SMS Is Still King, But Is Facebook A Threat To Messaging?
In a provocative research note last week, Strand Consulting argued that Facebook’s global reach and functionality was posing a serious threat to the traditional SMS messaging platform -- and thus a threat to carriers’ perennial cash cow.
Without citing specific statistics, the company says that in countries such as Norway and Denmark there is an obvious trend of mobile users relying ever more on Facebook for person-to-person messaging, which is eroding SMS use. Strand says that while many carriers regard Google as the biggest threat to their business, in fact, Facebook’s emergence more directly touches the carriers’ core competency -- person-to-person communication.
Well -- maybe. Coincidentally last week, mobile messaging provider to carriers Acision issued a research report showing that mobile messaging is integral to most U.S. consumers, albeit without addressing any metrics on trending.
According to their survey of 1000 or so mobile owners of smartphones and feature phones, 91% of smartphone owners still say they use SMS regularly despite the availability of other over-the-top (OTT) messaging alternatives like Facebook. In fact, they find that 37% of smartphone owners say they use Facebook, 17% use Skype, 7% use Twitter and 11% use Apple’s iMessage. Their argument is that “this demonstrates that while OTT/IM services fuel overall messaging traffic, services are fragmented and overall usage far lower than SMS so cannot be credited as a substitute for the humble text.”
Well -- and again, maybe. That Acision even felt such a study was necessary suggests a defensiveness about alternative messaging that belies its results. To be sure, 65% of these respondents said they needed SMS today and 45% claimed they would be “lost without it,” but that is not too revealing in terms of the underlying dynamic.
Alternative modes of communication are enticing users to move at least a sliver of their messaging into other platforms. I know that in my family, until I brought my daughter onto the iPhone ecosystem last Christmas, my wife and I were getting by easily on the smallest text plan AT&T offered because the bulk of our texts were occurring on Apple’s iMessage channel. Even my daughter is communicating with me increasingly over Facebook.
Even Acision finds that 55% of smartphone owners use SMS alternatives, and they cite as reasons that these services enhanced content-sharing capabilities (28%), speed (27%) and the ability to work across devices (25%). And while 62% of smartphone owners have unlimited texting plans, I am sure that cost also comes into play.
The point is not that SMS is going away so much as the fact that it is fragmenting and that users are coming to expect a wider range of features. Of course, MMS has had some of these enhanced capabilities all along, but that channel has struggled to get real visibility among users beyond sending photos.
As is often the case with digital technologies, the platforms are built with a narrow set of uses in mind that consumers themselves morph and reimagine as tools in their own lives. In many ways, the current mobile operating systems are still catching up with the use cases -- with a higher degree of peer-to-peer and peer group content sharing than the builders of these systems perhaps imagined.