Text messaging is two decades old, and many consumers are ditching texting for messaging applications like Snapchat and WhatsApp. But even as consumer interest wanes, businesses are embracing SMS to communicate with customers.

Enterprising 160 Characters

The signs are pretty plain: last year, text message usagedeclined for the first time, from 696 to 678 messages per user-month. 

But even in decline, text messaging is often a more effective marketing tool than other social media platforms because it ensures consumers are seeing businesses’ updates immediately, without getting lost in a news feed teeming with posts. Facebook recently updated its algorithms in an attempt to deliver higher-quality page updates, but small businesses with low “like” counts will only see marginal benefit.

That’s why services like Twilio, a platform that lets developers add voice and text services to their mobile and web applications, appeal to businesses as a way of staying connected to their fans. Applications that Twilio developers have built have reached 350 million people, about 20 percent of global households.

Some argue that SMS is an aging technology, but the success of companies like Twilio are an indication that users still rely on text messaging to stay connected. At a conference on Wednesday, Twilio announced that every 45 seconds, the company sends enough characters to fill an edition of the New York Times.

But text messaging isn’t just for marketing and customer acquisition.

Silicon Valley is known as a hotbed for cutting-edge companies, but many of the startups that come out of the ecosystem rely on the ancient (by tech standards) SMS technology.

Businesses like Uber, the car service that acts as your personal taxi via your mobile device, uses text-message alerts to communicate car arrivals, peak hours and availability. Other companies like Airbnb and Intuit also rely on Twilio’s SMS service to stay in touch with consumers.

To further its enterprise services, Twilio launched picture messaging, allowing customers to send images via MMS.

“Seeing is believing—pictures can build trust and drive decisions,” said Twilio cofounder and CEO Jeff Lawson. “Picture messaging opens the door to a whole range of new communications opportunities.”

Home Depot demonstrated how the new MMS service impacts its customers by showing how its Twilio-powered application connects home improvement seekers with contractors. Contractors can simply update their online Home Depot profiles by sending an image via MMS directly from their phones.   

At Wednesday’s conference, Lawson stressed his company’s philosophy, “We can’t wait to see what our community builds next.” Businesses continue to transform the ways they are using SMS, maintaining the relevancy of the decades-old technology.

Peer-to-peer SMS might have been usurped by mobile applications with different features and design, but at its heart SMS is about connecting people to things they care about, and businesses continue to use text messaging to maintain the personal connection to their consumers. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.