The way that people communicate changes dramatically every five years or so.

This is particularly true in the digital marketing space. Trends, tactics, and algorithm updates force marketers to pivot every several months.

Best practices and strategies that were once industry standard for years become phased out or deemed unethical with the latest data privacy scandal. Platforms that were once considered niche or a passing phase become the next big thing in content creation — as was the case with TikTok.

SMS marketing is one of the older digital marketing channels still in use along with email marketing and SEO. Marketers have been using it as far back as 1992. It was supplanted by social media marketing for a while, but had a resurgence in recent years.

Social media marketing (SMM) and SMS marketing both qualify as conversational marketing channels — but which one should your brand focus on?

The answer is both. We’ll go into the reasons why, lay out the advantages and drawbacks of each, and offer ideas on how to use them both together to boost your marketing efforts.

Does Texting Count as Social Media Marketing?

SMS and social media are two different channels that fall under inbound and conversational marketing. They function differently but serve a similar purpose: Creating 1-to-1 relationships with your customers by giving your brand a personality and a voice to which they can relate.

People would rather do business with a person than a chatbot or a logo — but it’s difficult to offer that in a scalable way with finite resources and an “only human” staff. That’s the problem that both SMS and social media solve.

Shama Hyder, the author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and one of the early pioneers of the field, has this to say on what social media is and isn’t:

Traditional marketing rules cannot be applied to social media because social media is not a marketer’s platform. It belongs to consumers.

Broadly speaking, social media marketing is “the use of social media platforms to connect with your audience to build your brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic.” Most people think of platforms like Twitter and Instagram when they think of SMM, rather than text messaging. However, those lines are becoming increasingly blurred as SMS messaging integrates more and more features from popular social media apps like IG stories and GIFs.

So where do we draw the line? For one thing, social media apps are used across many devices — laptops, tablets, phones, and even video game consoles. SMS texts are limited to handheld devices.

They also differ in terms of scale. Social media is public by nature and includes a global user base. SMS messaging, meanwhile, is relegated to private messages between individuals or small groups.

Is WhatsApp a Social Media App?

Even the public / private distinction between texting vs. social media isn’t strictly accurate anymore. Many globally used apps like WhatsApp resemble both.

WhatsApp is the No. 3 social app with a user base of 2 billion, and the No. 1 most widely used messaging app worldwide — despite not being widely used within the United States.

That’s why marketers have been using it more often to offer customer support and showcase their products. It's also why Facebook, which acquired WhatsApp in 2014, announced that it will roll out Business accounts for brands to advertise on the platform.

What About iMessage?

Similar to messaging apps like WhatsApp, the iMessages used by Apple products are also rolling out social features — integrations with social media apps, the ability to text GIFs, and a reply function that lets you respond to individual messages the same way you would on Reddit. This allows for more methods of expression that are hard to communicate over plain text.

Texting vs. Social Media – Benefits and Drawbacks

SMM has been the gold standard for how brands connect to their customers in the digital age for so long that it’s become what most laypeople think of when they hear the term “digital marketing.”

Rather than get too wrapped up in what social media marketing or SMS marketing is and isn’t, it might be more useful to focus on what they’re for and how they benefit your brand.

Benefits of Social Media Marketing

Originally, SMM was just used to drive website traffic, but now it’s used for a broad range of marketing campaigns: From lead generation to customer research, and from brand awareness to thought leadership.

Customer Research

Being active on social media gives you not only a platform on which to broadcast content, but also access to powerful analytics tools you can use to better understand your ideal customer.

Tools like Facebook Audience Insights — and to a lesser extent Twitter and LinkedIn analytics — let you see from the perspective of your customer and better understand who they are and what motivates them. What books do they read? What stores do they shop at? What online spaces do they hang out in?

Competitor Analysis

Any well-thought-out marketing campaign should involve competitor analysis: Picking apart your competitor’s strategies and trying to figure out what made them work.

Social media is great for this. Your competitors probably have a presence on at least one platform — and that gives you one way to analyze their messaging and use this information for your own purposes.

Reach a Broad Following

There are few better ways to connect with your ideal customers than by engaging with them on social media. After all, they’re already on it.

It's also a great way to generate word-of-mouth brand awareness, as 71% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand they had a positive interaction with on social media.

Social media marketing is how you cast a wide net to broadcast your messaging to as many people in your core demographic as possible.

Generate Leads

At the end of the day, social media platforms were created to make businesses money. That’s what they’re for.

As such, most social apps have native advertising tools you can use to amplify your content marketing efforts and start generating email subscribers and website traffic — put fuel in the tank to get the engine running, so to speak.

Drawbacks of Social Media Marketing

There is so much we can cover on how SMM is useful, but what are the downsides?

Exposure to Competitors

In the same way that you should be analyzing your competitors on social media if you aren’t already, they’re doing the same to you. They can quickly pick up on any scandals, controversies, and even well-intentioned mistakes to use against you. As long as you’re a brand with a profile, you’re fair game for throwing shade.

This is incredibly common. Brands can and do often engage in public displays of drama on social media to stir up publicity — just like Wendys and Burger King did a few years back.

While it may be entertaining to watch, you can’t afford to irreversibly tarnish your reputation as a new brand just because a tweet didn’t read as you wanted it to. Be thoughtful about what you post, and protect your brand’s online persona carefully.

Reach Isn’t the Same as Engagement

SMM is great for getting organic reach, and the advertising and analytics tools it comes with are a big plus, but putting your brand in front of more eyeballs doesn’t necessarily mean guaranteed likes or shares.

People don’t typically use social media to buy products or services. They don’t even use it to engage with other people. They do it to reinforce their own identity.

Shama Hyder proved as much while researching her own master’s thesis. Turns out, people mostly used social media to do stuff like broadcast their unfiltered thoughts and opinions and post their photos. Community came in second.

The point here is that many social media users are passively consuming content throughout the day — while they’re on their coffee break or even stuck in traffic. They might see your tweets and IG stories, but that doesn’t mean they care enough to respond to it.

It Requires Qualified Personnel

Social media marketing is tricky to do right — it’s a significant time investment and requires a nuanced approach.

Social media marketing needs to feel genuine. Your customers need to be convinced that you’re trying to connect with them rather than promote yourself. Otherwise, it comes across as typical gross and annoying corporate pandering. Careless messaging easily turns the buying public against you and can snowball out of your control.

It’s Time Consuming

Social media marketing is playing the long game, as success is measured in months or years. It’s not like digital advertising which can give you results within days.

The benefits of social media marketing aren’t always tangible either. Your SMM efforts don’t necessarily correlate directly to a positive ROI all the time, and that can make it hard to prove its value.

Benefits of SMS Marketing

Social media marketing is a relatively new field and marketers are continually learning more about what it is and how it works. SMS marketing has been around for longer, so people have a better understanding of its best practices.

Reach Older Customer Groups

Not everyone uses social media, and plenty of people manage just fine without it. A wave of account deletions followed the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal and the release of Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. Virtually everyone uses cell phones, though — it’s almost unthinkable to navigate our modern world without them.

Older generations often find new technology confusing, but elderly adults like baby boomers and the silent generation have had more time to adjust to mobile devices — which have been around since the beginning of the internet age. When they do use social media, they gravitate toward older platforms like Facebook.

It’s Direct and Immediate

SMS marketing is much easier to personalize than social media. Conversational texting tailors your message and makes it specific to an individual customer, rather than lumping them in with a group.

It’s also much easier to prove positive metrics with an SMS marketing campaign - on average, brands using Emotive see a 23x ROI from their SMS campaigns.

Drawbacks of SMS Marketing

Conversational texting that shows up right in your user’s phone has more staying power than a tweet that has an average half-life of 15 minutes. Like any other marketing channel though, you still need to use it the right way.

SMS Marketing Can Feel Spammy

Social media can be used at your customer’s leisure. SMS texts appear in their private messages, feeling much more personal but also invasive to them.

Conversational Text Messaging Needs to Be Short

Apps like Facebook and Instagram give you enough wiggle room for long-form messaging. A text gives you only 160 characters to make your point. You need to frontload the important info and get your message across as quickly as possible.

How to Use Social Media and SMS Together

Circling back to the question we started with: Should you be doubling down on social media, SMS marketing, or both? Neither of them exists independently of each other, and each of them has gaps and shortcomings that are filled by the other.

Here are just a few ideas on what your brand can do:

Move Customers Further Down the Funnel

Social media is better for reach. SMS is better for engagement. It makes sense for your social media content to be your customer’s first digital touchpoint, which then invites them to opt in to your SMS texts. It’s like a drip campaign — similar to how you’d lead your customer from your social media posts to your e-newsletter, where they can be further nurtured.

Increase Customer Engagement

You can’t engage in SMS marketing without your customer first knowing about you and then consenting to give you their number. Likewise, people on the internet have short attention spans and it’s difficult to get your customers to find you, and then stick around.

Try leading your customers from your social profiles to your SMS campaigns. Social media can be how customers find you. SMS can be why they stay.

Or do it the other way around: Use short, impactful messaging on SMS that gets your customer’s attention, and then direct them to your social media profiles or blog posts for more tailored and long-form messaging.

Learn More About Your Customers

Your social media and SMS are the most direct lines of communication you have to your customers. Use them as an opportunity to understand your ideal customer better.

A good way to do this is by cross-promoting your polls and surveys between the two channels.

Wrapping Up

Social media is broader. SMS is more granular. It’s not a question of which one you need more because you need both. It’s a question of how you are leveraging each of them for the best effect.

Book an Emotive demo today, and start using conversational marketing to show your customers that you’re really listening to them.