Monday, April 07, 2008

Know Your Audience AND Your Medium

If you have a cell phone and receive text messages you probably have experienced this.

Quite often, especially on important holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Easter, I receive text messages from friends wishing me a wonderful day. Some, more than others, annoy me a little. Of course I am glad they thought of me enough to send me a text message with the greeting, but its more the way they do it. Here's the basic format:

"I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy _______. I hope all of you enjoy yourselves and stay safe."

Seems great, except that its not a text message to me (which is what I was expecting when my phone beeps) but its a text message to a bunch of people. With text messages you don't know if someone is sending the message to other people, because it is, for the most part, a phone to phone communication medium. With email it is a lot easier to figure out if the email you have received is just to you or to a bunch of people, so the example above could be used effectively when it shows that someone has received this message along with your entire address book. In a text message, my first assumption when I receive a text message is that I am receiving a text message from someone who has just typed it out and wants to send me a little message.

It is obvious these people use the same message over and over again just changing to whom the message is sent, so in my opinion it would be better to make the messages more personal (even without names, as long as its directed to an individual and not a group).

An exception to this rule is Twitter, where someone might wish "everyone a happy ______" but people using Twitter understand that these messages are sent to everyone. This does take the personal touch away from these text messages, but the point of Twitter has much more to do with networking and getting your message out to a lot of people quickly and easily (and again, I believe Twitterers understand this).

I think this text message concept has a lot in common with regular snail mail. People are more likely to open an envelope that has hand written addresses and a real stamp on the front than a a "PRSRT STD" and a little plastic window with your name and address peeking through as the To: line of some form letter. (Of course, I haven't looked up any research on this subject, but I know it goes for me). This is because letters are supposed to be (and started out as entirely) personal messages from one person to another. This is how text messages started out, and I believe still is in most people's mind.

In short, please next time you send out a mass text message, make it less generically directed at everyone and more generically directed at me.

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