should not be over-utilized. Whereas other communication options such as email and social media are more passive, text messages actively pop up on the device screen, often accompanied by an audio cue, in real-time. Even for participants who prefer SMS over other methods, too many texts may cause them to opt-out when they were otherwise willing to participate.

Usage of SMS in market research will continue to grow steadily along with the other communication options made available via mobile devices. When executed properly, text messaging can strengthen engagement with your research participants and produce high response rates. For more mobile market research best practices, check out the Kinesis whitepapers.

Posted on August 22, 2012 in Blog

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Erica is the Marketing Manager for Kinesis Survey Technologies. She loves bringing you the latest from the industry and engaging on social media! You can even reach Erica directly, to discuss this blog on

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