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Twitter vs SMS: What’s the Best Way for Companies to Engage?


November 19, 2015

Twitter vs SMS: What’s the Best Way for Companies to Engage?

Home > Blog > Twitter vs SMS: What’s the Best Way for Companies to Engage?

If you stop and think about it, Twitter and text messaging aren’t so different. They both have limited characters (140 and 160), they’re both fast-moving channels, and they’re both widely-used channels.

But how widely-used? Let’s take a look.

twitter vs sms

That’s right—texting is used 46 times more than Twitter on any given day. But that’s not the only way Twitter and texting are different. There are 63 million active Twitter users in the U.S., compared to 309 million text messaging users. In addition, 74% of smartphone users check social media every day, compared to 97% of texters.

So why is it that more brands are on Twitter than use text messaging?

Nearly 98% of top brands are on Twitter, but almost no one knows companies are using SMS. You have to navigate to the contact us page, look for the phone number, and even then it might not be text-enabled. When you look at the contact center, text and social are a little more evenly matched (43% social to 37% text messaging), but social still takes the lead.

While businesses may be focused on rolling out social channels, customers are more interested in using text messaging. Research has found that while 37% of online adults have used social for customer service, research has found that 75% of customers would prefer to use texting over social media. And brands that use text messaging successfully have been able to reach 95% of smartphone and non-smartphone users, while top brands that use social media only reach 2% of their followers.

But why are social brands only able to reach such a small percentage of their followers when texting can reach so many? Part of it might be because social messages are public, not private.

Twitter vs SMS: The Key Differences

The thing that really differentiates texting from Twitter is that it’s truly one to one. There’s no massive social audience—it’s just you and the company. On Twitter, it’s a great, big social world where the average half life of a tweet is 18 minutes. With so many messages being shared in a social shouting match, it’s no wonder 40% of tweets get no response, according to Twitter’s customer service handbook. Compare that to text messaging, which has a 98% open rate and a 45% response rate.

There’s another key difference that separates Twitter and texting. On Twitter, brands might be more inclined to care than over SMS because situations can escalate out of control in the public eye. When messages are public, there’s a higher chance of misinterpretation and negativity, with some customers resorting to social because they know they’ll get a response. Part of the reason companies are on Twitter is to be part of the conversation, be it positive or negative. If customers could just start spamming customers over text messaging, companies might be more interested in using it.

But there’s one final difference where we look at Twitter vs SMS: you can’t successfully automate Twitter because it’s so front-facing and public. In fact, Twitter itself frowns on automated responses (emphasis added):

The reply and mention functions are intended to make communication between users easier, and automating these processes in order to reach many users is considered an abuse of the feature…media or brands using auto-response campaigns must request approval from Twitter and may be subject to additional rules.

Brands using automated responses have also raised eyebrows, much to the chagrin of customers:

twitter vs sms

Despite the cost savings that come with automation, automating Twitter responses is a bad practice for brands. But while some brands can get away with it, they still often require customers to pass along their personal information or switch to another channel, like voice, to get the help they need. Not a very good customer experience.

Think about it this way: how would callers feel if you asked them to tweet you instead of connecting with an agent? That would be a very disjointed customer experience that didn’t even get you the help you needed. And can you get people from your IVR to web-chat? NOPE. But guess what – you can transition callers from your IVR, hold or call queues to SMS-based self-service or live SMS support.

Enter the Channel Pivot

Despite Twitter’s proclamations that companies need to put Twitter first for customer service, voice still reigns supreme as the top service channel. Over 65% of contact center actions are over voice, and virtually all contact centers offer phone support.

Right here is where texting can fill the gap that Twitter can’t. With channel pivot, customers can seamlessly switch from voice to text without losing track of where they were in the conversation. When customers come calling (and that’s most likely the channel they’ll use), they can have the option to pivot to text to speak with a live agent.

With Twitter, the only channel you can pivot to is Direct Message. If you want to get things fully resolved, you’ll have to either call in or visit their website for more in-depth information. That’s why channel pivot between voice and text is great for the customer. Channel pivot gives customers the flexibility to engage with a company on their terms. If it’s loud outside, customers can pivot to text to talk with a company. If they’re sharing sensitive information, customers can switch back to voice.

Channel pivot is also great for companies. Switching a call from voice to text decreases the cost of the session immensely ($6-20 per session to about $1 per session). Companies can also look at what points in their IVR are customers switching to text messaging, then offer texting as a first option for customers when they reach that spot in the IVR.


Customers spend a lot of time using social media—there’s no arguing that. However, they spend far more time using text messaging. Customers also would prefer to text a company over using social media. That’s not to say that companies should abandon social media, but rather take into consideration offering channels that customers are using.

But if you had to choose where to spend money, ask yourself where customers are spending their time: on social media or text messaging?

To learn more about business texting, download our 2014 Harris Poll report detailing why 64% of customers want to text your business.

Photo credit Stuff Dudes Like. Edited. (Twitter and SMS icon credit).

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