How Facebook Got Big Using SMS and Mobile Push

Posted by Josh Weissburg on Jun 2, 2015


Almost every marketer knows they need to set up email flows to welcome, onboard, activate and retain customers. For most, however, SMS and push are unknown territory. There is often a fundamental mismatch between the tools marketers are using and the ways users are engaging as user attention shifts from desktop to mobile devices. Filling this gap is critical to reaching today's users.

E.S.P.N. for Facebook

Facebook VP pf Growth, Alex Schultz, gives a terrific talk about how Facebook grew from millions to hundreds of millions (and then billions) of users using what he calls "E.S.P.N.: Email, SMS and Push Notifications." 

Shultz learned something critical after testing messages across huge groups of users to see what gets people to take action. These channels shouldn't be separate, disconnected projects; when they're working well, they work in tandem. For example, a push notification might replace an email or vice versa, based on how that user engages with the app. If the user doesn't have the mobile app (as is the case in many emerging economies), an SMS plays the role of a push notification.

This even extends to the copy writing process. You would think that writing an email is just different than writing a push notification or SMS because you have so much more space. But Facebook has a rule: when you're writing the content for SMS and push notifications, just imagine the subject line for an email — that's the copy for the shorter formats. This technique forces the writer to summarize the interesting stuff and call to action succinctly across all channels.

What would E.S.P.N. look like for your company?

  • First, you need to be able to have a single system to manage email, SMS and push notifications in the same place. Your users need to have one unified profile across all of the devices they use.
  • You'll need this unified profile to segment users by the devices they usually use and track their engagement across your desktop site, mobile site and mobile app.
  • Even if you don't have a mobile app, email, SMS and web push are still very powerful, especially if your users frequently log into your site on mobile phones. Per the Facebook example, SMS can basically function like a push notification, driving people to your mobile site.
  • You need to conduct A/B testing email against SMS against mobile push for each campaign, otherwise you won't know which works best in each situation.
  • Finally, make sure your marketing team is free to test different copy on different channels without having to go to the engineering team to make those changes!

The big lesson that Facebook learned — and you should too — is that growth over time is a function of user engagement, and engagement happens because you talk to your users at the time and in the mode that they respond to.

If you or your team has already unified email, SMS and push as branches of the same communication flow, I'd love to hear about how you got there and what you've learned about how these channels work together.


Topics: Multi-channel messaging