Over the last fifteen years of running online businesses, I have had the opportunity to test and leverage many different marketing channels, including email, browser notifications, Twitter accounts, Facebook messenger bots, Instagram accounts, YouTube channels, and a few others. Just about every year, some new social media company comes out and encourages businesses and influencers to build an audience on their platform. Sometimes these new platforms stick and become part of the online social fabric (e.g., TikTok) and other times they make a splash but quickly fizzle out (e.g., Clubhouse). Email and SMS are two platforms that I keep going back to because you can build an audience that you own and are not tied to the whims of a tech company that wants to monetize their platform at your expense.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about why I think SMS is going to be the next big marketing channel that companies should pursue. Text messages get a near 100% open rate and very high click through rates compared to email and other platforms. Users can opt-in by texting a simple message to your five-digit or ten-digit number. Your SMS list is also portable and can be transferred to another provider, which forces messaging services to remain cost competitive. MarketBeat has built an SMS list of approximately 90,000 users, which adds between $150,000 and $200,000 in top-line revenue to the business each month.
While there are good SMS solutions for bigger companies, there has not been a great way for influencers and small businesses to leverage SMS that I could recommend. That changed a few weeks ago when a friend of mine who is a watch dealer sold a $50,000 luxury wristwatch in under an hour to his SMS distribution list of 1,000 people. Of course, I immediately started paying attention. It turns out he was using a two-way SMS service called Community.com that provides you a public phone number that you can promote as a way for anyone to text you. The idea is that you publish your public number on all your social media platforms and encourage people to text you. When someone does text you, they are added to your distribution list and will receive future group text messages that you send out.
The magic of two-way SMS platforms, such as Community.com, is that your audience has a one-on-one communications channel with you, and you have a one-to-many communications channel with your audience. They can text your number and you will receive their messages using the Community mobile app or website. When you send out messages to your distribution list, your audience can immediately reply to you and share their thoughts. The app does not have notifications turned on by default, so you will not be overwhelmed with messages and replies. You can just periodically check the app and reply to any messages that have come in since you opened the app last. If someone tries to call your number, they will receive a voice mail telling them that the phone number is a text-only number, and they should try to send you a text message instead. When you have a message to send out, you can message your entire list, only your most active subscribers, or subscribers in a specific geographic area.
After hearing about Community.com, I applied for an account and was accepted after a quick phone call with their onboarding team. They provided me a local number to promote and gave me some resources and tips to promote my SMS distribution list. The initial cost for the service is about $100.00 per month. I added the phone number to all my social media bios, promoted it in my Facebook and Instagram stories, and as posts on all of my accounts. After a week of promotion, about 300 people signed up for the “Matt Paulson Insiders” list.
I offered my insiders list free coffee and baked goods at Queen City Bakery and about 30 of them took advantage of the opportunity. I also gave away a WAKE gift card to the person that first guessed a number I wrote down between 1 and 100. I have tried sending feedback questions, thoughts about personal improvement, and links to stories that I found interesting. The engagement has been solid across all the types of messages that I have tried to send. While I have not quite landed on what the business use case is for me personally, it will be a great marketing asset that I can use to promote my projects over the long term.
The use case for two-way SMS services like Community.com will vary from business to business and influencer to influencer, but these services are a trend to watch and consider leveraging in your business. They provide your audience to have a direct SMS line to you, without having to give up your primary phone number. They also allow you to easily create a one-to-many SMS distribution list that you can use to promote your brand, products and services.