So how is the world's number 1 favorite electronic
communication method doing today? No, I am not talking about Twitter or
Facebook. Even Facebook has only passed 1 Billion users. No, I am not talking
about the landline phones or television sets either. Their user numbers are
between 1 and 2 Billion. The total installed base of personal computers of any
kind, desktops, laptops and tablets - still falls in that same band of 1 and 2
Billion, so no, that is not it either. So its gotta be web browsing, right? No,
we just learned last week from the ITU that the world has about 2.3 Billion
total internet users, so no, thats not it. What could it be, then? FM radios?
That gets us to 4.1 Billion total installed base, but no, its not radio. Ah,
ok, I know this one - mobile phones! Its mobile phone calls, yes?
Half right. It is on our mobile phones, but we learned last year, that voice calls are no longer the number 1 most used feature on mobile phones today. That is not smartphone apps or surfing the mobile web, or using the camera feature either. No. The most used feature on mobile - is also the most used single type of communication technology on the planet is.. SMS text messaging!
SMS HAS 5.9 BILLION ACTIVE USERS
Chetan Sharma counted the total active SMS user base is now up to 5.9 Billion humans or 91% of all mobile phone owners, in May of 2012. So SMS is nearly 6 times larger by reach than Facebook. SMS is 3 times bigger than TV and has 2.5 times more reach than email. As less people place voice calls from their mobile phones than send SMS text messages, this is the most used telecommunication method - and most used digital media - on the planet. Yes, humble little SMS. Doing things from interpersonal communciations among all of us, to businesses sending alerts and updates to their clients, to delivering breaking news, to handling mobile money payments, to being used in classrooms to pass notes and students trying to cheat in exams.
I have been reporting on this phenomenon from the beginning of when SMS was first used to deliver paid downloadable media content in 1998 (the first such content being the ringing tone, which then grew to a multi-billion dollar business of very simple music, downloaded to mobile phone handsets). So if you have read this blog for a long time, you know Tomi kind of obsesses with SMS and I've done lots of updates about the amazing statistics and user-surveys and new applications of SMS, from saving lives to helping farmers with irrigation to communicating with your dogs and our household plants - all via SMS. So its time to do some updates. Because we have some numbers. Boy, do we have some numbers.
SMS IS DELIVERED IN HOW MANY MINUTES?
The Great British Mobile Marketing Report 2012 has been released. And it has a ton of fabulous statistics, very many of those are around SMS text messaging. So, you knew that the average email is read within 48 hours, yes? And I used to quote the latest stat that the average SMS was read within 3 minutes. That speed difference is staggering to begin with. SMS is (or was) read 960 times faster than email, on average. 960 times faster? How fast is that? Well, if we compare the human speed of walking, then add the improvements - after mankind tamed the horse, we got to speed that were about 6 times faster. When steam trains came along, we got to speeds that were 16 times faster. Cars? Got us to speeds about 30 times faster than humans walking. Propeller-driven airplanes boosted that speed gain to over 100 times faster. Then came Frank Whittle's little invention, the jet engine that pushed the speed advantage to 190 times faster. And today, the fastest man has flown in operational supersonic jets, at top speed, were about 700 times faster than humans walking, when we consider the top speeds of the fastest warplanes ever made, the SR-71 Blackbird and the Mig 25 - both planes that have been withdrawn from active service as they were so horribly inefficient with their fuel in pursuing those speeds past Mach 3. Today's fastest fighter jets like the F15 Eagle and Mig 31 only fly to top speeds of Mach 2.5 - Mach 2.7 or so.
So if you go from walking speed to the fastest jet fighters and jet reconnaissance planes ever used, we get to go 700 times faster. Yet compared to email, the method of communciation we all still use today in our daily work lives, and often also still in our daily personal lives, SMS texting is .. 960 times faster.
Except that number is now obsolete! We have new numbers! The Great British Mobile Marketing Report of 2012 quotes the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom with this mindboggling number - the average SMS text message - 97% of all SMS messages in fact - is read within.. wait for it... 5 seconds!
Wow. Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW, wow. Wow! That speed difference, compared to email, has now grown to .. 34,560 times faster !!! Yes, SMS is not twice as fast, or ten times as fast, or 100 times as fast, or 1,000 times as fast as email. SMS is 34 thousand times faster than email.
I don't have a good analogy for us anymore! What can I now use, I think we have to go to rocket science to get to such speed differences, so the speed gain going from email to SMS is kind of literally 'out of this world' type of an advantage. The escape velocity for human kind to get to space is 40,000 km per hour but going from walking speed to riding the Space Shuttle or any American, Russian or Chinese rocket to space, means you only are moving 8,000 times faster than walking speed. Yes. Going from human walking speed to literally the fastest any one person has ever moved - rocket speed, is only a gain of 8,000 times faster. But SMS is 34,500 times faster than email!
So memorize those numbers. The average SMS text message is now read within 5 seconds of it being received, which is 34 thousand times faster than email. If we were on Twitter right now, I'd be doing one massive SMS dance...
HOW MANY SMS ARE READ? OR GET A RESPONSE?
But it doesn't end there. SMS texting is also better than email in a whole host of other ways. That above speed advantage assumes that the message is opened in the first case. We all know we don't open all of our emails. We now have a perfect comparison. The Digital Marketing Association is quoted in the same report that only 20% of emails are opened, but 97% of SMS text messages are read. So... SMS text messages are read by nearly 5 times more reliably than emails. Or the more frightening way to look at it, if you send someone an email, there is an 80% chance your message is not read, you are actively being ignored; but if you send an SMS, there is only a 3% chance of it not being read.
Wait, there is still more! The same source again, quotes now the MDA, the Mobile Data Association statistics and says that in the UK, SMS text messages get a 26% response rate, versus 5% for email.
2.1 MLLLION TIMES BETTER THAN EMAIL
So here is the provocative argument. Compared to email, SMS has 2.5 times more active users globally. The messages are opened 5 times more, they are read 34,500 times faster, and they achieve 5 times better response rates. That is a nice little formula for us to compare SMS to email:
2.5 times faster X 5 times more opened X 34,560 times faster X 5 times better responses
So 2.5 X 5 X 34,560 X 5 = 2,160,000
SMS text messaging is .. 2.1 Million times better as a messaging platform than email. Hello? Did I get your attention? 2.1 Million times better?
I am not saying email is bad. I am not saying email will die. I am not saying email doesn't have its uses and benefits, the ability to send long messages and adding attachments, to begin with. But if you just want to send a brief message and want a response, SMS is truly 2.1 million times better than email.
What are you waiting for? Is your company fully onboard with SMS? Are you forcing your internal organization to use SMS as much as possible, as the speed of internal decision making will achieve speed changes that are astronomic, compared to the pedestrian speeds of email. No wonder Coca Cola's mobile marketing budget is run on the 70:20:10 rule, 70% of the total Coke mobile marketing budget goes to mobile messaging. 20% goes to the mobile internet and only 10% goes to smartphone apps. Or like how Kraft the USA food giant has its mobile strategy crystalized into one phrase: Leave No Phone Behind. It starts, of course, with SMS.
BUSINESS OR ONLY INTERPERSONAL?
Still on that truly great Great British Mobile Marketing Report 2012 - what about businesses? Do UK businesses use SMS and what do they think of it? A Textlocal survey of UK businesses found that 74% of them already use SMS in their business-to-consumer marketing and communication needs. Do they find it useful then? Have a guess. 88% of UK businesses who use SMS found it effective. (I'd further claim, that nearly all of the ones who don't, are simply not using SMS properly yet, and are learning how to do it well). What about comparisons to email? Yeah, they asked that too. Of British businesses who use SMS, exactly two out of three felt SMS was better than email, yes, in business uses of messaging. Its not just a youth thing anymore.
DON'T LEAVE ME VOICEMAIL
So what is it doing then? Here is one stat I have been hunting for, and finally we have a good update. I reported a decade ago that the Finnish Prime Minister had a voicemail greeting on his voicemail saying 'don't leave me voicemail, send me an SMS instead'. That was a rather stunning voicemail greeting for many readers back then, although we had heard it increasingly at Nokia headquarters already when I was working there over 11 years ago. But how is that voicemail thing doing? Ah, we have fresh stats. Vonage reported now in September that in the USA (an early adopter country for voicemail and a laggard for SMS) voicemail messages left, has seen an annual decline of 8% in volume. How about voicemail users? The number of voicemail messages retrieved is falling at an even more alarming rate - down 14% from just a year before. Why? Vonage reports that the primary reason is that people prefer to send SMS text messages instead.
And yes, how about them kids? An Intel survey of 2,000 US adults included a rare subset survey of the teaching profession. 212 of the people responding to the survey were US high school teachers. 62% of the high school teachers had observed students sending SMS text messages in class - and that 19% of the students had been caught attempting to cheat in school exams, using SMS. We are not surprised by this, are we? We've seen these kinds of stats from all around the world, with youth studies about SMS and mobile phones and school. But again, here it is. Of course they try to do it.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEND
And what of then the young adults. Another new survey about SMS, this of 1,000 employed UK adults by WhatsYourPrice found that most office romances today start from a flirting SMS text message sent to a colleague, which contains a virtual kiss, ie the letter X. Sending virtual kisses launches office romances. 55% of British women and 60% of British men who have had an office romance, say it started with that virtual kiss in an SMS text message.. And here is the weirdest stat of the day for us, according to this survey, if virtual kisses were sent in messages just before the first date, there is a 90% probability that the first date becomes 'intimate'... Ah, the power of SMS !
SMS text messaging has 5.9 Billion active users today, it towers over any other electronic communciation method. SMS text messaging alone delivers 128 Billion dollars of revenues according to 2012 numbers by Portio Research. SMS delivers interpersonal messages among family, friends and colleagues. It delivers clandestine messages from students sending secret notes in class to office workers flirting with each other. SMS text messages are now used in just about any industry to deliver tsunami warnings in Indonesia and earthquake warnings in Guatemala. SMS is used as the mobile payment method from Kenya to Haiti. SMS powers news services, entertainment services, games, and information services. SMS can be used to deliver multiplayer gaming and social networking. SMS is used by doctors in emergencies, by teachers to connect with students, by governments to talk about elections and now the US Presidential campaigns use SMS to collect political donations. SMS is legally accepted as a contractually binding electronic signature as first done in Spain and SMS is the way you can file your tax returns in many countries, first done in Norway. SMS is used by farmers to turn on their irrigation in India and by shepherds in Switzerland to have their sheep send automatic SMS alerts when they are frightened (because the sheep has seen a wolf). I could go on and on and on about SMS, but I think if you just remember, SMS is only 2.1 million times better than email, perhaps you too should get yourself and your business addicted to SMS?
IF YOU LIKE SMS, YOU WILL LOVE MMS
PS - if you were surprised by this, then also know this. The second most used messaging method on the planet, behind SMS and ahead of all instant messenger services from Facebook to Skype to Blackberry and Whatsapp, and far ahead of email, is.. MMS !! The perfect corporate/business and media communication platform, that allows most of the things companies and media were 'missing' in SMS - you can add pictures to your news stories, coupons to your advertising, sounds to your music, video clips to your entertainment and of course the links to your websites. And you break through past the 160 character limit of SMS as MMS allows for long text messages too. If you liked SMS, you will love MMS. Its like an SMS but supercharged. MMS usage level keeps growing rapidly, the TNS survey last year found MMS adoption already at 42% of all mobile phone users which in 2012 numbers means 2.9 Billion active users of MMS. Portio Research reported that MMS revenues this year are 31 Billion dollars - that is bigger than the global music industry, or the global cinema box office revenues.. Yes, and you thought MMS was a clumsy, expensive and unreliable picture messaging service that would be killed by picture sharing services. Haha, think again. MMS is a massive global media success story, used to deliver news, entertainment and advertising the world over. For any media, marketing communication and advertiser MMS is like 'Super-SMS' or like SMS with stereoids..
BTW if you didn't know all this, and would like to learn more about mobile industry statistics, I am one of our industry's statisticians. I publish a paid annual Almanac with the latest numbers, but you don't need to pay for that, the 2010 edition of the Almanac is totally free in a completely unabridged format with all the numbers and charts that were in the original paid version two years ago, so you can get very recent stats - over 180 pages of them - totally free by instant download from Lulu.com - check out my TomiAhonen Almanac 2010 Free Edition.
And if you want to understand the future where this industry, including mobile messaging is going, you may want to read the TomiAhonen Mobile Forecast 2012-2015.