Why Isn’t There More Talk About PR Uses of SMS?

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I’ve been pondering the lack of discussion about the potential PR applications for SMS (short message service for wireless/cell phones).

This thinking has been prompted by several news items I’ve read, such as word from a German company called Smartmachine that it has developed a system that lets cell phone users buy and receive tickets to events using SMS. According to an InfoWorld report

Smartmachine and its technology partner Skidata have developed a mobile ticketing system that allows customers to have a ticket sent to their mobile phone via SMS (Short Message Service) in the form of a 2D (two-dimensional) bar code. At the gate, they slide their mobile phone display showing the bar code by a bar code reader.

I’m already printing tickets from Ticketmaster on my computer; the printout includes a bar code that is read as I walk into a theater or concert hall. It’s genius to shift this concept to a cell phone, and even greater genius to use SMS to deliver the goods.This week’s BusinessWeek reports that the government of South Korea is delivering updates on legal proceedings and notices of traffic and environmental violations at a potential saves of $1.2 million in postage (subscription required). The brief item in BusinessWeek also notes that

Banks confirm financial transactions via test, doctors and dentists use it to confirm appointments, and in 2004 credit card issuer KEB Credit Service even delivered layoff notices to 161 employees.

I’m not recommending that companies use SMS – or any tool other than face-to-face – to deliver layoff notices. But these expanding uses of SMS are intriguing, both as an example of what SMS can do and to heighten my wonder that the communication profession hasn’t embraced it. (Nor have marketing and advertising, for that matter.)

I remember hearing about a session at a conference during which the speaker supported the integration of digital media players into cell phones. The audience scoffed, so the speaker asked how many of those in the room had MP3 players. Most raised their hands. “How many of you have your MP3 players with you?” Only a couple responded. Then the speaker asked, “How many of you have cell phones?” Everybody raised their hands. “And how many of you have your cell phone with you?” Again, everybody raised their hands.

Cell phones are ubiquitous. When you leave the house without yours, don’t you feel like you’ve forgotten to put on pants? And most cell phones has SMS capabilities. We’re missing an opportunity here. My preliminary, off-the-top-of-my-head thinking produced a couple of no-brainer applications:

  • Let reporters subscribe to SMS messages alerting them to news updates on specific issues and subjects they cover
  • Residents who live near a manufacturing facility could subscribe to get updates about anticipated traffic jams and other facility-specific news
  • A crisis team could set up an SMS subscription service to provide news as it happens to interested individuals

Other uses should present themselves when we’re engaged in projects – as long as we keep SMS in mind as a potential tool in the toolkit. What other thoughts do you have about how we might incorporate into SMS into communication planning – or what implementations have been been involved with?

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

Why Isn’t There More Talk About PR Uses of SMS?
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