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Digital Engagement Blog

Texting, Messaging & Chat Compared

What are your communication options when you need to engage mobile prospects and customers?  Given that a good old fashioned phone call doesn't even crack the top five most used apps on a smartphone, it's a safe bet to consider that your best engagement options are going to involve tapping instead of talking.  

In this blog post we compare three options:  Texting (SMS), Mobile Messaging and Online Chat. While these terms often get used interchangeably, they are in fact three very different options, each with their own characteristics to consider. 

We leave out voice calls because they've fallen down the pecking order of preferred smartphone apps.  We're also leaving out app notifications and email because neither are effective at supporting full conversations on mobile devices.  

Text, Messaging, and Chat compared

Online Chat

“Online chat may refer to any kind of communication over the Internet that offers a real-time transmission of text messages from sender to receiver.  The first dedicated online chat service that was widely available to the public was the CompuServe CB Simulator in 1980.” (Wikipedia).

Chat is also a verb that can be applied to any texting activity but here we are talking about a solution category.

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Online or web chat is very different from Texting and Messaging.  Chat is used frequently used by customer service when a customer is online and needs help.  It has been designed to solve problems in the online environment and falls short when moved to a mobile environment.  Chat is also not used for building and maintaining engagement through an extended conversation.

Example chat vendors are listed in this Mobile Engagement Vendor Landscape blog post.

Texting (SMS)

Short Message Service (SMS) is also called text messaging or texting. It was invented 30 years ago as a way to send text-based messages through the cellular network. 

SMS comes preinstalled on your mobile phone.  I mostly use the Samsung SMS app to communicate with my friends and with businesses (old school).

Texting is very popular and widely used globally.  SMS supports 160 characters of data before it wraps to a new text message.  Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is an extension of SMS and supports pictures, audio, and video.

SMS sends messaging over the wireless network's control channel, which is a separate data-only channel used to control the "bearer" channels that carry voice conversations or cellular data. This means you need to have wireless network coverage for SMS to work.  

SMS Texting and Messaging Compared

Messaging Apps

Modern messaging applications first started to appear in 2005 in the form of apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar services.  Messaging is immensely popular, with the combined user base of the top four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Line) being larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Linkedin).  Additionally, more messages run through messaging apps than over SMS.  

Messaging is how people communicate and has become the fabric of daily life.  And as such, needs to be understood by the enterprise when determining how they will communicate and have a conversation with the digital consumer.

Asynchronous messages, conversations, and the conversation list form the basis of mobile messaging. It is the combination of all of these behaviors and expectations in messaging that make it such a dominant part of people’s digital lives. It is what makes messaging the most comfortable communication medium ever invented…. The comfort of messaging has had real consequences in making it the most engaging and popular activity on our most personal devices.” (Ben Eidelson)

Messaging was once a simple service for exchanging messages, pictures, videos, and GIFs but is has evolved into ecosystems with their own developers, apps, and APIs.  Now messaging apps can be built into a mobile solution to become part of the in-app (or mobile web or other UI) experience. 

There are two important categories of Messaging apps:  consumer personal use and enterprise use.  Personal use apps are the ones here like Facebook Messenger.  Enterprise-grade messaging apps follow the same communication framework but provide robust and scalable features needed to run a large scale business.

My:Time™ also packages this framework to be an end-to-end messaging solution for the enterprise with all the components and services needed to support next generation customer service strategies.

Comparison:  Texting vs Messaging vs Chat

The table below provides additional comparison of the three communication options.  Messaging is a very compelling option that needs to be considered for all engagement strategies, including those where you would typically deploy online chat. In some niches, Texting (SMS) works really well (see use cases below) and might be a better option.

   Texting (SMS) Messagings Apps Online Chat
Enterprise use examples  Critical information requiring the user action such as notifications, alerts, authentication, etc. Marketing messages.  All mobile engagement and conversations.  Used especially  where best user experience is required. Website customer service
Is it a mobile app? Yes Yes.  It also works on mobile web without app download. No
Download Barrier? (Does it get installed on a smartphone?) No. It comes preinstalled on your phone (no download needed). No- when deployed on web or mobile web pages.  Yes-- when integrated to native mobile apps that must be downloaded.  No downloads; web-technology
Engagement rate (open and read) Highest High NA (chat not used to send messages)
Popularity for person-to-person (P2P) communication (personal use) Very high Highest number of consumers use it; especially younger demographics Not used for P2P
Popularity for App-to-person (A2P) communication (enterprise use) Higher use than messaging apps across verticals depending is use case.  Top use case  is password confirmation. Strong but behind SMS right now Not used for general A2P.  Only used for customer service.
Support level of bi-directional conversation Low.  Mostly notification or request-response commands. High.  Can use to carry on a conversation. High. Used to carry on a conversation as long as  the session doesn't time out.
   Texting (SMS) Messagings Apps Online Chat
Supports asynchronous messaging (Can start, stop then restart a conversation) No Yes No
Ability to go across devices No Yes No (mostly)
Supports context No Yes Maybe
 Message size limitations 160 characters None None
Integrated into the app for in-app experience No Yes No

Queue support;  Conversation flow mgt; pick up from where you left off, across devices. 

No Yes No


Our comparison shows major differences between texting, messaging and chat.  Each option has enterprise use case where it best fits.  If you need more help sorting out the options, shoot us an email or give us a call. 

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Topics: Customer Care Digital Context Mobile Engagement